Cole Croston moved to right tackle last week because he was dealing with a left ankle injury.
Perhaps this played a role in the six sacks Iowa’s offensive line allowed against Northwestern. Maybe it played a role in the Hawkeyes retooling of the offensive line in last weekend’s victory at Minnesota.
Croston, a senior, had a disastrous week against Northwestern, being tagged with four sacks, but the switch seemed to do everyone well. The Hawkeyes churned out 179 rushing yards — 100 more than they did against Northwestern — and cut the sack total from six to one.
Croston also posted the highest grade for an Iowa offensive player in Pro Football Focus’ weekly report.
“It was a little bit of an ankle, yeah, just a nagging-type injury,” Croston said after last weekend’s game. “It was something that I wanted to play through and I was able to do so.”
The offensive line changes carried over to Monday’s depth chart. Croston remained at right tackle. Junior Boone Myers went from left guard to left tackle last weekend and was there again on Monday. Junior Ike Boettger went from right tackle to left guard and also remained there going into the Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) matchup this weekend at Purdue (3-2, 1-1).
“This may sound crazy to you, but I think our pass protection improved,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I saw some things we can move forward with.”
This could remain a fluid deal that goes along the lines of health. It certainly helped that Myers started 10 games at left tackle last season. It was totally new territory for Boettger, but an unselfish move on his part. No matter what position they play, the O-line likely will remain these three with guard Sean Welsh and center James Daniels.
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In the end, you’d have to say the moves worked. Iowa’s rush offense became unstuck. Beathard was protected better. The passing game will remain fitful until Beathard and his receivers refine timing.
But, against Minnesota last week, it worked.
“Yeah, I mean, we got the ‘W’,’ we got the victory,” Croston said. “Definitely, I would say that it worked. Brian (offensive line coach Brian Ferentz) has whatever he’s got going through his mind and he puts guys out there who are going to get the job done.”
Kirk Ferentz told UI sports information Sunday night that the Hawkeyes are relatively healthy for going into week 7 of the season.
“Based on what I saw today (Sunday), we’re going to be fairly decent,” Ferentz said. “We have a couple of guys who are going to be sore and limited in practice. We have that every week, so hopefully everyone who is limited will come around by the end of the week.”
Wisconsin kickoff announced
The Big Ten announced Monday that Iowa’s matchup with Wisconsin on Oct. 22 at Kinnick Stadium will kickoff at 11 a.m. It will be telecast on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. That will be determined after this weekend’s games.
The No. 10 Badgers (4-1, 1-1) play host to No. 2 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0) this weekend.
This will be Iowa’s sixth consecutive 11 a.m. start.
Offensive personnel groups
11 (one back, one tight end, three WRs) — 7 rushes for 66 yards and a TD; 2 of 5 passes for 13 yards
11 shotgun — 2 rushes for 10 yards; 9 of 15 for 72 yards with interception
21 (running back, fullback, one TE, two WR) — 4 runs for 16 yards; 2 of 2 for 34 yards
22 (two backs, two TEs) — 15 rushes for 19 yards (there was a team minus-2 for being in championship formation)
12 (one back, two TEs) — 13 rushes for 70 yards; 4 of 9 for 23 yards passing with an interception
Let’s check some Pro Football Focus grades
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Iowa’s run blockers ranked by PFF (starting O-line, fullbacks and TE)
1. G Sean Welsh
2. RT Cole Croston
3. TE George Kittle
4. TE Peter Pekar
5. (tie) G Ike Boettger and LT Boone Myers
6. FB Brady Ross
7. (tie) FB Drake Kulick and C James Daniels
Watch Welsh’s pull and block on RB Akrum Wadley’s 54-yarder.
I know the Iowa OL room is in “bear down” mode right now, with all of the switches that came down last week in light of the Northwestern debacle, but they might’ve found a moment to enjoy that one. I kind of figured watching this one that Cole Croston had a huge rebound week. He did (it was also pretty cool that he was the first Hawkeye to Floyd after the game). Welsh, Croston and Kittle scored positive grades. Kulick and Daniels were Iowa’s lone negatively graded run blockers. The fullbacks combine for 24 snaps and didn’t log great grades from PFF. Pekar scored a neutral grade on 32 snaps. That’s not bad. His snap count has continued to climb. He’s obviously a valued blocker. True freshman TE Noah Fant saw his first snaps since Iowa State (I think) and saw a couple of targets in his six plays. That’s going to be a pretty big tell. Not sure how long they’ll be able to get away with it.
WR Jerminic Smith was Iowa’s best WR run blocker, with sophomore Ronald Nash not far behind.
PFF’s top pass blocker this week
A week after getting tagged with four sacks, Cole Croston moved to right tackle and it really seemed to work. He was Iowa’s top-rated pass blocker. It’d be silly not to give Myers a helmet sticker for making the move to LT. He gave up a QB hit and hurry, but earned a neutral grade. James Daniels and Welsh were given negative grades and were hit with seven QB hurries between them. I think this was Boettger’s first action at guard. He earned a neutral grade and only gave up one QB hurry.
Best PFF overall grades for the offense this week
1. RT Cole Croston
2. TE George Kittle
3. WR Jerminic Smith
4. RB Akrum Wadley
5. RB LeShun Daniels
This is a different-looking group than usual. For the first time this season, QB C.J. Beathard isn’t on this list. And, I think for the first time, just one OL. Croston and Kittle were Iowa’s only overall positive grades. I want to give Smith a helmet sticker for coming back on his 16-yard reception. Beathard did kind of throw him open, but he made a great break on the ball and made a play. Iowa’s running backs made things happen. Is Wadley Iowa’s best skill player? Probably not with Kittle. What Kittle does blocking should make him all-conference. Wadley is, however, Iowa’s most dangerous weapon. I think we can all agree on that. WR Riley McCarron earned a low grade with a fumble and two drops. Welsh, Daniels, Myers and Kulick also graded negatively.
Here’s a number that kind of says everything you need to know about Iowa’s offense: Beathard threw just six passes of 10-plus yards vs. Minnesota and completed just one. This was, perhaps, a reaction to the six sacks and the OL shake-up. It also reflects the loss of senior WR Matt VandeBerg and a lack of proven playmakers in the passing game.
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— Beathard against the blitz Saturday was 3 of 10 for 45 yards. That’s a 6.7 NFL QB rating. Teams are making it job No. 1 to disrupt Beathard. For the most part, they’ve been successful. He was 4 of 11 for 28 yards when pressured. Iowa is going to face stiffer pass rushes than the Gophers.
— Kittle and Welsh gaps were Iowa’s best running lanes, grading Nos. 1 and 2. Ten rushes for 71 yards between Welsh and James Daniels. Seven rushes for 62 yards to the left, between Myers and Boettger and Kittle.
— Wadley had 86 yards after contact. Most of his 54-yarder was after contact, contact that he was able to slide away from.
— McCarron caught 6 of his 9 targets, but two drops and a fumble hurt his day.
— Kittle caught 4 of 5 targets. PFF tagged Nash with a drop. Maybe, I guess. He tried one of those sliding catch thingies. It was the only target he could give CJB.
— RB Derrick Mitchell caught two of three targets. Is Iowa leaving money on the table with him? Or do you not want to see Iowa go to the well too often on the screen? It’s looked way too shaky, IMO.
Iowa’s run defenders ranked by PFF (starting D-line and linebackers)
1. (tie) DT Jaleel Johnson and DT Nathan Bazata
2. DE Matt Nelson
3. DE Parker Hesse
4. LB Bo Bower
5. DE Anthony Nelson
6. (tie) LB Josey Jewell and CB Desmond King
7. OLB Ben Niemann
If you watched the game, you know Iowa’s starting DTs were forceful. If you re-watched the game (my hand is raised times 2), you know Iowa’s DTs had perhaps their best games of the season. And, yes, the DEs had their best run-stopping game in a while. There were no “bounce outs” that hurt Iowa. Credit players rallying to the ball. Johnson, Bazata, Matt Nelson and Hesse all earned positive grades. DT Faith Ekakitie and CB Greg Mabin were the lone negative grades.
PFF’s best against the pass
Yes, it’s Desmond King, but it’s not Desmond King alone this week. King and true freshman Manny Rugamba were Iowa’s highest rated pass defenders. And just when I was about to write that for one week LB Josey Jewell didn’t have to hold down the fort for the defense, he had his best pass coverage grade of the season. Five positive grades for Iowa’s pass defense this week, including OLB Kevin Ward, who might’ve been victimized for a TD if UM QB Mitch Leidner didn’t underthrow and allow Ward to catch up and get a finger on the ball for a pass breakup (he played just five snaps and made an impact, that’s the kind of thing that gets a team to shore on the road).
Why did the Gophers target King nine times? I don’t know.
Best PFF overall grades for the defense this week
1. DT Jaleel Johnson
2. DE Anthony Nelson
3. DT Nathan Bazata
4. CB Desmond King
5. LB Josey Jewell
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Iowa’s defense was great this week. Lots of oars in the water doing good things. Eight players nailed down positive grades (Hesse was the lone negative grade, getting tagged in pass rush). DT Faith Ekakitie earned a plus with two QB hurries (including one that led to an interception) and a batted pass. Johnson was a beast and the grades correctly reflected that (sack, QB hit, four QB hurries). He plays like this the rest of the year, Iowa will have a chance to have a say in the West.
— Yes, Minnesota targeted King nine times, completing three for 23 yards. I guess that’s what I’d call hubris.
— Anthony Nelson was credited with six (!!!) QB hurries. He’s having a tremendous first year.
— Jewell was targeted three times and allowed just one completion and had a pass breakup that forced a punt.
— Mabin is Iowa’s relief pitcher. One play, he gives up a base hit. The next, he logs a strikeout. He was targeted six times and gave up four receptions (at least two of which came on the last drive). He’s used to it. This is how it’s going to be. He’s literally out there clawing to win games.
— Rugamba was targeted twice. No receptions and a pick. Maybe if Iowa doesn’t pull in one of the great CBs it’s in on in recruiting, they’ll go ahead and have a football season anyway in 2017. (Rugamba seamlessly picked that and turned defense into offense. He showed great body control, kind of like No. 14.)
— Among Minnesota’s five O-linemen and TE, five of the six received negative grades.
— After being kind of kicked around by UM QB Mitch Leidner the last two seasons, Iowa got a measure of revenge, pinning the lowest grade on a Minnesota offensive player from last week. Leidner’s NFL QB rating was 46.7.
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