VandeBerg has 7 explosive plays in two weeks for Iowa
Iowa RB LeShun Daniels
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Matt VandeBerg (89) pulls in a 12-yard touchdown reception in front of Iowa State Cyclones defensive back D'Andre Payne (1) during the second quarter of their Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Guard Sean Welsh left the game late in the first half with a minor ankle sprain. He returned to play in the third quarter and was the first OL who was replaced by a second teamer (sophomore Keegan Render). Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in his Sunday night chat with Iowa sports info that Welsh should be good for North Dakota State.
Defensive end Parker Hesse missed Iowa State. He suffered a hamstring injury while returning a fumble against Miami (Ohio) in the opener. Ferentz made it sound as if Hesse was close to a go Saturday night, but the sophomore was held out. Ferentz said Sunday night Hesse has a chance to play against the Bison (3-0).
Center James Daniels is likely out this week. He suffered a knee injury in the second-to-last play in practice on Wednesday. Ferentz said he wanted to play Saturday night, but added “it was out of the question.” It’s kind of wait-and-see, but more likely out. (It was one of those knee things that looked worse than it turned out to be.)
Fullback Drake Kulick suffered some sort of upper-body injury on the same play Welsh was hurt. Kulick also returned to action and played late into the game.
Outside linebacker Ben Niemann missed a series last week, but went the whole way (with the starters) Saturday night and picked up his first career interception. Strong safety Miles Taylor was dinged, but returned.
2. Wonder what percentage ...
... of plays Beathard calls at the line of scrimmage. I think it’s probably a lot.
Twice against the Cyclones, Iowa came out in a 21 personnel group. That’s two backs and one tight end and generally considered a run formation out of the power I. Beathard hit VandeBerg for gains of 25 (first quarter) and 31 yards (second quarter).
The first one was a play-action pass (Beathard completed 5 of 6 attempts out of play action), so that one probably came down from offensive coordinator Greg Davis in the press box. Beathard got great protection (the OL was the foundation of everything Iowa was able to do Saturday night) and found VandeBerg wide open for a first down in side ISU’s 5.
The second 21 that went for a pass while Beathard was under center. He looked to his right and saw ISU corner Brian Peavy in press coverage on VandeBerg. I don’t know this, but it sure looked like he went under center with a run play called and checked into the pass to VandeBerg, a ball that Beathard perfectly threw.
VandeBerg said in postgame that Beathard often goes to the line of scrimmage and the only thing that’s set in stone is the formation.
This is a level of sophistication that is hard to reach let alone execute. Throw in all the caveats you want about competition, but these are heady times for Iowa’s offense. The Hawkeyes have a QB with high IQ and maybe even higher skill level.
3. Maybe the defense’s best sequence Saturday night ...
So, the Desmond King vs. Allen Lazard thing didn’t happen. Did you really think it would? Maybe it was walked back after King spilled the beans Tuesday. Or, maybe, it was what King told Land of Ten’s Scott Dochterman Saturday night: “It ain’t April, but April Fools.”
Lazard finished with seven catches for 111 yards and drew a facemask that gave the Cyclones another first down. ISU’s offense has been right around 300 yards in its first two games and Lazard has had 100-plus receiving yards in both. He is ISU’s offense.
Anyway, ISU QB Joel Lanning hit Lazard on a WR screen that he took down to Iowa’s 7 for a 30-yard gain. At this point, it’s 14-0 Iowa and things aren’t quite written in ink.
On first down, Lanning gained 3 yards. Second-and-goal from the 4.
Second down: Iowa DT Jaleel Johnson powered through ISU guard Patrick Scoggins and kind of made a leaping sack for a 6-yard loss.
Third down: Pass incomplete.
Fourth-and-goal from the 10: Iowa’s DL runs a twist. DT Nathan Bazata flushed Lanning and DE Anthony Nelson collected the sack (he has 3.5 in two games). BTN analyst Matt Millen on Nelson: “He has a feel for the pass rush you can’t teach.”
A second-and-goal from the 4 turned out to be a 31-yard field goal. When the stakes are higher, that’s the kind of thing that wins games.
4. Defensive personnel
I had Iowa with three nickel packages with true freshman Manny Rugamba being the nickel defensive back (in for weakside linebacker Bo Bower). That’s a pretty decent roster jump for a true freshman. You’d have to say sophomore Joshua Jackson was the favorite for that spot going off where he was on the depth chart last season. Redshirt freshman Michael Ojemudia might also have been ahead of Rugamba, but there’s Rugamba.
Iowa did run one raider package. The personnel went like this: The rush linemen were A. Nelson, Aaron Mends and Sam Brincks (probably subbing in for Hesse). The linebackers were Josey Jewell and Niemann. The defensive backs were King, Greg Mabin, Jackson, Rugamba, with safeties Brandon Snyder and Taylor.
ISU backup QB Jacob Park hit Lazard for a 17-yard gain and what looked to be a first down on fourth-and-7, but the Cyclones were called for an ineligible man downfield penalty (a covered player went out in route).
5. It’s too early to make a big deal out of this, but ...
The Hawkeyes are 10th in the nation with 6.31 yards per rush attempt. Iowa’s eight rush TDs are tied for seventh in the nation. The Hawkeyes are tied for 13th in the country with five 20-plus rush plays, 11th with three 30-plus and eighth with two 40-plus (back-to-back weeks with LeShun Daniels and 43-yard TD runs).
The senior had a career-high 129 yards on seven catches. His 12-yard TD pass was a thing of beauty. It’s OK if you get a Jordy Nelson vibe here. Beathard said Saturday night, “He’s faster than people think. He’s white, but he’s really fast.”
2. RB LeShun Daniels
All we’ve seen from Daniels so far this season is decisiveness. Last year, you’d see his feet stop. This year, you see a cut and yards after contact. Daniels finished with 112 yards on 15 carries with the 43-yard TD. It was his third career 100-yard game.
3. DT Jaleel Johnson
Watch his sack if you have it DVR’d. You’ll giggle over the athleticism and you’ll want to nickname the sack, “Flying something something.” ISU’s offensive line has strides that need to be made. That’s probably head coach Matt Campbell’s No. 1 project. Still, Johnson was second on the team with seven tackles. He also had a pair of tackles for loss.
— Give Davis credit for an impeccably called game. The coupe de grace was the 26-yard TD pass to Wadley. Iowa doesn’t do a ton with the running back in the passing game. Not much outside of a few swing passes and screens. Iowa doesn’t do much in the passing game until it does. Wadley carried out a fake and then hit the jets, splitting Jarner Jones and Reggan Northrup.
The race was over in three steps. It was just a matter of Beathard completing a tricky little pass to a wide-open receiver. If he leaves too much air under it, the defenders can catch up. This one was perfect and a brilliantly executed “shot” play (“shot” in this instance meaning if it’s there, take it and if it’s not, throw it away).
— It seemed like offensive tackle Ike Boettger was finishing a lot of blocks, as in putting defenders on the ground. Iowa seems to be using him in pulls and in space. The junior is proving himself worthy of that.
The O-line gave up one real sack when DE Jhaustin Thomas ran around G Boone Myers with OT Cole Croston kind of caught in no man’s land. Other than that, Iowa had just one negative run when it wasn’t garbage time.
— I don’t think I’ve seen Iowa blitz in the first two games. There might’ve been one against Miami, where a linebacker moved late because the RB stayed in to block.
Iowa’s defense has been super base. Four dime personnels in game 1. Three nickels in week 2 along with one raider.
OK wait, there was one zone blitz. Anthony Nelson dropped in coverage and Jewell rushed. Does that count as a blitz? Still had the same number in coverage.
— Targets went like this (C = completion, I = incompletion and D = drop/defended pass):
VandeBerg: CIICCCCCIDC (7 of 11 targets)
McCarron: CICCC (4 of 5 targets)
Smith: ICII (1 of 4)
George Kittle: CCIC (3 of 4)
Wadley: C (1 of 1)
Jay Scheel: C (1 of 1)
Derrick Mitchell: CCI (2 of 3)
— Beathard’s 12-yard TD pass to VandeBerg in the second quarter is too good to pass up. It was an audible. It beat a pair of blitzing linebackers that forced Beathard to slide to his right. The throw beat pretty great coverage by ISU corner D’Andre Payne.
The throw was high and outside. It was a “throw open” that VandeBerg knew he was going to have to go and get.
“We work on stuff like that in practice ...” VandeBerg said, “obviously, we don’t get that exact look in practice. Knowing I have to go get it is something we do work on in practice.”
— Niemann’s pick set up a TD, but the point here is that ISU QB Joel Lanning had this read a few times Saturday night, receivers running out routes and breaking open at different levels. Lanning tried for the bigger gain and missed twice, paying the bigger price on the Niemann interception. Backup QB Jacob Park entered late and maneuvered the offense against Iowa’s second- and third-teamers. He did show something, but does Campbell want to go into the QB switcheroo that Paul Rhoads did? Lanning threw seven balls that were off target. Those were things that took ISU’s offense off the field.
— Another week, another overtime thriller against a top-flight FCS opponent for the Bison. Last week it was 50-44 over Eastern Washington.
— The Fargodome opened in 1993 and didn’t see an OT game until NDSU outlasted No. 6 Charleston Southern in its season opener. And then this doozy last week.
— MLB Nick DeLuca earned the MVC’s defensive player of the week honor. He had 15 tackles after missing the opener with a separated shoulder.
— Oh yeah, Saturday’s game at Kinnick will be the penultimate FCS matchup for the Hawkeyes. Last year, the Big Ten issued a cease and desist on scheduling FCS opponents. Iowa’s matchup with North Dakota State and the 2018 game against Northern Iowa are it.
You could argue scheduling quality FCS opponents and ones that make sense if you’re Iowa, but the Big Ten isn’t having it.
The Numbers Game
Touchdowns in the red zone
Iowa — 4 of 4
ISU — 0 of 1
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 5 of 6 (off), 2 of 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 4 of 4 (off), 0 of 1 (def);
The takeaway: In two weeks, Iowa is 9 of 10 in red zone TDs cashed in, that’s tied for No. 10 in the nation. Iowa’s nine red-zone TDs are also tied for 10th. This is maximum efficiency.
Three and outs forced by the defense
Iowa — 4
ISU — 1
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 3 (def), 2 (off); Week 2 vs. ISU — 4 (def), 1 (off);
The takeaway: Iowa’s offense has 12 TDs and just two three-and-outs in two games. This week, Iowa’s lone three-and-out came in fourth-quarter garbage time.
(50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down)
Iowa — 52 percent (34 efficient plays out of 66 total)
ISU — 34 (24 of 70)
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 54 percent (off), 51.4 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 52 percent (off), 34 (def);
The takeaway: Iowa State didn’t have an efficient play in its first two drives while Iowa piled up 10 and took a 14-0 lead. Iowa State had just two efficient plays in the third quarter. We’ll probably find this is a discrepancy that’s common in a 42-3 game.
Iowa — 6
ISU — 2
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 7 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 6 (off), 2 (def);
The takeaway: Beathard-to-VandeBerg accounted for three 20-plus plays. Daniels added his second 43-yard TD run of the season and Wadley caught a 26-yard TD pass from Beathard. ISU WR Allen Lazard had a pair of 30-plus receptions. VandeBerg gained 25 yards on a reverse.
The Iowa/Greg Davis definition of explosive (it’s 12-plus runs and 16-plus passes): 10 — five runs (three by Daniels and one each from Wadley (18) and VandeBerg) and five passes (four to VandeBerg, who has seven explosive plays in two games). (Tracking: Miami 9, ISU 10)
Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)
Iowa — 0
ISU — 0
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 0 (off), 0 (def);
The takeaway: Didn’t need any again this week from the offense. Iowa did score a TD (Beathard sneak) with 2:17 before half.