Iowa linemen have their long-awaited week in the stars
The Iowa Hawkeyes carry the Floyd of Rosedale trophy after their NCAA football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Iowa defeated Minnesota 14-7. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) reacts as he is sacked against Iowa. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
We’re going all-in on the defense in this portion.
No, Minnesota’s offense isn’t going to draw any comparisons with Mercedes-Benz level engineering. But going into last weekend against the Hawkeyes, it looked as if it knew what it was and what it wanted to be.
Iowa’s defense didn’t have its feet on the ground. In fact, it was perhaps the Hawkeyes’ biggest question mark heading into the Floyd of Rosedale matchup.
During the Hawkeyes’ 14-7 victory at TCF Bank Stadium, the Iowa defense kept coming through in clutch moments.
Down 7-6 late in the third quarter, on a third-and-three from Iowa’s 41, defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie ate a double team, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson penetrated and changed running back Shannon Brooks’ path right into linebacker Bo Bower, who scraped around the pile and met Brooks, with six other Hawkeyes, for no gain.
On a third-and-5 from Minnesota’s 40, free safety Brandon Snyder blitzed and defensive end Parker Hesse pressured quarterback Mitch Leidner into an incompletion.
Then, on Minnesota’s final chance to tie it, a fourth-and-15 from Iowa’s 18, defensive coordinator Phil Parker put the Hawkeyes in a dime defense and called a double A gap blitz. The pressure forced Leidner into a quick and bad throw that cornerback Greg Mabin had perfect position on to defend wide receiver Brian Smith.
Making big, huge plays in big, huge situations pulled Iowa through.
2. Questions answered ... this week
In the end, Iowa’s defense planted its flag in this game, making running back Akrum Wadley’s 54-yard TD run with 5:28 left in the game stand. The Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) held Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) to season lows in five key categories, including rushing, and gathered the bronze pig and a much-needed sense of what it can do and be going into next week’s matchup at Purdue (3-2, 1-1).
The jump that Iowa’s defense made against the run, especially against a Minnesota team that averaged 228.3 yards on the ground going into the game, was the absolute factor in a three-hour gruntfest.
“The biggest thing on defense, to me, we pressured the quarterback a little bit better, but first and foremost, we played the run better,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We haven’t been doing a great job with it this year. To have a good defensive football team, you’ve got to play the run successfully and I thought the guys really pulled that off today.”
3. Hats for ... I don’t know what rhymes with hats that is football
Iowa rallied to the football maybe like it hadn’t all season, a factor that was certainly missing in the loss to Northwestern two weeks ago. On several key plays in the second half, several Hawkeyes arrived at the ball with bad intentions.
“Sometimes, you can take care of your gaps, but the back can still bounce it to the outside and that’s when you have to be sure that our perimeter defenders are getting there,” said Ekakitie, who had a key pressure to force a fourth-quarter interception. “Even our inside guys, when it starts bouncing, everyone has to get there. Getting 11 hats to the ball is huge in our defense.”
That perfectly explains why getting defenders to the ball is important. Watch Justin Jackson’s run. That’s what Ekakitie is talking about.
4. Rounding up the Lumberjack Quarterback
The 268 yards Iowa allowed was 16th fewest in the nation this week, the fewest Iowa has allowed this season and the fewest Iowa has allowed in its last 12 games (241 yards against Maryland on Oct. 31 last season).
“It’s a big confidence booster and we’ve been working on it for a while, trying to stop the run,” said Bower, who led Iowa with seven tackles and forced a fumble. “Everyone was hyped and ready for this game.”
Again, Minnesota is not a Mercedes-Benz. The Golden Gophers aren’t flush with a ton of weapons in the passing game. But Leidner did his thing against the Hawkeyes in two previous meetings, passing for 397 yards, hitting 72 percent of his passes and piling up a pass efficiency of 197.1.
Iowa erased UM’s passing attack with tight, physical coverage and consistent pressure. The Hawkeyes held Leidner to a 69.5 pass efficiency, his lowest in 12 games, and a 39.4 completion percentage, his lowest in 18 games. The pass efficiency number was 11th best in the nation this week.
5. In summary ...
You still might have questions about Iowa’s defense, and that makes sense, but its resilient and relentless effort against Minnesota saved the bacon and kept 2016 relevant.
“It started in practice,” said Mabin, who had six tackles and a forced fumble. “We had a great week of practice. Our intensity was the best it’s been all season. I feel that there was a correlation to what you guys saw out there on the field.”
1. Iowa DT Jaleel Johnson
This was the senior’s best game this season. Four tackles and a sack. He also provided the penetration on a third-and-3 in Iowa territory in the third quarter while the Hawkeyes trailed 7-6. If Johnson plays like this the rest of the season, Iowa will be in position to have a say in the West.
2. Iowa G Sean Welsh
Threw big key blocks in both of Iowa’s runs of consequence. On LeShun Daniels’ 31-yarder, Welsh rode a double team up to a linebacker and then disengaged and hit a run support player to open a big seam. On Wadley’s game-winner, Iowa spread the Gophers out with trips to the wide side and then kind of a power play into the weakside. Welsh pulled and picked out the DL that set Wadley free to do his thing.
Iowa flipped around O-linemen. I asked Ferentz about it in the postgame. He knows I’m an idiot who looks way too deeply into these kinds of things sometimes. He said it’s not scientific, just a gut thing. It worked wonderfully. I kind of wondered if Welsh wouldn’t have been shifted out to tackle. Some of the best moves are ones you don’t make, right?
3. RB Akrum Wadley
Kid Fun had the big run and 107 yards on 14 carries. He did the spoon thing that is the international sign for running backs who want to “eat,” which means feed me the ball, after his scoring run. He also broke into a bit of a high step around the 10-yard line. Hey, there was no one within 20 yards of him. Why not?
“I figured I’d have a little fun,” Wadley said. “They’d been hitting me all game, so why not?”
— WR Riley McCarron still is adjusting to his new role as the top receiver. And he’s going to be Iowa’s top receiver. He’s the most consistent one left now that senior Matt VandeBerg is in the shop for the season (broken foot).
McCarron had two drops and one ball in the end zone that he needed to go get. The play that he’ll hate the most is the fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
McCarron caught a quick screen, a play that returned and worked for the Hawkeyes, especially with TE George Kittle being the lead blocker. McCarron made a cut off Kittle’s block and was on the inside of the field. His detail was great. He held the ball to the outside. He’s just not a big guy, so the UM LB who caught him on the inside was able to reach across his body and knock the ball out. He’ll know he has to anticipate the punch from the inside. Iowa would’ve had a first down at UM’s 35.
— Freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba showed why he’s become the nickel corner in about three months on campus. Iowa called around six nickel and dime packages. Rugamba made his presence felt with his first career interception in the first half. Leidner didn’t read Iowa’s zone well on a third-and-12 from Iowa’s 47. He threw slightly behind WR Drew Wolitarsky and Rugamba was there, catching the ball on the run and seamlessly transitioning into a runner. The pick halted Minnesota’s only worthwhile drive of the first half.
— There is no question Iowa’s pass protection was better vs. Minnesota, but QB C.J. Beathard still took a few blindside shots that almost became turnovers.
Boone Myers flipped from left guard to left tackle, where he started 10 games last season. He gave up one pressure that led to a backside shot on Beathard. These are just going to happen.
There were two other shots on Beathard that might’ve been preventable. 1) On a three-step drop, Minnesota blitzed a linebacker who gave Beathard a shot. LeShun Daniels was lined up as the single back in a shotgun snap. It was the perfect blitz call. Daniels was not in position to protect Beathard off a three-step drop. 2) The only sack came on a third-and-4 from Iowa’s 31. It was a naked bootleg, but there was a free runner released from the line of scrimmage. Ike Boettger, new to the guard spot this week, was flooded. He had a D-lineman to his left and then spotted a blitzing linebacker to his right. He took the LB. The DL became a free runner and flushed Beathard into the rush from the outside. The free running DL thing has happened all season long.
— We had a little Twitter debate on the fact that there’s holding every play. There is. Period. If officials called every hold, games would last nine hours.
On Minnesota’s TD, Shannon Brooks went around the right end for a 9-yard TD. DE Matt Nelson locked his arms out on TE Nate Wozniak, who then just grabbed Nelson’s arm like a wrestler and hung on.
No call. The impetus is on the defensive player to disengage. The grab on this play lasted just long enough to turn it in the Gophers’ favor.
Up Next — at Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten)
— First game-winning overtime field goal in Purdue history? Yes, the first game-winning field goal in Purdue history, writes Nathan Baird of the West Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier.
— This could’ve happened to anyone, but the irony, the symbolism, the statement that is the Purdue sinkhole ... Program can’t catch a break right now. OK, it did win in OT, so one good headline from the weekend.
— Enough complaining. The SB Nation site Hammer and Rails offers some solutions. One of the solutions is Les Miles.
The Numbers Game
Touchdowns in the red zone
Iowa — 0 of 2
Minnesota — 1 of 2
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); Week 3 vs. NDSU — 2 of 2 (off), 2 of 3 (def); week 4 vs. Rutgers — 0 of 1 (off), 1 of 4 (def); Week 5 vs. Northwestern — 4 of 5 (off), 3 of 4 (def); Week 6 at Minnesota — 0 of 2 (off), 1 of 2 (def);
The takeaway: Iowa began the week fifth in the nation in this number, 83.3 percent of red zone possessions ended in TDs for the Hawkeyes. What did 0-for-2 do? Iowa dropped to 75 percent and is now 20th. Not bad, but the two short field goals kept the door open for the Gophers until their final play of the game. Defensively, Iowa is No. 34 in the nation (fifth in the Big Ten) at 52.9 percent.
Three and outs forced by the defense
Iowa — 10
Minnesota — 6
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 3 (def), 2 (off); Week 2 vs. ISU — 4 (def), 1 (off); Week 3 vs. NDSU — 0 (def), 5 (off); Week 4 vs. Rutgers — 2 (off), 3 (def); Week 5 vs. Northwestern — 6 (def), 6 (off); Week 6 at Minnesota — 10 (def), 6 (off);
The takeaway: I’ve already said Minnesota is not a Mercedes on offense, but give Iowa’s defense credit for pinning the Gophers for three hours. Do this every week and win, right? This number still is too high for Iowa’s offense, which is far from being a consistent threat. You guys see that.
(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 — 33.3 percent (24 efficient plays out of 72 total)
Minnesota — 26.4 percent (18 of 62)
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 54 percent (off), 51.4 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 52 percent (off), 34 (def); Week 3 vs. NDSU — 37 percent (off), 43 (def); Week 4 vs. Rutgers — 39.3 (off), 37.6 (def); Week 5 vs. Northwestern — 36.7 (off), 41.6 (def); Week 6 at Northwestern — 33.3 percent (off), 26.4 percent (def);
The takeaway: Win this and win the game like 90 percent of the time. The Gophers had major problems. They didn’t get their first first down until six minutes left in the second quarter and only ran three plays on Iowa’s side of the field in the first half. The Gophers didn’t have an efficient play on six fourth-quarter possessions until the last series, when they put together four and had Iowa in sweating it mode.
Iowa — 3
Minnesota — 3
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 7 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 6 (off), 2 (def); Week 3 vs. NDSU — 3 (off), 5 (def); Week 4 vs. Rutgers — 5 (off), 3 (def); Week 5 vs. Northwestern — 3 (off), 3 (def); Week 6 at Minnesota 3 (off), 3 (def);
The takeaway: There will be those who just simply want offensive fireworks and reject these numbers. And that’s OK. If you want offense, these are numbers that aren't going to thrill you. In context, these numbers fit a defensive struggle. Yes, I acknowledge there’s a fine line between a defensive struggle and an offensive implosion. We definitely saw a little bit of both Saturday. I prefer defense and believe great defenses give teams chances at championships. Still, I’m not sure I saw championship defenses on Saturday or offenses that couldn’t get out of their own way.
The Iowa/Greg Davis definition of explosive (it’s 12-plus runs and 16-plus passes): 6 — Four of these six were runs, and “organic” runs, plays that Iowa didn’t have to scheme to make. Loved the call on Wadley’s 54-yard TD. The trips to the wide side spread out the defense. Wadley’s feet fit the quick-hitting nature and the timing was perfect. Wadley ran for three of these six. Passing game is probably going to look like this the rest of the year, but ... at some point I expect Noah Fant to catch that back-shoulder ball along the sideline. When he starts doing that, Iowa will have something. (Tracking: Miami 9, ISU 10, NDSU 4, Rutgers 11, Northwestern 5; Minnesota 6)
Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)
Iowa — 0
Minnesota — 0
Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. Miami — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 3 vs. NDSU — 0 (off), 3 (def); Week 4 vs. Rutgers — 7 (off), 0 (def); Week 5 vs. Northwestern — 0 (off) 0 (def); Week 6 at Minnesota — 0 (off) 0 (def);
The takeaway: Here’s the thing about offenses that struggle in the passing game, two-minute drills are really hard to make happen. We do now know, however, that if the first two plays of the drive don’t work, Iowa will kneel it into the lockerroom. That was the right call at the end of the first half this week. The defense held at the end. The three points is a great number, except that, you know, it meant a loss. Magic points do tend to do that, however.
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