Five bullet points from Iowa’s victory at Rutgers.
1. What’s wrong with Iowa’s rush defense?
The season is a third over now and so the fact that Iowa’s rush defense is No. 12 in the Big Ten is starting say something about Iowa’s rush defense. Mainly, that the Hawkeyes better find a fix like right now.
Here are a few points from last week’s performance against Rutgers, which rushed for 193 yards:
— Iowa isn’t defending the read option well at all. This takes a toll on the tackles. Usually one has a double team. Last week, Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata were doubled a lot. From there, it’s assignment. Rutgers read Iowa’s ends. A few times, the double team spilled up to the linebackers, who were then basically blocked. RU ran the read option well, but Iowa will see better R-O outfits and better running backs.
— Blocks aren’t being shed. Reads aren’t being processed quickly enough.
Quick look at RU’s TD drive in the fourth quarter: Running back Justin Goodwin had a pair of runs on second-and-10 plays that went for 13 and 24 yards. Both were read options.
On the 13-yarder, LB Josey Jewell took an outside read. LB Bo Bower ate a block initiated by guard Chris Muller and the play opened up. On the 24-yarder, it looked more like RU switched its blocking scheme from zone to drive. RU doubled Johnson and Muller peeled up to Bower. That block opened the door.
— Head coach Kirk Ferentz said this: “We’ve had too many instances, in my opinion, where not everybody gets the call. We have intricate calls that we make up front and that’s good unless everyone isn’t on the same page. That opens up seams and they hit a couple of those.”
Johnson mentioned missed calls against Miami (Ohio) in week 1. This is a serious problem or it’s something they just say when too many rushing yards have been given up. Ferentz has mentioned rushing yards as a concern since week 1. If it keeps up, the problem is more than just communication issues.
2. WR rotation has shrunk and really isn’t a rotation
I want to be careful with the words I choose here.
I’m not pronouncing the WR dead. Senior Matt VandeBerg is a great player. Senior Riley McCarron and sophomore Jerminic Smith have made huge strides and could have bigger roles as the season goes on.
Let’s not be drastic, but let’s acknowledge the fact that this position is limited, at least right now going into week 5 against Northwestern.
— Four WRs played at Rutgers. Iowa isn’t a huge WR team. Recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell said this summer that it wouldn’t make sense for Iowa to have 14 scholarship WRs. That makes sense for what Iowa is and wants to be. But a rotation of four isn’t enough.
— Just two WRs caught passes against Rutgers (VandeBerg and Smith). Last week, it was just VandeBerg, McCarron and Smith. What’s a good number? Probably not many more than four, which is how many caught passes in a 42-3 win over ISU this year. Is two WRs catching passes a limited playbook?
— Who got targets? Smith led Iowa with six. VandeBerg had five and TE George Kittle had two. Who threatens defenses and how do you free them up? Kittle’s 36-yard TD pass was a brilliant design. How many times can you expect to game a defense like that?
3. Hello, Sean Welsh and James Daniels
Iowa’s running game went from 34 yards on 25 carries — worst output in 36 games — to 193 yards on 38 carries. Junior guard Sean Welsh and sophomore center James Daniels mattered. They mattered a lot. Iowa had second-level blocking this week. Also, junior guard Boone Myers might’ve had his best game as a Hawkeye.
4. Last call on the illegal block below the waist
RB LeShun Daniels ran for what looked like a 75-yard TD run. The only problem? None of his teammates were running to the end zone to congratulate him.
“I realized half of the offense was still down there, I was like, ‘Ah, something’s got to be wrong,’” Daniels said.
Yep. Right tackle Ike Boettger was called for an illegal block below the waist (clipping, I guess is what was eventually called) after cutting RU DT Darius Hamilton. This happened in the tackle box and last year this was a perfectly fine block. We’ve been over what Ferentz said in the postgame. He’s frustrated at how the rule change is being interpreted and, frankly, he doesn’t understand why it changed.
I was able to talk to Welsh and tackle Cole Croston in the postgame.
“What they said was they called it a clip,” Croston said. “And they said Ike didn’t get all of the way in front of the guy and cut him from behind. That’s why they threw the flag. They were saying Ike needed to take a few more steps and get in front of the guy.”
Croston said Iowa OL are taught to get their head across and get to the “upfield knee.”
5. Anthem watch
This is a thing now, with Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State players protesting the national anthems last week. So, this is a thing now that I actually pay attention to.
Last week, every Hawkeye had his helmet tucked under his left arm and his right hand on his heart. Every one of them. I’m not pointing this out to say, “Hey, look how patriotic the Hawkeyes are and other teams aren’t.” This is news now in 2016. Maryland players also were uniform in their anthem participation.
This is the greatest country in the world. Part of what makes it great is what I think isn’t necessarily what you think and somehow we live together peacefully. Dissent is not a crime.
There’s my hot take.
1. Free safety Brandon Snyder
I think I found the play that had Ferentz so mad at Snyder after he got in on a tackle on a fourth-and-2 at Iowa’s 17 on RU’s final play. Snyder went in with his head down and whiffed on a tackle that ended up being a 22-yard pass play to Iowa’s 25 four plays earlier.
That’s Ferentz’s job and he was doing it. Snyder did his job pretty well Saturday, leading Iowa with 13 tackles including a forced fumble and fumble recovery that set up Iowa’s winning TD.
2. P Ron Coluzzi
When this season is over, Coluzzi will either be a professional punter somewhere or he will be working for in logistics. Seriously, that’s what he graduated with from Central Michigan. He has a job waiting for him in February. In the meantime, he averaged 42.0 yards on seven punts and had at least two touchbacks on kickoffs against Rutgers, earning Big Ten special teams player of the week.
I think he had three touchbacks. Iowa is credited with three. The other kicker? Quarterback C.J. Beathard, at least according to Rutgers’ box score. I dunno.
3. TE George Kittle
The senior caught both of his targets, including a 36-yard TD pass where he might’ve earned his way into acting with a fake block and wheel route that totally stunned Rutgers’ defense. He played all 63 snaps and earned a positive Pro Football Focus overall grade.
This week, the Hawkeyes crushed the life out of Rutgers with a hellish 4-minute drill.
They tried to get cute with an end around to WR Jay Scheel. The camera cut to Ferentz, who had a look on his face like he just yelled at his kids in the back seat during a cross-country drive.
It went 21 personnel and three inside running plays to LeShun Daniels on the first two plays (a pair of 6-yard gains). On second-and-10, it was 22 personnel and Daniels for 3. And then on the biggie, it was straight up 11 personnel and a power play with big seal blocks from Kittle and Myers along with kickout from James Daniels to spring LeShun Daniels for a 12-yard gain.
Game over. 4-minute drill crushed (crushed in a good way) with the last 4:40 of the game being drained away.
— During Iowa’s 99-yard drive for its only TD of the first half, Rutgers free safety Kiy Hester left the game for a play after getting shaken up. On the next play, Beathard went right at his replacement, K.J. Gray, with a play-action pass to Kittle good for 20 yards. Gray lost Kittle. Credit an aggressive call that exposed a bad matchup.
— After rolling out just one raider package, the Hawkeyes’ third-down pass defense, just once in the first three games, defensive coordinator Phil Parker dialed it up eight times vs. RU. The results: incompletion, DE Parker Hesse sack (stopped RU’s first drive of the game that reached Iowa’s 23), pass incomplete, pass incomplete, pass incomplete, pass incomplete (throwaway), TD Rutgers (15-yard pass on a third-and-10) and completed pass that ended up being Snyder’s strip and recovery.
— Parker also called three cover 0 alignments, putting linebackers Bower and Ben Niemann on the ends of the line of scrimmage and leaving Jewell and Snyder in the middle. That went: 4-yard gain on a third-and-3, no gain on third-and-2 at Iowa’s 17, no gain on fourth-and-2 at Iowa’s 17 and that closed out the Scarlet Knights.
I also counted at least four blitzes out of base defense.
Up Next — Northwestern (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten)
— Northwestern hung close to Nebraska, falling 24-13, despite: holding penalties that negated key third-down conversions, a Clayton Thorson interception in the end zone that snuffed out momentum, a missed extra point and a missed field goal by increasingly inaccurate kicker Jack Mitchell and a defense that was shredded for 556 yards of Nebraska offense.
— Inside NU breaks down the Wildcats’ offensive line and running game problems.
“I’ll have to look at the entire tape before we pass judgment,” Fitzgerald said. “The narrative is that we had two third downs that we had bad holding penalties on...The young men in that locker room have got to figure out the discipline that it takes to become a winner.”
— That part where I wrote that Northwestern hung tough? Not so fast, writes the Chicago Tribune’s Teddy Greenstein.
“When we go out to Iowa City (Saturday), we have to perform,” Fitzgerald said. “If we don’t go out with the right attitude and the right preparation, we will get crushed.”
The Numbers Game
Touchdowns in the red zone
Iowa — 0 of 1
Rutgers — 1 of 4
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);
The takeaway: The pass that Beathard missed on to Smith on fourth-and-5 from RU’s 10 late in the first half was Iowa’s first misfire in the red zone this season. And it kind of loomed large long into this game. BTW, if LeShun Daniels doesn’t trip on second-and-6 from the 11, it’s a TD. Ferentz is clearly set on going for it inside the 10, or he was this week. TDs were everything in this one. I think that was the thinking over FGs.
Three and outs forced by the defense
Iowa — 2
Rutgers — 3
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);
The takeaway: This didn’t end up being the time of possession disaster NDSU was (Rutgers held a 30:41 to 29:19 edge), but Iowa’s offense still isn’t sustaining enough. The defense gave up a few short third-down conversions that will drive everyone a little nutty, but can’t argue with two critical fourth-down stops.
(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 — 39.3 percent (24 efficient plays out of 61 total)
Rutgers — 37.6 percent (29 of 77)
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);
The takeaway: Last week, Iowa had no efficient offensive plays in the fourth quarter. This week, it only had four and that was enough. The Snyder takeaway and the Wadley 26-yard TD run was efficient and explosive and a win. This is the second consecutive week Iowa has been held under 40 percent, but it held Rutgers to just 37.6. Those probably will always be winning numbers.
Iowa — 5
Rutgers — 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);
The takeaway: Passes to Kittle accounted for two of Iowa’s 20-plus. Beathard and Smith hooked up for a beautiful back-shoulder 24-yard gain. Wadley also had a pair, the TD run and a 30-yard screen pass. Wadley needs more targets in the passing game. He’s a threat.
The Iowa/Greg Davis definition of explosive (it’s 12-plus runs and 16-plus passes): 11 — After just four against NDSU, Iowa piled up 11. Beathard had three explosive runs (14, 13 and 12). Daniels had a pair of explosive runs (15 and 12). Wadley accounted for three. One explosive play from a wide receiver (Smith for 24). (Tracking: Miami 9, ISU 10, NDSU 4, Rutgers 11)
Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)
Iowa — 7
Rutgers — 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);
The takeaway: Iowa got off the schneid here in a big way. The 99-yard drive I first thought was kind of rickety after the game. There was the tipped pass that was too hot for Kittle and VandeBerg still snared. And then the 20-yard pass play to Kittle was almost defensed by fullback Drake Kulick, who reached up and nearly tipped it. Iowa had two pass plays where two receivers were in nearly the same spot. But after seeing this drive again, it was solid. Beathard took 10 hits, but this was his best “feet” game in who knows how long. Well, here’s how long — the 37 yards were his most in eight games (50 vs. Minnesota last season) and this was the first time he broke into positive rushing yards in six games.
That’s as positive of a sign as any.
l Comments: (319) 398-8256; firstname.lastname@example.org