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IOWA CITY — Most fans are probably pleased with Iowa’s second half against Colorado State.
The first half? Not so much.
That leaves a lot to dissect ahead of the resumption of Iowa’s Big Ten football schedule.
Iowa’s run defense and costly third-down conversions
On paper, Iowa’s run defense looked great.
Colorado State’s rushing attack had at least 200 yards in two of its first three games. The Hawkeyes held the Rams to a season-low 95 rushing yards Saturday.
Great, right? Well, yes and no.
The Rams were without starting running back David Bailey for almost all of Saturday. After Bailey ran for 2 yards less than a minute into the game, he hobbled to the sideline and did not return.
Regardless of who was running the ball, Iowa’s defensive front — whether it be veterans like John Waggoner or newer faces like Yahya Black — largely won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
But Iowa struggled to stop quarterback Todd Centeio from making big plays on his feet, particularly in the first half.
A lot of his runs happened at seemingly the worst times for the Hawkeyes, too. Four of Colorado State’s nine third-down conversions in the first half came from Centeio runs.
On a third-and-4 in the first quarter, Iowa’s six-man rush was effective. The secondary had solid coverage of the Rams’ receiving corps, including star tight end Trey McBride.
Centeio outran most of Iowa’s 4-3 defensive front, though, for 9 yards and a first down.
About a minute later, Colorado State faced another third down, this time with 7 yards to go. Iowa again provided pressure. Defensive end Joe Evans pierced through the “C” gap quickly. Teammate Zach VanValkenburg wasn’t far behind.
Centeio extended the play with his feet before finding an open E.J. Scott for a 17-yard completion. It didn’t go in the box score as a quarterback run, but the conversion would’ve been a lot less likely without Centeio’s scramble to the right side.
In the second quarter, Iowa’s defense stopped Colorado State on first and second downs after a shanked punt gave the Rams the ball on Iowa’s 35-yard-line. Centeio’s run for 15 yards extended the drive, which ended with another Centeio run on another third-down for a touchdown.
Centeio had a 10-yard run early in the third quarter that was negated by a holding call. The senior quarterback was limping after the play. He remained in the game, but did not have another run for more than 1 yard after he started limping.
Iowa hasn’t seen much of a quarterback who also is a significant running threat this season. Its first three opponents’ quarterbacks combined to record minus-14 rushing yards.
This might not be the last Iowa sees of quarterbacks making plays on their feet.
The Hawkeyes’ next two opponents — Maryland and Penn State — don’t have quarterbacks who rely on their feet nearly as much as Centeio does, but they have shown the ability to do so when necessary.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa had a 35-yard run against Illinois although he hasn’t run for 10 or more yards in the Terrapins’ other three wins.
Penn State’s Sean Clifford, meanwhile, had a 43-yard run against Ball State and 20-yard run against then-No. 22 Auburn.
Spencer Petras’ pick
Quarterback Spencer Petras had just completed six straight passes and brought the Hawkeyes into the red zone for the first time Saturday. With less than two minutes left in the half, Iowa had a prime opportunity to take a halftime lead.
Petras’ attempt at seven straight completions was too ambitious, though, and came at a big cost.
After play action, he tried needling a throw to wide receiver Tyrone Tracy, who was running a tunnel screen. Colorado State defensive back Robert Floyd intercepted it and ran 62 yards to set up a Rams drive that eventually ended in a touchdown and 14-7 lead.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz had the right matchup for the play-action tunnel screen call. Tracy, one of Iowa’s most experienced receivers, was matched up against Floyd, a true freshman walk-on.
Floyd was the same guy who true freshman Keagan Johnson outran en route to a 49-yard catch earlier on that drive.
But Tracy didn’t have the space necessary for tunnel screens to be effective, giving Petras far too narrow of a margin for error than any offense would like in the red zone.
Forcing that throw likely resulted in a 10- or 14-point swing.
Petras’ streak of 167 throws without an interception ended. Thankfully for the Hawkeyes, Petras started a new streak in the second half with 13 throws and no more picks.
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