The inside of Iowa’s offensive line was substandard last Saturday against No. 7 Penn State.
The left guard spot, where senior Landan Paulsen played 58 snaps and redshirt freshman Cody Ince played 18, was a struggle from the first quarter. That position allowed a sack, two quarterback hits and three hurries. Defensive tackle Robert Windsor had 7.5 sacks in 2018. He was off to a slow start with that number. The 1.5 sacks he was credited with last Saturday bumped his stats nicely.
Where do the No. 23 Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) go from here to help the guard spot going into this Saturday's matchup with Purdue (2-4, 1-2)?
Sophomore Kyler Schott (foot) and junior Cole Banwart (lower leg) suffered injuries in practice. Schott could be back at some point. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz announced in the postgame of the 17-12 loss to the Nittany Lions that Banwart is out for the season.
The injuries have taken a bite.
Penn State was a tough unit for one backup and sophomore Mark Kallenberger’s first start at guard. Kallenberger had some mental errors, including a missed block that led to a fumble, but he stood up physically for an offensive tackle sliding into a position he hadn’t played in competition.
Senior Levi Paulsen, who has three starts at right tackle and one at right guard this season, didn’t play O-line vs. Penn State. He was healthy and played at Michigan. He warmed up and played on field goal unit.
True freshman Justin Britt did show up at right guard on Monday’s depth chart, behind Kallenberger. The 6-5, 290-pounder has currently played three games this season, giving him one more before there’s a hard decision to make on a redshirt.
“We have some moving parts inside right now,” Ferentz said. “We’ll just keep pushing forward. I think we have enough to win with. We just have to get a little bit better with our execution. That was Kallenberger’s first start playing a little bit of a different position. Thought he responded pretty well, too.”
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Any harsh judgment on quarterback Nate Stanley vs. the Lions is misguided, to put it mildly. The wrong shoulder on the slant to wide receiver Brandon Smith on the goal line with less than a minute left before half? Yeah, maybe that throw deserves some attention, but he also had two defenders wrapped around his feet.
There were a lot of lonely walks back to Stanley to help him up. Linemen hate that, in case you were wondering.
“I hate it,” offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said after Michigan. “That’s our whole position, to keep Nate clean, to protect him and protect our backs. That’s really frustrating.”
Stanley isn’t a mobile QB. In contrast to Penn State’s Sean Clifford, this stood out. Clifford was credited with 16 rushes for 52 yards. He converted a couple of third downs with his feet. He avoided Iowa’s pass rush and made plays.
The combination of inside pressure and the occasional push on the outside (Wirfs started limping in the second quarter) limited Stanley’s escape routes. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz did call some rollouts for Stanley and they did buy some time. Inside pressure and the defense knowing Stanley doesn’t leave the pocket was not a good combo.
“We’re still not where we want to be obviously,” Ferentz said. “We don’t want the quarterback getting hit at all. Both these teams are really good pass-rushing teams. Don’t want to minimize that, take anything away from them.
“We’re going to keep trying to push the bar up a little bit and see if we can’t answer the bell, give him the confidence to really just stand there, have a little bit more time.”
Something different has to happen here. Stanley jogged to the locker room at halftime holding his right elbow, which had a bandage on it. He also hit his right hand on a helmet. Stanley absorbed hits, but never showed it got to him.
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“It always passes,” said Stanley, who’s thrown four picks and one TD pass the last two games. “As long as we continue to put our nose to the grindstone and do what we need to do on a daily basis, it’s going to pass. We’re going to get through this.”
Iowa can’t play a defense/field position game and not catch punts. Redshirt freshman Nico Ragaini didn’t look comfortable fielding punts in the wind and let a few hit the turf. There’s also slippage with the kick return unit. Last year, Iowa led the Big Ten with 27.3 yards per return. This year, it’s seventh with 21.9.
These factors take a toll on field position. Last weekend, Iowa’s average starting field position in the second half was its 10-yard line.
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