Iowa Football

Iowa football mailbag: Who are the overachievers and underachievers so far in 2019?

#oniowapod: Overachievers at wide receiver and QB; time for someone to exploit the matchups A.J. Epenesa forces on offenses

Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) celebrates after a touchdown over Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the fourth quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) celebrates after a touchdown over Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the fourth quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

I guess we should call this “hashtag roundup” vs. mail. It’s not mail in any form whatsoever.

 

Agree. The wide receiver group is as explosive and exciting as Iowa has had since 2010/2011, with Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos setting records.

We’ve talked on the #oniowapod about the disastrous development and recruiting Iowa had at WR at the end of Greg Davis’ run as offensive coordinator. The 2016 group was a low. C.J. Beathard should’ve sued. Then-wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy’s recruits didn’t stick and development was lost. Davis retired, but no way he was going to be invited back for 2017. Kennedy wasn’t hired back.

The Hawkeyes’ passing offense routes through wide receiver in a big, big way this year, The foursome of Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini have combined for more than 80 targets. They’ve combined for 49 receptions in four games. Last year after four games, Iowa’s top four WRs combined for 35 receptions.

Good call on QB, too. Nate Stanley has been “fresh from the dry cleaners” clean in play. The pass in the flat to Tracy vs. Middle Tennessee last week is probably a Michigan TD this week, but let’s not spend a lot of time with that. Stanley’s decision-making has been on point so far.

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I would add the following: Iowa’s linebackers have been quietly good. Kristian Welch has locked down the middle. He oozes football IQ. And between Nick Niemann and Djimon Colbert, the Hawkeyes are getting decent coverage from the position. Running back has been better, hitting explosive runs and developing nicely, as a unit, as pass catchers.

The secondary maybe hasn’t overachieved, but holding serve with your No. 5 corner and walk-on No. 3 safety is pretty great, frankly.

I’d throw the O-line a bone, too.

Pass rush hasn’t been there in the conventional, numbers sense. The Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten with just 5.0 sacks. There’s more to pressuring a QB than the raw sack numbers. If the QB is forced to move, the D-line affected the play. I still get too hung up on the stats here. There’s more to it.

I do believe Iowa is hurting for a third defensive end. And Max is right about the attention A.J. Epenesa is getting. Iowa has to start taking advantage of one-on-one matchups this allows.

Condition critical there? Let’s see after this week.

Any other underachievers? Punting is good. I think that’s about it.

 

I love playing NFL GM. I just took a quick look at the NFL standings. I’m going to go with the Steelers picking Tristan Wirfs to play left tackle for like 10 years. Wirfs is more than athletic enough. He could probably play TE.

The line has been great without LT Alaric Jackson. This is O-line coach Tim Polasek’s resume season ... so far.

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It’s OK to put Jackson into a big game after he’s missed pretty much the whole season with a sprained knee. He’s an NFL talent. He’s 6-7, 320 and he’s a better offensive tackle than Levi Paulsen. Knowing Levi a little bit, he’d laugh at that question and make fun of me. Of course, Jackson is the better tackle. Still, give Paulsen a ton of credit. He’s been hugely important and he’s more than held up. Iowa State did have two sacks, but that was some premium rush talent and the Iowa O-line held up.

We don’t see like 90 percent of what goes on with the Iowa program. You know the due diligence is being done on this. O-linemen are coached how to walk. The staff will know if Jackson is properly prepared for Michigan.

 

This forces us back to the bitterness of 2018 Wisconsin. So close, painfully close. Alex Hornibrook didn’t have the game of his career. He did have his best game of 2018 and it’s not close — 205 yards (which is really more like a mile with an RB like Jonathan Taylor), 9.3 yards per attempt, three TDs and no picks and an efficiency of 200.5. If a Wisconsin QB puts up numbers like that, the Badgers win 10 out of 10 times.

Is it fair to paint Shea Patterson with the Hornibrook brush? Maybe not right now. The transformation Michigan is trying to get to on offense — speed in space, RPOs, all of the cool new stuff — is going to affect how a QB looks.

Iowa needs to pressure Patterson. That goes without saying. Also, Iowa needs to keep him somewhat contained. Patterson isn’t going to beat Iowa with his feet, but he has the mobility to extend plays and with Michigan’s receivers — its best foot forward on offense, in my opinion — that’s a dangerous thought.

Maybe Phil Parker gets aggressive with weakside pressure from the secondary. What else can Iowa do? You’ll probably see a lot of stunting and maybe more trickeration in that regard.

But yeah, if Iowa allows Patterson to operate, it’s going to be a Hornibrook game.

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I think we all know the answer to this is yes, but I have other thoughts.

I sometimes let those thoughts run through the washing machine of crazy. I swear the concessions in the south end zone were closed for the first two games. Of course, crazy me ran right to the conclusion that they’re putting tap lines in and making the south end zone the beer garden.

And then Ames.

I think the cows are in the corn on beer in Kinnick this year. It remains to be seen if the Ames thing has a chilling effect on alcohol in Iowa City, which might be its own worst enemy when it comes to alcohol.

Iowa State embraces tailgating and everything that comes with it. I don’t follow the program closely, but generally, I don’t think there have been big problems, except, whoa, that thing with the UI marching band.

No one Iowa State is rushing to publish the police report online the next day anyway. Remember that, Iowa fans? One of the funny blogs would breathlessly rush to publish all of the “LULZ” from the police reports. Hey, Vodka Sam happened just six short years ago. You did that to yourselves, you have to wear that T-shirt. Before that, Iowa AD Gary Barta cracked down on tailgating. My email and Twitter was filled with stories of police coming down on the drinking.

Again this is a general thought, but behavior has seemed to have chilled. Maybe it worked. Iowa fans still tailgate to excess, but ... that’s football.

I don’t know what the right answer here is. The drinking is commerce. I don’t see anyone halting commerce. Iowa eventually will serve beer, but I’m not sure it will be with this AD or president. Their thoughts on this are muddled at best (no pun intended).

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For me, it was Jackson. His injury had a bit of a chilling effect on the Hawkeyes’ opening win over Miami (Ohio). Great way to start the season, but ...

That was before the secondary got its sleeve caught in the thresher. In retrospect, probably get starting corner Matt Hankins out of the Rutgers game earlier. Nothing was happening there. He stayed in and suffered a hamstring injury. He’ll miss his third game this week. You could make an argument that he’s Iowa’s best cover corner. You want your best cover corner.

My answer is Hankins. His return would push D.J. Johnson back into cash safety mode, where the redshirt freshman can learn tough lessons and not be out on an island.

It was telling how Iowa retreated from sub packages in the Iowa State game. Iowa played just 13 players on defense. If it’s going to be that way in every game that’s 50/50, you obviously have to worry about sustaining. That was the big lesson in 2015, for me anyway. The snap counts for Iowa’s defensive linemen hit around 80 percent. That’s a lot of miles for big bodies.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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