Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: How would you stop Iowa's offense?

Dynamite, pole vaulting, choppers, sharks, bears and sharks with lasers, Samurai swords

Iowa tight end T.J Hockenson scores one of his two touchdowns in last Saturday's game against Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa tight end T.J Hockenson scores one of his two touchdowns in last Saturday's game against Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

May your company never play ESOP bingo.

It’s not as cool or as gamble-y as it sounds.

Thank you once again for participating in the #PaintedTower mailbag. Love this portion of the week. I just put Neil Young on the headphones and try to do the best I can to answer some of your questions.

I see 10 million dune buggies comin’ down the mountain.

Here we go.

 

Excellent question, Mike.

First, I would be a curved bill hat-wearing defensive coordinator. No visor. Bald guys shouldn’t wear visors, Dana Holgerson. I’m sorry, dude, I love your style, but you’re bald. The skullet is just ... stop cutting your own hair. Or at least stop using a butter knife.

With my fishin’ hat, I would demand my defense do something with those tight ends.

On pretty much every touchdown Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are scoring, no one is touching them on their releases. This is stupid. I would fix that immediately. I would at least want to pretend hold them, you know, like pretty much all of football is now, pretend holding until it’s really called holding. Or is that “technique?”

I would pretend hold or whatever it took. I’d want to at least affect the timing.

What does that open the door to for the offense? You saw some delayed draws at Indiana. If you’re linebacker turns his back and runs with the TE, that’s something bad waiting to happen.

Jamming receivers on the line of scrimmage comes with a cost. How quickly can Iowa make that work for Iowa?

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And let’s face it, that might not work, either. Fant and Hockenson are excellent tight ends. They were pretty good last year, and they’re better this year. They’re hitting routes and releases with more strength, speed and savvy.

The stack formations keeps defensive backs off wide receivers and tight ends. Unless they want to get picked, they have to play off.

Which one do you double? You know Iowa runs two tight ends nearly half of the time. Most Big Ten teams seem to have defaulted into a two-high safety to deal with this. Last week, Indiana picked its poison with the blitz and it paid dearly.

What makes this more difficult for a defense is Iowa’s play-action game. Mr. Linebacker Guy: Whew, HockenFant is blocking. Wait, why did he let go of me ... shoot this is a pass. [Sound you hear in movies when someone is swept out of a rocket ship and into space, maybe AAAAIIIIIEEEEEE!!!]

Maybe I’m blitzing? Iowa’s O-line has been great in pass pro. I’ve lobbed that laurel a lot. But it’s also quarterback Nate Stanley. He’s got a quick enough release. His pocket presence is a work in progress, but he’s better this year and still improving. Stanley has showed from day 1 of winning the job that he’s not afraid to take a hit to make a play.

And, hey, let’s not forget about wide receivers Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith becoming credible targets. That’s massive. The fade off the bat to Smith last week was a message as much as it was an explosive play.

So, I’m going to sit on double A gap blitzes and make Stanley be accurate. And then I’m firing up my resume.

 

Akrum Wadley made a living on taking the quick angle to the sideline on the outside zone. I wondered how that would work with Iowa’s 2018 RBs.

They’re not as quick as Akrum. The Flash has a hard time keeping up, so you sort of knew that was coming.

Iowa still runs and always will run the traditional-looking outside zone. On at least a few plays last week, I thought the read-option handoff to Mekhi Sargent was very effective because Iowa got the edge without looking like it was running an outside zone.

Sargent might be Iowa’s first read-option back who has a real feel for when to hit the gas. The read for the RB is important, but I also think Iowa blocked the edge very differently on these plays. All of the sudden, there’s a pair of tight ends, with one motioning in, and they’re blocking. Fullback Brady Ross also was deployed to the edge for a few plays.

I used to crack jokes about the worth of Iowa messing with the read-option because the QB wasn’t going to keep it. Take a step back and the read-option look demands the defense reacts a certain way. Iowa found rhythm in that last weekend.

The better Iowa gets at running out of the shotgun, the more tentacles this offense is going to grow (and be able to use credibly).

 

I think Geno Stone probably is the odd man out, which means probably headed toward nickel/dime duty.

Kirk Ferentz said it on Tuesday. Iowa has deployed more sub packages the last two weeks. What will the defense look like vs. Maryland?

“We’ll keep that door open,” Ferentz said. “I’m sure there will be some situations where we’ll have an opportunity to do that. But having Nick back obviously helps us a little bit, gives us a little bit more experience. We consider him to be one of our better players.”

And the fact of the matter is sophomore outside linebacker Nick Niemann was one of Iowa’s better defenders before a knee injury against Wisconsin sidelined him on Sept. 29.

Niemann will be the OLB. Amani Hooker is better than Stone, so he gets his job back. That’s what I think will happen, I don’t know that’s what will happen.

The big question this week, Brian’s question, for Iowa’s defense is will it want to hang in base to battle the Terrapins’ running game (third in the B1G at 6.03 per carry) with a lot of base 4-3 or will it lean on its alley defenders and play more safeties and linebackers to contain Maryland’s speed?

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I don’t think, not in midseason, that this spirals to whether or not Stone is better than any of the inside linebackers. I do think as long as Iowa maintains gaps and makes the middle inhospitable, it can spill the jet sweeps where it wants, which is the middle linebacker’s lap.

 

Purdue. I think Northwestern has risen above “toe stub” status. That program has beaten Iowa enough to where it’s no longer an upset. If you think Iowa should automatically own the Wildcats like it did in the 1970s and 1980s, you’re not living in reality.

Purdue is the Big Ten West’s Jay Gatsby of the Big Ten. It’s nouveau riche with helmets that are made out of gold. Wait, those aren’t real gold.

Point stands. Jeff Brohm has breathed life into the program. The game is at West Lafayette with the Hawkeyes coming off a road trip to Penn State and the Boilermakers coming home from a trip to East Lansing.

Iowa is going to have to dunk on them.

 

I haven’t heard anything on this. Three home games left. This week is 11 a.m. Then, Northwestern and the Black Friday with the Huskers, which also is an 11 a.m. kick.

I’m a no on this. Why? I think the custom-fitted helmets are too expensive. Iowa’s equipment staff puts a lot of effort into making sure the new Riddells are fitted and molded properly. An alternative uniform would introduce a helmet that would be too costly to reproduce. It would also need at least six months (maybe it was less) to be fitted and manufactured.

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Iowa put its chips on player safety over ninja uniforms this year. (I might be wrong. Maybe Northwestern, but I don’t see it.)

 

I do see that potential for Parker Hesse. I was able to ask him what he wanted to be when he grows up. He said he doesn’t know. I don’t see Paki O’Meara traveling the world being a thing for Hesse, but I could see football coach.

Really smart guy. If he didn’t play football, he would’ve graduated the UI two years ago with a hospital administration degree.

Have you guys picked up on former safety Miles Taylor being a grad assistant on this staff? I could see that. Players always loved Miles.

Keegan Render could be a coach. In fact, I’d want my kids (they’re too old and slow) to play for a guy like that. He seems to be the type who makes his point without burning you down.

On defense, Jake Gervase. He’s seen a lot of stuff. He was a walk-on. He lost his joband lived to tell about it. Excellent in the weightroom. Lots of perspective in that career.

 

Josh is going to get me in trouble with the FCC. I’m not worried. Trump will have ended the FCC by his fifth term.

I did get a lot of this last week. Some of it stemmed from the fact that Stanley wasn’t only in the game in the fourth quarter with a four-TD lead, but he passed on the game’s final play.

That was planned! Kirk Ferentz started his news conference on Tuesday with an explanation on how that play was “scored.” It actually counted as a “team pass,” meaning it basically was the same thing as taking a knee.

Some of you thought, sound of the neck bone being crushed under the boot, music to my ears. It wasn’t that.

But, yeah, you guys do like when the finishing move includes something The Predator wore around his neck before fighting Arnold. A spine? An ear?

I think Brian Ferentz likes that, too. You have to be careful with that, because you see a lot of these programs on an annual basis, but I think Brian Ferentz likes that. I think in a different time, he would’ve worn an ear necklace. Probably not as stealth as a Predator, though.

 

I would love to. That’s a family who loves football. Gimme that. Gimme that all day.

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I love the game. Why does it feel like my job is only like 10 percent actually writing about the game? Anyway, heck yes.

The way I look at it is they had an opinion Iowa Twitter didn’t like. I think that makes me an unofficial Fant brother. We all have to let some crap go sometimes. That is where I’m at in life.

 

Iowa ran a smattering of three-TE sets to begin the season. Mostly it was goal line, but not always. The last two games, it’s been MIA. I don’t think they’ve run it even once.

You don’t want three TE sets in passing situations because you have Easley, Smith and Smith-Marsette. Wide receivers are making plays, keep them on the field.

There is another factor this week, though. Fullback Brady Ross is out. Maybe Iowa goes a little heavier with three TEs. Or maybe five TEs.

Why stop there? I think the 100 TE offense has to be a thing. Call that formation the “Giant sundae at Happy Joe’s.”

 

For the same reason Steve McQueen did his own stunts. To feel alive, I guess.

Good question. We’ve talked about these with Stanley extensively. After six TDs, he had an explanation (well executed zone drop by the LB) and then kind of gave us a smile and shrug. Normally, that’s an alarming response. But six TDs, and that was exactly Kirk Ferentz’s response.

 

Cornerbacks Riley Moss and Julius Brents are in. I believe safety Kaevon Merriweather is at three (special teams). Keep an eye on RB Henry Geil. They might need him to be available. Freshmen linebackers are going on road trips. Not sure if they’ll need to play.

I think WR Tyrone Tracy probably doesn’t redshirt, either. I think he could have a shot at Easley reps and targets in 2019.

QB Peyton Mansell probably should’ve been in there. For the others, I wonder if the staff didn’t want them to burn one of their four games on a result that already was in the mail.

 

This is the mystery that remains for 2018. Those three offenses are practiced spread offenses with teeth. The kinds of offenses that have historically given Iowa fits.

Talked a little bit about it this week, but defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s long read on this started last spring when they experimented with Hooker at outside linebacker. Well, that happened and could continue to happen.

Is Maryland a trap game? It’s hard to say that when the Terps are 4-2 with wins against Texas and Rutgers. Bad joke on Rutgers.

I’ll say this, when I talked with players on Tuesday, I was surprised how locked in they were on Maryland. The message went out early this week. Iowa might be talented enough to play through the “trap.”

 

Frankly, I think they’re barely scratching the surface. They haven’t gotten to using running backs in the passing game as much as I thought. The tight end thing and the tricky use of pace is the Patriots.

I think there are definitely concepts that are similar between the offenses, but Brian Ferentz has been very conscious of tendency in what Iowa does. Felt like Greg Davis kind of blew through that. So, a lot of defenses know his background and know that he visited Boston in the offseason. I think Brian is smart enough to let that work for him and just screw with DC’s heads.

WE HAVE A PATRIOTS GAP!

 

It’s nice that ESPN is starting to realize it’s a great big world of college football out there.

Still, anything ESPN is going to come dripping in SEC and Nick Saban. I’ve turned off that channel for anything Big Ten. Let me direct you to the Big Ten Network. It’s all about the Big Ten, it says it right in the name!

It’s nice that GameDay is at least considering this. Let’s see how the Cyclones finish. They have a chance to be a big story yet this year.

 

Do you live in Iowa, Will? I would go with the “beach in January” argument. Of course, I’m making assumptions on where Iowa lands.

Wearing shorts in January always feels like stealing to me. And, as always, if the Hawkeyes end up in the Holiday in San Diego, it’s been a good run. I’ll never be heard from again.

 

Thanks for breaking my brain on this one, Tony.

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I guess he could redshirt, but I believe it would still have to be the medical hardship waiver. Mends is a fifth year, so he’d have to prove it and that usually takes two seasons stolen by injury.

As always, Drew Ott and I are very suspicious of this math.

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

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.