Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: Wicked weather in State College favors ...

Also, will Iowa spy on Trace McSorley? Parker's move in spring paying off now

Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson tries to bring down Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley during last year's game at Kinnick Stadium. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson tries to bring down Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley during last year's game at Kinnick Stadium. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Thank you for participating in the #PaintedTower mailbag. My favorite part of the week.

This week on the headphones, Colter Wall’s new album “Songs of the Plains.” Yes, I’d be going to see this 22-year-old from Saskatchewan at Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa this weekend if it weren’t for a previous engagement.

I’ve been living off ice-cold rainbow stew.

And now more about that previous engagement.

 

I never know exactly how to answer the weather question. There are so many factors.

First, quarterback’s hands. Yeah, it sounds elementary, but wet conditions obviously raise the possibilities for turnovers. Despite having hands that are more like baseball gloves, Iowa QB Nate Stanley lost two fumbles last year with the ball slipping out of his hands. He’s been better this season.

Penn State’s offense comes with more potential exchanges, so QB Trace McSorley’s ball control will matter a lot. He’s a 6-footer. You’ll find out how big his hands are at the combine.

By the way, hand size came up with Stanley once. He said he’s never measured. I said you’ll find out at the combine. He laughed and said, “Hopefully.”

Second, what are the strengths of the offenses? Well, Penn State is second in the Big Ten with 240.7 rushing yards per game. That’s your antidote for wet weather, hammer the ball at the other guy until he’s just sliding along. In the last three games, the Nittany Lions have trended down to 195.0 yards a game. Still, pretty good.

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Iowa? You know this isn’t the Hawkeyes’ best thing this year. The Hawkeyes are ninth in the Big Ten at 165.4 yards per game.

Will Iowa’s passing game be able to operate in the weather? Remains to be seen.

By the way, the weather forecast for State College, Pa., on Saturday is 45 degrees, 8 mph winds and 100 percent chance of rain all day.

One number that might calm Iowa fans over the rushing disparity? Iowa is ranked No. 13 in the country in points per drive (1.23). Penn State is No. 14 at 1.20.

I tend to favor the better rushing team ... or the better defense. Maybe the biggest question will be if Iowa can get its tight ends to factor. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson help Stanley make this a special offense.

Maybe Iowa has the better defense.

 

HAHA!

I’m going to Corso here. Not so fast, my friend.

I do think a win Saturday would be a huge push toward Indianapolis. Let’s also see what happens in Evanston, Ill., this weekend.

It’s time to shine some light on Northwestern. It does, after all, lead the Big Ten West with a 4-1 record. After playing host to the Badgers this weekend, Northwestern also will have the easiest conference record after it faces the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Nov. 10. Then, it’s Minnesota and Illinois. There’s also a matchup with Notre Dame, so the Wildcats are hard to picture making it to the finish with just two league losses.

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Wisconsin? It’s at Penn State on Nov. 10 and at Purdue on Nov. 17. That’s a lot of running for the Badgers defense.

Purdue is in this and might be the hottest team. You saw last weekend. I think heat still is rising from the Ross-Ade field.

The Boilermakers might have the toughest schedule left with Michigan State (who knows what you’re going to get), Iowa and the Badgers.

A lot of stuff needs to happen, obviously.

This is what you’re shooting for every year, big games that separate the contenders and pretenders in late October.

I told my boss this week to have a plan for a Rose Bowl/New Year’s Six, a Citrus Bowl and an 8-4 bowl.

Hold off on tickets, but know the drill. They’d go fast. You saw the striped Lucas Oil Stadium last time.

 

I’m writing about Colten Rastetter for our Gameday section. It’s a great story. He ended last season with doubts and a dad in the hospital.

Everything is better now. Everything and everyone.

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Rastetter seems more comfortable. The UI’s sports psychologist helped. I really think just being out there more and building on success. Good habits. It’s all of that Iowa stuff that seems like minutiae and you kind of roll your eyes when you hear it, but then you see it and it’s like, wow, who is this guy? What happened to the Rastetter who looked inefficient in his steps, a punter who still wasn’t sure yet on what technique felt the best to him?

Seriously, Rastetter and wide receiver Brandon Smith are two of Iowa’s most improved players this year. I might throw center Keegan Render into that conversation. He was a rotator at a guard spot last year. He’s now thriving in maybe the most important position on Iowa’s O-line.

 

The duck.

When he was a kid, Josey saw his uncle or grandfather shoot a rabid dog. It flipped into the air. Josey ran up to his elder and said, “Me next!”

I’ll take my chances with the duck.

 

I pointed this out on Twitter a few weeks ago. It became a post somewhere and now it’s my turn to actually get to post about it. Thank you, Tri!

It’s true. Technically, Rastetter doesn’t have enough punts to rate in the Big Ten statistics. He has 21 punts this year, that’s 3.0 per game. The minimum is 3.6 punts per game. Rastetter might not get his contract bonus because Iowa has been too efficient on third down. (Kidding about the contract thing. He’s obviously not paid. That’s something I picked up from my high school coach. A lot of things were in my contract that I didn’t know about.)

Rastetter’s 43.6 would be second in the Big Ten.

Again, otherworldly improvement. To answer the question, I think Rastetter is happy where he is. He lived through an uncalled fake punt last year. This is the “house money” part of his career.

 

One goes to the CFP, the other goes to the Rose Bowl.

I think that sounds right. Wisconsin still holds the tiebreaker with the head-to-head win, so it would go to Indy. You have them winning, so that extra data point (these used to be called, and this is wild, “games”) would push UW ahead.

The Rose Bowl isn’t a playoff game. When it’s not, pretty good chance you get a traditional Big Ten and Pac-12 matchup. Probably a 100 percent chance of that.

 

Let’s take a look at the last three years of Iowa and explosive plays (cfbstats.com): This year, Iowa has 32 runs of 10-plus yards. That’s 10th in the Big Ten. In 2017, Iowa finished 10th with 51. 2016 was eighth with 65 and 2015 was fifth with 73.

Your memory isn’t bad. Iowa is tracking toward a bottom-third finish in rushes of 10-plus yards. The passing game has obviously bailed Iowa out. It looks different this year, and I think that’s hard for all of us to wrap our heads around.

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So, repeat after me, and I’m chanting right along with you, Iowa is good at passing the ball the year.

Let’s take it to 20-plus runs: Iowa has three and that’s last in the league. In 2017, it was 17. 2016 was 11, and 2015 was 20.

Iowa misses the Akrum Wadley explosive rushes. Most offenses would miss that.

Your memory isn’t bad. I’d say it’s pretty good.

Iowa probably isn’t setting the world on fire in the explosive rush department this season. That’s the thing this offense doesn’t have. It has a lot of other things.

 

I think one of the smartest strategic moves for this season happened in the spring, when defensive coordinator Phil Parker started talking about moving safety Amani Hooker to the outside linebacker spot. Hooker doesn’t have the same responsibilities as Nick Niemann, the usual OLB, but they’re close.

It’s this: Against teams that use TEs, you’ll see Niemann, whose 6-4, 235 comes in handy against teams that go big on the line of scrimmage. Against spread teams that lean more toward 11 personnel (one back, one TE), you’ll see more Hooker at OLB and Geno Stone at strong safety.

Iowa planned in the spring for the stretch of spread offenses it was going to face this season. Everyone thought Hooker would be important for this defense in 2018. He’s probably gone above and beyond because of the position flexibility.

What more can you say about Stone? He’s made of football magnets. Always around it. Iowa’s alley players have been there more often than not so far during this stretch. That’s going to have to continue. And a lot of that, IMO, is because the D-line is so good at boxing the middle of the line of scrimmage.

That’s huge for the defense.

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Offensively? You’re seeing the dividends of having Dalton Ferguson ready to play tackle in the opener. He’s won the guard spot and is playing the best football of his five-year career.

Iowa’s OL is deep. Skill positions aren’t. Running back could go duct tape in a heartbeat. Obviously, you should hope it doesn’t.

 

Remember when Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called RPO plays “communist?” This might’ve been what he meant.

RPOs cause so many problems for defenses. You do everything you can to align to stop a run and then it’s a pass.

McSorley doesn’t have giraffe tight ends running up and down the field this year. The receivers have been stuck in gear. So, that’s a lot of running for the 6-0, 201-pounder. He’s handling it. McSorley is eighth in the league in passing and rushing.

Remember Iowa’s defensive credo. Wait, there isn’t one, but I think it would be this: Don’t open yourself up on defense unless you absolutely have to.

That’s why Iowa isn’t blitz happy. Parker wants his defense in front of the offense, capping the big plays and following the “bend, don’t break” mentality that’s been in place for all of Kirk Ferentz's 20 seasons.

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That said, I think you’ll see a spy in certain situations. Maybe a linebacker. Maybe Kristian Welch, who’s much faster than people give him credit for. Or Hooker, who’s probably quicker than any linebacker.

Look for something different maybe on third-and-6 type plays. Ones that might be just a yard too long to try to rush the ball.

I wouldn’t expect Iowa to live in something like that. I would also expect Iowa to be careful with man coverage. Defensive backs have to paste in man. They have to turn their backs to the play and run with their guy. That will put pressure on whomever is in the alley or spying.

 

HAHA!

Well done, Tony. It was that kind of game. I called it the Kerry Wood 20-strikeout game. That was a May victory over a then-hapless Astros team, but it was one of the most dominant performances in major-league history. Iowa didn’t strike out 20, but it did put up some numbers (time of possession, yards allowed, plays allowed) that will stand for a while.

 

Agree on Hesse. Career disruption numbers: 13.0 career sacks and 28.5 career tackles for loss. That’s a pretty good career.

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A.J. Epenesa is Iowa’s best pure pass rusher. You watch the games. He has 10.5 sacks in 20 games. He’s good at football.

This question will never go away. It’s the easy conclusion message board guy makes. I don’t think anyone takes that guy seriously at this point.

I’d love to be able to quantify how much Noah Fant opens the passing game for other receivers. I’m not skeptical on this. I think it’s a lot, maybe more than we think. When WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette told us a few weeks ago that he could hear defenses accounting for Fant on the field, that told me a lot.

I think Hockenson has gotten to that point, too. If Smith-Marsette or Smith or Nick Easley reaches that status this year, see everyone in Pasadena.

That’s a pretty good way to end it.

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

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