Iowa Football

Stat Pak: Linebacker depth, turnovers still a test for Iowa

Plus side, Iowa's wide receivers sprouted some wings vs. the Gophers


Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Anthony Nelson (left) flushes Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad (5) from the pocket and into the sack by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Chauncey Golston (57) during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Anthony Nelson (left) flushes Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Zack Annexstad (5) from the pocket and into the sack by Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end Chauncey Golston (57) during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Someone from the Big Ten Network stuck a camera on Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz during the fake field goal.

He might’ve been chewing a wrapper of the sugarless Bubble Yum he’s consumed for his 20 years on the Iowa sideline. He put two pieces in his mouth and then stared down the play.

Long snapper Jackson Subbert expertly completed a snap that was hash-to-hash and that couldn’t leave the line of scrimmage. One false move would’ve detonated the play. Someone misaligned. That snap.

Subbert hit tight end T.J. Hockenson, who took his first carry since high school, followed a block by defensive tackle Sam Brincks and scored a 4-yard TD.

Ferentz spit, clapped his hands, maybe smiled a little and took his headphones off to greet the field goal unit that ran a fabulously orchestrated play for a fake field goal TD in Iowa’s 48-31 victory Saturday at Minnesota.

“That’s one vote I did lose,” Ferentz said when asked about signing off on that crazy play.

Ferentz might be hitting the Bubble Yum fairly heavily in the next few weeks. It’s just setting up to be that kind of season.

Iowa is 4-1 (1-1 Big Ten) and heading to Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday for a matchup with the Hoosiers (4-2, 1-2). Indiana, which fell to Ohio State, 49-26, last week, is tricky for Iowa, especially at Memorial Stadium.

Going back to 2010, the Hawkeyes are 2-1 in their last three trips to Indiana, including an 8-point win in 2015, a loss in 2012 and an 18-13 win in which Indiana dropped the winning TD pass in the final minutes.

Tricky trip to Indiana is worth at least one piece of Bubble Yum.

Then, Iowa is juggling a few depth issues.

Linebacker is going to be problematic.

Outside linebacker Nick Niemann is probably looking at less than a handful of weeks out with his knee injury. To patch that vs. the Gophers, safety Amani Hooker slid into the spot in certain situations. Sophomore Barrington Wade also saw reps. It probably stays this way until Niemann is healthy.

“I had my mess-ups in alignment here and there, but overall I think I did OK,” Hooker said. “Overall, I think we did a good job of getting in and getting out and getting the right personnel in place.”

Middle linebacker Jack Hockaday soon will have an MRI that likely will determine if he’ll be able to return this season. He suffered a first-half knee injury vs. the Gophers and spent the second half on the Iowa sideline with crutches and a heavy knee brace on his left knee.

Ferentz said in the postgame that Hockaday’s knee locked up. If that’s the case, it could be cartilage and that might be a quicker return than it looked like on Saturday.

Junior Amani Jones, Hockaday’s replacement, will miss the first half this week. He was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter and will have to sit out the first half vs. Indiana.

So, who’s the middle linebacker this week?

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“That’s a great question,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got a week to figure it out.”

The prime candidate is junior Kristian Welch, who played eight snaps in nickel package vs. Minnesota. True freshmen Dillon Doyle and Seth Benson probably will make the trip to Indiana. Both were on the sideline at Minnesota.

Redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert turned in another steady performance and is headed toward “fixture” status.

Turnovers have become a problem. Iowa had three against Wisconsin that killed it in a close game. Saturday, it was a strip/sack fumble and a Nate Stanley decision that led to a horrific interception Minnesota turned into a TD.

The Hawkeyes finished 2017 with a plus-7 turnover margin. Iowa is plus-1 right now, tied for sixth in the Big Ten.

“We’re not doing a good enough job on turnover margin at this point,” Ferentz said. “It impacted the last game we played (Wisconsin) and it was the same thing today.”

Three Stars

1. Iowa wide receivers — From Brandon Smith’s catch that was like an octopus enveloping defensive back Terell Smith to Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 60-yard TD to Nick Easley’s six catches and 21-yard TD, this was the best effort from Iowa’s wide receivers as a whole since Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos were running around from 2009-11.

That trio caught 14 of 20 targets and registered at least one explosive play.

2. Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson — The junior from Waukee came this close to tying Iowa’s sack record: When sophomore Chauncey Golston got one, Nelson was right there, arriving just a tick later. In the second half, Jones got a touch sack on the QB and again Nelson was next to get there.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

He had three sacks in the first half, so LeRoy Smith’s record five sacks against Ohio State in 1991 was within range.

3. Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson — The 6-2, 200-pound junior has the look of a receiver who’ll play on Sundays. He hit Iowa with six catches for 107 yards and a TD.

The Numbers Game

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa — 4 of 5

Minnesota — 4 of 4

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 4 of 5 (off), 1 of 2 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 1 of 3 (off), 0 of 1 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 5 of 6 (off), 2 of 2 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 2 of 4 (off), 3 of 3 (def); Week 5 at Minnesota — 4 of 5 (off), 4 of 4 (def)

The takeaway: It’s hard to hammer the defense for this number when Iowa’s offense handed over two turnovers that gave the Gophers field position inside Iowa’s 10 (Iowa has had three of those in the last two games). It took a goofy fake field goal to get it done for Iowa’s offense on one of these, but Iowa has been consistent in the red zone with maybe the exception of Wisconsin.

 

Three and outs forced by the defense

Iowa — 5

Minnesota — 6

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 5 (def), 5 (off); Week 2 vs. ISU — 6 (def), 4 (off); Week 3 vs. UNI — 3 (def), 0 (off); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 3 (def), 1 (off); Week 5 at Minnesota — 5 (def), 6 (off)

The takeaway: Iowa had a hard time reaching “game control” mode. After the Gophers gave up 300-plus rushing yards vs. Maryland, they decided Iowa wasn’t going to beat them on the ground. So, 2.7 yards per on 40 carries. That’s not controlling the game. Iowa made that work with execution in the passing game. Still, Iowa did maintain in this game, so some empty calorie three-and-outs in the second half.

I did miss RB Ivory Kelly-Martin leaving with about 3 minutes left in the game. Took a head shot. Ferentz didn’t mention in the postgame, so we’ll see.

 

Efficiency

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

(50% of needed yards on first down, 70% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down)

Iowa — 37.9 percent (30 efficient plays out of 79 total)

Minnesota — 41.7 percent (28 of 67)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 34.2 percent (off), 38.8 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 29.6 (off), 26.7 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 58 (off), 33.8 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 51.8 (off), 51.5 (def); Week 5 at Minnesota — 37.9 (off), 41.7 (def)

The takeaway: Iowa’s best start of the season. The Hawkeyes had a 14-0 lead before the Gophers logged an efficient play. Minnesota got on a nice roll in the second quarter, but Nelson’s back-to-back sacks pulled their teeth. Minnesota had some empty calories in the second half. Iowa had 21 efficient plays in the second and third quarters, so sustained effort until they could sit on it in the fourth.

 

Explosive plays

(Runs of 12-plus yards; passes of 16-plus)

Iowa — 7 (6 passes, 1 run)

Minnesota — 6 (5 passes, 1 run)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 6 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 2 (off), 2 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 9 (off), 9 (def); Week 5 at Minnesota — 7 (off), 6 (def)

The takeaway: The running game has been just enough for most of the season for the Hawkeyes. It was exactly that Saturday. Iowa is inviting defenses into the backfield to set up the play-action game. Either way, Iowa’s running game is not to standard. It’s like an ankle injury. You don’t really know if it’s OK until you’re running on it.

Some new faces here for Iowa — Smith-Marsette had a 60-yard TD. Easley had a 21-yard TD. Smith brought down a 26-yarder. RB Ivory Kelly-Martin had a 15-yard rush and 25-yard reception. And then, Hockenson showed up here again. He’s had five explosive plays from the TE spot in the last two games.

That’s why Ferentz said in the postgame that Hockenson might be Iowa’s best player.

 

Halftime adjustments

(General idea of how busy the whiteboard is)

Iowa — First half: 42 plays for 259 yards and 6.2 yards per play.

Second half: 37 plays for 161 yards and 4.4 yards per play.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota — First half: 35 plays and 164 yards for 4.7 per play.

Second half: 32 plays and 156 yards for 4.9 per play.

The takeaway: Iowa is 25th in the country allowing just 66.5 plays per game. It’s been just 66.3 the last three games. Opposing offenses aren’t getting in enough swings. That’s defense and offensive tempo from Iowa (game control). Give Iowa high marks for a fast start on the road.

 

Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 14

Minnesota — 7

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 3 vs. UNI — 0 (off), 0 (def); Week 4 vs. Wisconsin — 0 (off), 14 (def); Week 5 at Minnesota — 14 (off), 7 (def)

The takeaway: Not going to ding Iowa’s defense for the Gophers’ magic TD. It came off QB Nate Stanley’s carelessness on the interception at the end of the half. Consistency remains the goal. Found it for a lot of the day at TCF Bank, but had lapses of carelessness.

But he also directed a pair of successful two-minute drills, Iowa’s first of the season.

Iowa cashed in on back-to-back explosive plays at the end of the first half, with Kelly-Martin logging a 25-yard reception (what a terrific play design on that one) and Easley’s 21-yard TD reception, which was a wonderful pass from Stanley. Stanley hit a TE throwback to Hockenson to fuel Iowa’s fourth-quarter two-minute TD.

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

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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

CONTINUE READING

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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