Iowa Football

Stat Pak, Iowa vs. UNI: Nate Stanley, Noah Fant, same page

Iowa's offense puts on a show as the schedule moves into the Big Ten

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) scores a touchdown against the Northern Iowa Panthers during the first half of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) scores a touchdown against the Northern Iowa Panthers during the first half of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Nate Stanley and Noah Fant face high expectations because they’re good players. They showed up last season and now they showed up this season.

On the Hawkeyes’ second drive in their 38-14 victory over Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night, on a second-and-9 from Iowa’s 49, Fant went in motion off fellow tight end T.J. Hockenson’s hip. They ran a mesh route. Hockenson tied up coverage underneath and Fant took off on a deep corner route and found a mismatch against safety A.J. Allen.

That went for 43 yards. Two plays later, Fant went from motion to route again, this time in the flat, and it was an easy 5-yard TD from Stanley.

Next drive, on a third-and-8 from Iowa’s 34, Fant split out and ran a very patient crossing route. As soon as he cleared the linebackers, Stanley delivered the ball and Fant delivered a blow on the tackle for a 19-yard gain and a first down.

On the next play, you saw Iowa pick up the tempo with no huddle. UNI got caught subbing. Fant was on the wing off Hockenson on the left. UNI linebacker Rickey Neal jogged in from the sidelines and passed Fant into coverage that wasn’t there.

Hockenson ran a seam route that pulled the safety over. Easy throw for Stanley and another 29 yards for Fant. The drive ended with running back Mekhi Sargent’s first TD of the night.

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Maybe Iowa’s QB and preseason all-American TE got their grooves back. Maybe they never went anywhere. But whatever it is, it showed up for the Hawkeyes (3-0) the week before Wisconsin (2-1).

“You have a relationship with your quarterback,” said Fant, who finished with five catches for 99 yards and the TD (he did suffer a shot to the ribs early in the game, but said in postgame he felt OK). “We know there are going to be mistakes on the field. He might have balls where he didn’t make a great throw. I might not catch a pass he puts out there, the Northern Illinois game for example.

“We know we have to keep pushing through together. We develop that rhythm and relationship through all of the practices and what we do. It’s just having a confidence that it’s going to fall sooner or later.”

— You’ve seen Iowa’s offense move with tempo the last few weeks. Two weeks ago against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes went no huddle after wide receiver Brandon Smith’s catch gave Iowa a first down inside the 5. Iowa scored on a quick running play.

After Fant’s 19-yarder, the Hawkeyes went no huddle and hit a 29-yarder to Fant.

Don’t expect Iowa to live in no huddle, but the varying tempo is an extra headache for defenses now.

“I think the advantage of tempo is more than just playing fast,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said on media day. “It really comes back to creating that personnel matchup that you like.”

Iowa got exactly that with UNI stuck moving personnel onto the field for Fant’s 29-yarder.

“Sometimes, just going fast is good,” Brian Ferentz said. “If you can confuse and disorient the defense it’s just like them coming out and hitting us with a pressure package we haven’t prepared for.

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“Now, we’re disoriented and sometimes that’s enough to cause us big problems. Sometimes, tempo serves that role. Sometimes, it serves the role of creating a mismatch or locking a personnel group. It can serve a lot of different masters.

“We’ve had the ability in the past to play with a little tempo. That’s not always something we’ve hung our hat on. It’s certainly been in our playbook. If the need arises this year, I would hope in year 2, we’d have the ability to play with it a little bit if we needed to.”

They didn’t need to, but it worked and now it feels like it could be a thing for this offense.

— It’s probably time for Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz to measure whether or not this illegal block protest — is that the right word? Maybe rejection is it — is worth it.

And, obviously, Iowa isn’t dropping a 15-yard penalty against Wisconsin because Ferentz thinks the rule is ...

“It’s the dumbest rule in football. I think I’m safe in saying that,” Ferentz said. “There might be a dumber one. I can’t think of it.”

Ferentz’s issue is this: Linemen who are inside the tackle box at the snap may block below the waist from the front or the side until the ball leaves the tackle box.

“Until the ball leaves the tackle box” forces the official to have his eyes on an illegal block and where the running back is in relation to the tackle box.

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The NCAA won’t take questions on this. There will not be enough critical mass to have this changed immediately. On second down of Iowa’s second TD drive, guard Levi Paulsen was called for an illegal block. He cut blocked a linebacker in the tackle box while Sargent was surging to the outside.

The camera panned to Ferentz. He left some blue language for the call to marinate in.

Maybe this is the new “blocking until the echo of the whistle.”

Three Stars

1. WR Nick Easley — Double digit receptions and more than 100 yards receiving, how rare is that for Iowa?

WR Keenan Davis had 10 for 126 yards in 2011 against Pitt in 2011. Marvin McNutt set a bunch of Iowa receiving records in 2011. He had eight games of 100-plus receiving yards but no games of 10-plus receptions. The double-digit reception thing is much more rare than you’d think it’d be.

2. QB Nate Stanley — There’s the double-digit receptions thing. For Iowa QBs, the 300-yard game has been elusive.

Stanley completed 23 of 28 for 309 yards a pair of TDs and an interception. His 23 completions were the second-most of his career (27 vs. ISU last year). Stanley’s 309 yards were second to his 333 vs. ISU last season.

3. OL Dalton Ferguson — The senior from Solon waved to his twin daughters after the first quarter the other night.

Ferguson also got the start. Sophomore Cole Banwart was a scratch with a leg injury at right guard.

Ferguson’s daughters were born nine days ago and a few weeks premature. The BTN telecast flashed a picture with Ferguson, his girlfriend and their two daughters.

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Everyone was smiling in the picture. BTN said the twins were born the night before the Iowa State game.

The Numbers Game

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa5 of 6

Northern Iowa — 2 of 2

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)

The takeaway: This is what you want if you’re Iowa. The TDs that don’t die at the field-goal stage will propel this team. Obviously, a lot of what happened against UNI Saturday night has to go through that laundry. Is UNI an FCS playoff team?

Three and outs forced by the defense

Iowa — 3

Northern Iowa — 0

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)

The takeaway: This will work. The 81 plays the Hawkeyes ran Saturday night was the most since North Texas last year. I think this game compares to last year’s North Texas game.

Efficiency

(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 — 58.0 percent (47 efficient plays out of 81 total)

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Northern Iowa — 33.8 percent (20 of 56)

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)

The takeaway: The 47 has to be a high for the Hawkeyes. It was smooth sailing from the drop Saturday night. The Hawkeyes had 17 efficient plays in the first quarter, so cross “start fast” off the checklist. UNI’s number became respectable in the second half. In the first, Iowa canned UNI, allowing just three efficient plays.

Explosive plays

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

Iowa — 10 (7 passes, 3 runs)

Northern Iowa — 4 (4 passes)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 6 (off), 3 (def); Week 2 vs. ISU — 2 (off), 2 (def)

The takeaway: Iowa took what it wanted from the Panthers. Fant had catches of 43, 19 and 29. RB Toren Young had runs of 14 and 15 yards. RB Mekhi Sargent had a 48-yard pass reception.

Halftime adjustments

(General idea of how busy the whiteboard is)

Iowa — First half: 50 plays for 316 yards and 6.3 yards per play.

Second half: 31 plays for 229 yards and 7.4 yards per play.

Northern Iowa — First half: 20 plays and 20 yards for 1.00 per play.

Second half: 39 plays and 208 yards for 5.3 per play.

The takeaway: UNI’s defense is its strongest punch, I think. Iowa mangled it. Those are “everything is working” numbers. The 20 for 20 could end up being the title of the Hawkeyes’ defense theme song so far for 2018.

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Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 0

Northern Iowa — 0

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)

The takeaway: If this were a sport of subjectivity, sure, maybe you give Iowa some magic points for the TD Sargent scored with 2:09 left in the first half. It capped a 14-play, 67-yard drive. But you can’t do that.

So, still on the hunt. Probably need one or two this week.

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

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