Iowa Football

Stat Pak, Iowa vs. Northern Illinois: What did everyone see?

Nothing happened that should get anyone demoted, but plenty of tightening of the screws needed

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) is congratulated after catching a pass in the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 1, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Noah Fant (87) is congratulated after catching a pass in the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 1, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — You heard Noah Fant after the game.

The preseason all-American tight end had an illegal touching penalty and a hold that nullified a first down inside Northern Illinois’ 5-yard line. During the first series, Fant pulled away from the defense on a route. QB Nate Stanley dropped him a perfect pass, and Fant had it bobble away.

Fant is a seasoned player for the Hawkeyes. He said nerves got him. Everything turned out OK. The Hawkeyes (1-0) muscled their way to a 33-7 victory in the season opener against Northern Illinois (0-1).

The all-American tight end admitted to nerves. It’s probably a good bet that factor had a lot to do with middle linebacker Amani Jones’ day.

The junior got caught out of position on two explosive runs and chased a receiver that led to a third-down conversion. After the pass late in the first quarter, Jones was benched in favor of senior Jack Hockaday, who really hung in there in a quick-change situation.

Jones stayed alert on special teams and, with the game decided, he re-entered in the fourth quarter and looked like a different player, running and hitting and trusting his eyes.

There was nothing wrong with Jones’ physical game. He just ran himself out of plays. That’s fixable.

“I think I said the other day that game action is always different from practice,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who became Iowa’s career wins leader as a head coach with 144. “And we’ll be evaluating the team all year long. You do that, but when you have so many young players playing and guys in first-time situations, you learn more about the guys on the game field.”

Nobody’s getting fired on the first day. The linebacker evaluation will continue.

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Sophomore Nick Niemann came up with a huge fourth-down stop. Junior Kristian Welch improved as the game went on and finished with a sack, forced fumble and team-high 11 tackles.

The staff saw something that needed more than sideline huddling and made the switch. Of course, it’s Iowa State (0-0) this week, and the stakes with ISU running back David Montgomery will go up.

Three Stars

1. Iowa’s defensive line — It was the first day at work, but four of Iowa’s five sacks came from the D-line, with senior end Parker Hesse picking up a pair. Sophomore end A.J. Epenesa was a fingernail from two strip/sacks.

The only personnel change on defense was the speed rush personnel on passing downs, with Hesse and sophomore Chuancey Golston at tackles and junior Anthony Nelson and Epenesa at the ends.

The D-line’s five sacks was the best since the 2015 opener. The D-line also generated six QB hurries and another hit.

2. RB Toren Young — The sophomore got one snap in the first half. He was in for a split-running back snap and that was it.

On a second-and-4 midway through the third quarter, he got his first carry of the season and took an outside zone run for 40 yards, eventually setting up Iowa’s first TD of the season.

Young carried eight times for 84 yards behind an O-line that shifted personnel a lot with two suspensions. He also showed some elusiveness on the perimeter and on his 6-yard TD run.

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3. Punter Colten Rastetter — I’m sort of surprised this kid isn’t a folk hero for you guys. Yes, he had to punt better, but he did that uncalled fake punt thing against Ohio State last year. No one had a stroke and he kind of went away with the winter.

There were questions. There were more questions after he had his first punt blocked (whoa, that was a protection breakdown), but then four punts for 53.8 yards an attempt. He had a 69-yard punt that sort of tore out the Huskies’ hearts.

For the first time since 2000, Iowa is averaging more than 50 yards a punt. Probably won’t stay that way, but Rastetter flushed whatever adversity that was in his glove box last year in game 1.

Now, of course, do it again.

Globally

It’s Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium this week. Kickoff is 4 p.m. on Fox.

— QB Nate Stanley didn’t have a game he’s probably going to hang on the wall, 11 of 23 for 108 yards, TD and an interception. But play-calling set up to protect him a little bit. Give or take a few, but with starting tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson suspended last week, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 plays with multiple tight ends or a fullback.

Of Iowa’s 73 plays, 48 were rushes.

Against a defense that knew what it was doing rushing the passer, it had to set up this way. Credit O-line depth for making that work. Too many drops and balls that were just off target stubbed Iowa in the first half and that made it tough to consistently move the chains.

— Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin did turn an ankle late, but seemed OK after the game. Iowa’s running backs were more than OK.

Committee approach worked fantastically in week 1. Young probably performed well enough to earn a bigger chunk of carries.

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— Penalties took a bite. Iowa finished with eight for 66 yards. (Most in a game since 10 at Iowa State last season.)

Kelly-Martin had runs of 11, 13 and 46 taken off the board. Get ready for Ferentz to talk this week about the 46-yarder. Guard Ross Reynolds was flagged for an illegal block below the waist. It might’ve just been outside of the tackle box or the runner might’ve left the tackle box.

Officials are eyeing blocks below the waist outside of the tackle box this season, and there’s always an adjustment period for everyone.

Still, Reynolds’ block looked a lot like football.

The Numbers Game

Touchdowns in the red zone

Iowa — 4 of 5

Northern Illinois — 1 of 2

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 4 of 5 (off), 1 of 2 (def)

The takeaway: There’s your [INSERT SPONSOR HERE] stat of the game. It didn’t feel like Iowa had that much success, but hey. Biggest sequence of the game was holding NIU to a punchless three-and-out after the first TD. Another Young run and a horse collar penalty helped set up 17-0 and people from DeKalb probably don’t stop at the Oasis.

Three and outs forced by the defense

Iowa — 5

Northern Illinois — 5

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 5 (def), 5 (off)

The takeaway: Four of Iowa’s five happened through the first series of the second half. From there, four TDs out of five drives. Impressive turnaround for the offense. Defensively? Five of six NIU second-half drives ended in three-and-out. The one that didn’t? It was a turnover. Massively impressive.

Efficiency

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(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 — 34.2 percent (25 efficient plays out of 73 total)

Northern Illinois — 38.8 percent (21 of 62)

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 34.2 percent (off), 38.8 (def)

The takeaway: Fifteen of Iowa’s 25 efficient plays came in the second half. On defense, take away NIU’s six efficient plays during its TD drive against second teamers and it had just four efficient plays in the second half.

Explosive plays

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

Iowa — 6 (2 runs, 4 passes)

Northern Illinois — 3 (2 runs, 1 pass)

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

The takeaway: Tight end T.J. Hockenson had two (24, 21 receptions). RB Toren Young also had two (40, 24 runs). WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette had one (17 reception). When you start seeing Smith-Marsette, WR Nick Easley and WR Brandon Smith here, Iowa’s offense will be doing big things.

Two of NIU’s three explosives happened in the first quarter.

Halftime adjustments

(General idea of how busy the whiteboard is)

Iowa — First half: 37 plays for 148 yards and 4.0 yards per play.

Second half: 36 plays for 204 yards and 5.6 yards per play.

Northern Illinois — First half: 32 plays and 146 yards for 4.56 per.

Second half: 25 plays and 65 yards for 2.6 per play.

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The takeaway: Holy second half. Cumulative effect of the humid day, maybe that won out? Iowa’s defense really clamped down, too.

Magic Points (scores inside of two minutes)

Iowa — 0

Northern Illinois — 0

Tracking the Hawkeyes: Week 1 vs. NIU — 0 (off), 0 (def)

The takeaway: Iowa didn’t need a two-minute drill this week. The pass that Smith-Marsette would tell you he probably should’ve caught at the end of the first half did leave the door open for NIU to try a long field goal. The Huskies still had a timeout, so they would’ve been able to stop the clock anyway. So, sound game management on Iowa’s part. They called a play that should’ve worked.

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

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