Iowa Football

Iowa football breaks out the tool box for the offense

From problems on second down to running back order and pass protection, No. 10 Penn State will test it all

Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone (44) sacks Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Michigan won 10-3. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone (44) sacks Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley (4) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Michigan won 10-3. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

IOWA CITY — Lots of attention is being paid to Iowa’s offense going into this weekend’s Penn State game.

The eight sacks, the 1 rushing yard, the three points, that’s why the attention. The No. 17 Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) got stuck in the web the No. 16 Michigan defense spun in a 10-3 loss in Ann Arbor last week.

“It could be something so small and minute that can change a play,” running back Toren Young said. “We had some good plays and then we had plays where we might not get to the guy we need to get to or the backs might not be pressing the run the way we need to. Lots of little things.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz (courtesy of HawkVision)

At the beginning of the season, this stretch of Michigan and Penn State looked as if it would be the Hawkeyes’ toughest of the season. The No. 10 Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) come into Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night with the Big Ten’s No. 3 defense (3.6 yards per play), 25 sacks (fifth in the country) and the Lions have allowed 46 plays of 10-plus yards (fourth in the Big Ten).

OK, so Pitt is the only opponent the Lions have played so far with any teeth. That bitter rivalry game was a sticky 17-10 test. Yes, this is a top-10 team, but it’s not out of the Hawkeyes’ range.

Of course, Iowa’s offense has to be better than it was at Michigan.

“We made a lot of big plays in big situations to give ourselves a chance to win,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “That’s a positive I’d take out of it (last week).”

— Second down was a problem.

In the first three quarters, the Hawkeyes faced nine second downs with 1 to 7 yards to go. They converted three. Two of the other drives ended in interceptions and the rest were punts.

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It’s hard to score touchdowns when the offense trips over itself on second-and-gettable. It was all the more frustrating for Iowa in the first quarter when it failed to convert a second-and-5 and a second-and-6 from its 41 and 43.

“Our biggest challenge was our issues on second down,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We ended up in bad third-down situations, things like that, whether it was run or pass. Did some things that weren’t characteristic, I guess. That’s the biggest thing. We need to be good at what we do. Good at what we’re good at I guess is a better way of putting it.”

— The change on the depth chart at running back is real.

True freshman Tyler Goodson has moved into the third spot. He’s replaced junior Ivory Kelly-Martin in the plans. Juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young will continue to share the top spot.

“Goodson has been getting a lot of work,” Ferentz said. “He has done a good job. We are not disappointed with Ivory, either.

“We have four guys, and to your point, it’s probably tough to rotate four guys, or at least have them do the kinds of things we want them to do. I think right now we are probably more focused on those top three and kind of play it week-by-week.”

Is three too many?

“Some people would say, yeah, you need to get a certain amount of carries to get into a rhythm,” Young said Tuesday. “Part of being in a rhythm is slowing things down. On your first carry, sometimes you’re a little anxious and you’re trying to get the jitters out. So much of it is you get your play, go through your keys and slow everything down. Don’t force things, just let the play come to you. That’s what getting into a rhythm looks like to me.”

— Pass protection is just not an easy thing.

First, pass protection goes against everything bid-bodied O-linemen want to do. They spend a lot of time learning how to run block, where they’re moving forward and, if it goes right, taking pleasure in moving a defender off the line of scrimmage. In pass protection, the defense runs straight at the O-line, which gives ground and relies on technique. Iowa expects its O-linemen to hold up in one-on-one matchups.

Stanley talked Tuesday about breaking the huddle faster and giving himself a chance to take a longer look at the defense.

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“It wasn’t one position,” Ferentz said. “We had line sacks. We had backs not pick up or pick up well enough. ... Then there’s some plays there, maybe the ball should have come out a little quicker, too. Bottom line is we weren’t in a rhythm. We didn’t get our tempo the way we want to and that’s a challenge when you play a team that’s a really good defensive football team.”

And they will again Saturday night.

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

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