Sure, Iowa just outlasted an underwhelming Iowa State team, 17-5. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating ISU? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
The Hawkeye defense is as deep as it is tough. For the third time in as many games this season, Iowa held its opponent out of the end zone, limiting the Cyclones to five lousy points; ISU's points came from a made field goal and two pity points after kicker Grant Mahoney clanged a kick from 21 yards away.
The third quarter looked disturbingly similar to the first half of last season's Iowa-ISU game, where the ball was on Iowa's side of the field the whole time. This time, the Cyclones couldn't even put points on the board with special teams. All credit goes to what might end up being the stoutest defense in the conference. While most of the top-end talent is on the defensive line, there are no real weak spots in terms of athleticism, performance, or depth.
Nowhere is that more ably demonstrated than the secondary. If you'd told us that Jordan Bernstine would barely be on the two-deeps at this point, we'd be horrified at the prospects for the pass defense. Sure enough, as he recovers from hamstring problems, Bernstine is essentially the fourth corner on the depth chart, and those in front of him are showing no signs of relenting any snaps. Bradley Fletcher has improved demonstrably from last year, Amari Spievey is the surest tackler at CB for Iowa since Benny Sapp, and true freshman Shaun Prater was in at crunch time, breaking up ISU's last gasp in the back of the end zone on fourth down.
All in all, though Austen Arnaud seemed to pick apart the Iowa pass defense at times, the Clones couldn't get in the end zone again (it's been more than 10 quarters since they've hit pay dirt vs. Iowa), and the Iowa defense is now ranked third nationally in pass efficiency. Credit should also go to the linebackers, especially AJ Edds, but great pass defense starts in the secondary, and Iowa is rock-solid there.
Another example? Why, sure. Harold Dalton started all last season at strong safety, and he was no liability. Then, during spring practices, coaches frequently mentioned Dalton's backup, Lance Tillison (who, by the way, is jacked as hell), as a strong contender to start. So with both Tillison and Dalton healthy, the coaches started Tyler Sash, a freshman from Oskaloosa. Sash responded with 12 tackles, a key third-down sack, and a goal-line interception that he ran out to the one-yard-line before walking out of bounds. That was one boneheaded play in an otherwise brilliant debut for Sash, who should be a strong contender for the BXI's defensive player of the week honors.
You want more? We'll give you more. Pat Angerer's first two years at Iowa were disasters, last season marked by mononucleosis and a variety of injuries. He thought about quitting football, and few would have questioned him. He stayed, and on Saturday he usurped Jacody Coleman, who started multiple games as a true freshman last season in relief of Mike Klinkenborg. Angerer was flying around the field all day against ISU, but no play was bigger than him blowing up a screen pass on third and short with Iowa protecting a 10-3 lead. Iowa State was forced to punt, and this happened:
Iowa's ground game is no longer a question mark. Shonn Greene's numbers look good on their own: 20 carries, 120 yards, one touchdown. That they came in the rain is seemingly no surprise, as rain is supposed to help a ground game (and let's be clear, in dry conditions, he doesn't sneak out of that tackle and gain 31 yards in the first quarter). But make no mistake, Greene would have easily topped 150 yards on a decent field yesterday.
Greene slipped several times on the slick surface, usually every time he tried to make a hard cut. Thanks to outstanding blocking from Bryan Bulaga and the rest of the offensive line, Greene rarely encountered any trouble near the line of scrimmage, and when he did, his strength was enough to carry him forward for respectable numbers. Perhaps ISU's just miserable in the front seven, but we're not so quick to discount the quality of what appears to be Iowa's most brutish ground game since the days of Nick Bell.
Iowa's passing game, on the other hand, is more of a concern than ever. Oh boy, where do we even start? How about Stanzi to Brodell in the first quarter? Having drawn ISU offsides on a hard count, Stanzi had a free play, and he rolled out to his right, looking long. There was Andy Brodell, who was laughably, insanely open. Rather than squaring his shoulders and planting his feet, Stanzi threw on the run, despite no evident pressure from the ISU rush. The pass sailed and missed Brodell by about three yards, and what should have been an easy touchdown to put the Cyclones down by 10 early instead fell to the ground harmlessly. A false start erased the five-yard bonus of the offsides call immediately afterwards, and the Iowa drive would end in an interception. Indeed, Iowa wouldn't see those points until the fourth quarter, well after the end of the Ricky Stanzi Experience.
Stanzi's overall numbers were as horrifying as his play seemed to indicate: 5-14, 75 yards, 0 touchdowns, two interceptions. The second pick was so ill-advised that Ferentz had no choice to bring in Christensen--it was a curl route into triple coverage that wouldn't have even garnered a first down on third and long. Stanzi sailed passes all game long, including one on third down in the end zone to an easily open Allen Reisner on the game's first drive. Between that and the Brodell debacle, Stanzi left 11 points off the board for Iowa on those two throws. It's tough to say whether Christensen would have erred so badly on the same two plays.
Christensen entered the game with one play remaining in the third quarter. He started the drive with a checkdown pass to Shonn Greene, who motored ahead for a first down, and later Christensen made arguably the most important move of the game without throwing the ball. Facing 3rd and a long 4 at the ISU 25, Christensen audibled to an off-tackle run for Greene, who took it inside the Clones' 5-yard-line. Greene scored on the next play, and Iowa had all the momentum from there on out.
Christensen still looked shaky, though, despite converting four of his five passes. Only the pass to Greene resulted in over five yards or a first down, and Iowa went three and out while trying to protect that 10-3 lead late in the fourth.
Anyone who tells you right now who will start at Pittsburgh this Saturday is either guessing or lying. They don't know. Kirk Ferentz doesn't even know. So naturally we don't know. We do know that nobody was booing Jake when he came in this week, and nobody's going to be booing him for a while after Iowa hoisted that stupid-looking trophy that ought to be thrown into a volcano like some sort of reverse sucktastic Ring of Sauron. The QB race continues, and as long as Iowa keeps winning, that's just fine.
Photo credits, top to bottom: John Schultz, Lee News Service/QC Times; John Schultz, Lee News Service/QC Times; Doug Dornath, HawkeyeSports.com; John Schultz, Lee News Service/QC Times; AP Photo/Charlie Niebergall; John Schultz, Lee News Service/QC Times