Arizona 34, Iowa 27 - The Morning After Autopsy

At least they got the swarm right this time. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Jacobi will be along with a full Takeaway in due time; in the meantime, it might be useful to take a look at the game in the clear light of the morning, away from the haze of booze-fueled frustration.  If you still need to vent about the loss, that's fine -- we even have a thread just for that purpose.  Let's try to be a bit more rational in assessing things here.

So it turns out Iowa State isn't a great indicator of a team's quality.  Iowa ran the ball at will last week in the 35-7 mauling of the Cyclones, but a week later the reality appears to be that you and I could probably put up 200 yards on their front seven.  A week after Iowa lit them up for 275 yards on the ground, Kansas State gashed them for 262 rushing yards.  Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas is very good and a strong contender to be first-team All-Big 12... but K-State ran the ball 50 times (which may or may not include a few sacks) and threw the ball just 12 times.  ISU knew what they were doing and couldn't stop it.  Their run defense is a horrorshow.  

The Iowa offensive line that looked like a road grader a week ago couldn't open up any holes for the running backs last night and turned into a line of full-on matadors at the end of the game, conceding a horrifying four consecutive sacks to end the game.  In the game preview on Friday, we said the battle on the line of scrimmage would be a key to the game.  That part was true.  The part where we said Iowa had the advantage on the line of scrimmage? Yeah... not so much, that.  Arizona's defensive line decisively won the battle against Iowa's offensive line, exposing our greatest fear going into the season: that rebuilt line is fucking scary... and not in a good way.  They got wrecked by the Zona defensive linemen all.  fucking.  night.  long.  Most disappointing was the fact that Reiff got worked hard by the Zona defensive ends he was tasked with blocking; he's supposed to be the anchor of the line and the one "sure thing" we had.  Oops.  Now Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore are good defensive ends... but Reiff is going to have to handle some good defensive ends in the Big Ten, too, and we're going to be in for some more long nights and afternoons if we doesn't start looking more like the guy we saw a year ago.

Best defensive line in the nation?  Surely you jest.  But the struggles of the offensive line certainly weren't wholly unexpected; everyone should have known that they were going to have some growing pains this year, especially when they went on their first road trip.  Far more disappointing was the play of the defensive line, supposedly the best in the nation.  Good luck convincing anyone of that after last night.  They did a decent job of slowing the run game (63 yards on 30 attempts), only giving up a few runs of any substantial length.  But their attempts to pressure Nick Foles were woefully unproductive; the only time Iowa got much sustained pressure on Arizona was when they started blitzing (!) linebackers, most notably Jeff Tarpinian.  When Iowa's front four can't get pressure, the whole defensive enterprise breaks down.  Last night, the positional battle we thought Iowa had the biggest advantage at -- our defensive line versus their offensive line -- went to the boys in red; they kept Foles upright and unhurried for the most part and he responded by picking apart our coverage.

And yet we're not sure how much blame we can really levy on the defense.  Iowa gave up 34 points on the night, which is obviously bad.  But seven of those came off a Rick-Six, seven of those came off a 100-yard kick return touchdown, and another seven came against the defense when Arizona started inside the Iowa 10-yard line (not exactly ideal conditions, that).  When the Arizona offense actually had to move the ball the length of the field, they scored only 13 points.  They racked up quite a few yards, especially in the passing game, but they largely did what our defensive gameplan requires them to: do quite a bit of bending, but not much breaking.  Of course, for that gameplan to work they need to get adequate production from the offense and help from the special teams units; that didn't happen last night and when we needed a heroic, beyond-the-norm performance out of our defense, we couldn't get it.  That Binns pick-six, though?  That was pretty damn cool.

That said, there were some issues in coverage that were not part of our usual defensive gameplan: giving up a lot underneath is part of our M.O., but one of the main tenets of our passing game is about stopping the big plays over the top.  Foles connected on at least two monster pass plays, a 46-yard bomb to Juron Criner in the first quarter where Micah Hyde got burned like a briquette and a 38-yard heave to David Roberts in the fourth quarter on the game-winning drive.  The latter drive ended in a touchdown and the former drive might have if not for a fortuitous Nic Grigsby fumble.  

Our special teams will be riding a special bus to school for a few weeks.  There's blame to go around team-wide for this loss, but if any unit was most at fault for Iowa's disastrous start, it was certainly special teams.  The punt block was a horrendous way to start the game and the kick return touchdown was a brutal blow to Iowa just when it seemed that momentum was starting to swing Iowa's way again after they'd finally put together a scoring drive.  You simply cannot essentially give the other team 14 points in special teams unless you have so much more talent than the other team that you can maul them on offense or defense; that certainly isn't the case with Iowa.  Of the two, the kickoff return touchdown is more troubling, since it comes on the heels of some too-good kick returns from Iowa State last week; there's a trend developing there and it's not a good one.

Still, in the interests of fairness, we should also mention that the Iowa special teams did make some big plays in the second half that enabled the comeback: most notably Prater's recovery off a muffed punt that led to Iowa's third score, although Donahue was also absolutely crushing punts in the second half, too.  But that Mossbrucker missed extra point?  Baaaad.  Please, Trent, don't do that again.  He still hasn't missed a field goal yet this season... but only because we still haven't attempted one.  But missed extra points do nothing to make us more confident in those inevitable field goal attempts.

Finally, the offense.  If the special teams units were what killed Iowa at the beginning of the game and the defense was what killed Iowa in part at the end of the game (conceding that game-winning drive), then the offense did their part by sucking for far too much of the rest of the game.  After a few early drives where they had success moving the ball (two of which led to touchdowns... sadly, one of them was a Zona touchdown off the Rick-Six), the offense stagnated badly.  Iowa scored three more touchdowns the rest of the way, one from Binns' pick-six and two from the offense.  Both offensive touchdowns were set up by good field position, one by a rotten Arizona punt that gave Iowa the ball at midfield and one off the muffed punt that gave Iowa the ball at the Zona 18.  After some early success, the Iowa offense had a whole mess of trouble sustaining drives against Arizona.  

A big part of their struggles was the poor play of the offensive line, touched on above, especially after the scoreboard deficit and piss-poor running game turned Iowa into an entirely one-dimensional team, but there were some problems from Stanzi and the receivers, too.  For once, the Rick-Six actually wasn't really his fault, since it was a ball McNutt should have caught, not tipped up into the air to get scooped up by Trevin Wade.  But he threw a few other passes that were way too dangerous and he got lucky that an Arizona player flat-out dropped an interception in the end zone at one point.  The receivers weren't helping matters by developing a bad case of stone hands, either: DJK had a gutting drop on a sure TD in the first half and he and McNutt had a few other costly drops, too.  To their credit they also made some fantastic catches in the game, but with the special teams digging Iowa's initial hole, the margin of error for the rest of the team was sliced down to zero.

Credit where it's due: Arizona came out fired up and fed off a crowd that was clearly juiced to be hosting a big-time football game (although they're still pretty new at this football fan thing, too: lots of basketball jerseys on display last night) and made some big plays to bury Iowa in an early hole that they couldn't escape.  Zona's defensive gameplan was solid (smother Iowa's running game and force Stanzi and the receivers to make plays) and they executed it well. Their offense didn't have their way with the Iowa defense, but they made plays when they needed to, especially at the end of the game.  Iowa weathered early storms last year in road games against Penn State and Wisconsin, but it's impossible to do that when you have as many breakdowns in all facets of the game as we saw last night. The dreams of playing for a crystal football in Glendale in Arizona are (probably) dashed, but we have the same conference record as everyone else: 0-0.  A conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl are still very much in play: time to get focused on that.

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