Sure, Iowa just thrashed Ball State, 45-0. But how much do we actually know? What was so important about beating the Cardinals? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
NONE SHALL PASS. Iowa's win on Saturday was probably their most complete defensive performance of the season; not only did Ball State not score, they never even got into field goal range. The Hawkeye defense allowed two Ball State drive to so much as enter Iowa territory; one of those drives was immediately rewarded with a Mike Daniels sack that forced BSU to punt (from their own territory, of course), and the other petered out with a punt from the Iowa 39*. That's it.
Of course, any discussion of that defensive dominance can't be taken seriously without noting that it came against Ball State, and even that's an insufficiently mitigating factor; it was a Ball State team missing two offensive linemen and starting a freshman quarterback. There's probably a few teams in the Big Ten who would have shut these guys out (Minnesota, we're guessing, would have dropped a tough 19-14 decision).
Still, there's only so much cheapening one can do of a performance like this. The defensive line was frighteningly good, and we got a good taste of why teammates, coaches, and reporters have been raving about Daniels. Daniels racked up four tackles for loss and looked, at times, completely unblockable. That's great news for a defensive line that looked a little top-heavy (especially in meaningful experience) before the season.
Gaining trust. Last season, Iowa's complete inability to blow out anybody outside of Jack Trice was particularly maddening in that it didn't afford the reserves many opportunities to get decent PT until it was emergency time. Consider the horror show James Vandenberg was when pressed into duty against Northwestern, then his performance against Ohio State a week later. Think he could have benefited from a few dozen snaps against UNI, Arkansas State, or Indiana?
This season's been just a bit different on that front, of course, with all three of Iowa's wins coming by at least four touchdowns. Thus, the second half of Saturday's game showcased freshman running backs Marcus Coker and Brad Rogers, and what we saw (again, consider the competition, but still) was sensational. Both Coker and Rogers displayed surprising athleticism, but Coker's the clear number two behind Adam Robinson; the true freshman from Maryland didn't shy from contact, and looked at least as fast as A-Rob.
Now, running back is probably the easiest position for a freshman to step in and contribute immediately, and the nature of the role dictates that we judge these tailbacks primarily on how they do with the ball in their hands. But what worries us is what happens without the ball in Coker's hands; does he have the playbook down pat, especially when it comes to pass protection? As evidenced by... hell, the entire second half of the Arizona game, A-Rob doesn't inspire confidence in his blitz pickup skills; where's Coker in that regard? How much trust has he actually got from the coaches if there's a game in the balance?
Take little stock in this. Of course, it's great to see Iowa win any game by 45 points. The last time the Hawkeyes did that was 2008's 55-0 demolition of Minnesota**. The time before that? September 3, 2005: Iowa 56, Ball State 0. Thing of it is, the very next week, Iowa lost 23-3 to Iowa State. That's not to say that you should bet internal organs on Penn State this weekend or anything, just that crushing a MAC team isn't quite the indicator of future success that we'd really like it to be.
If anything, it's just worth remembering that there's peril in reading too much into small sample sizes, and one game against a totally overmatched MAC team has very little predictive value for the rest of the season. Besides, Penn State comes to town this weekend, and as much as we should look forward to the opportunity, just realize this: we're experiencing the same amount of optimism PSU fans have had about this matchup during the last two years. The Disaster Gods live for games like this. Beware.
*The punt came on a 4th and 3, no less. Why Stan Parrish thought it was more necessary to play the field position game than try to get 3 yards with his team in its best field position of the entire game is, to say the least, a mystery.
**Or, as Tim Brewster refers to it, "what game?"