Iowa 45, Indiana 24: McNuttin' All Over The Place

Well, that was pretty nice, yeah?  Okay, sure, there were reasons for hand-wringing -- questionable substitution decisions, lousy tackling -- and we'll get to those in a bit, but a 20-point win in conference play is pretty good.  Even with the Iowa defense's continued porousness, this game was effectively in the bag after Iowa blew it open with a 21-point second quarter and opened up a 35-14 lead.  Even if Indiana had been able to continue to exploit the soft coverage and poor tackling that was rampant in the Iowa defense, there was precious little indication that they could stop the Iowa offense.  After a slightly nerve-racking opening where the teams traded scores, this settled into a comfortable Iowa win -- exactly what we wanted, right?  (And, also, exactly what we hadn't seen from Iowa-Indiana games too often over the last half-decade.)

Marvin is marvelous.  There's only one place to start discussing this game: with the incomparable Marvin McNutt, who not only set the Iowa career touchdown receptions record -- he shattered it with a career-best day (6 catches, 184 yards, 3 TD).  He did a little bit of everything on Saturday: taking simple crossing routes and turning them into a huge scoring plays (his first touchdown, the record-setter, was a mirror image of his sensational touchdown catch-and-run against Indiana in 2009), pulling in fade routes (a route he and Vandenberg have almost perfected this year), and even doing a little possession work in the second half and snaring some short-yardage first down grabs. He even did some nice downfield blocking during the game (although that also led to one of his tow missteps on the day: the silly holding penalty that negated a big Coker run; the other misstep was the comically easy drop he had... but both of those complaints are mere quibbles).  

He is, simply, the total package as a receiver and with just over half the season done, he's laying siege to the Iowa record books.  Through seven games, he has 43 receptions for 757 yards and 8 touchdowns.  To put that in perspective, his best previous season was 2010, when he had 53 receptions for 861 yards and 8 touchdowns. Eerie coincidence alert: right now, McNutt's season stats have him at 16th best all-time, tied with... Danan Hughes, the same man whose career touchdown mark he officially broke this week.  In terms of all-time season records, he's 40 receptions, 281 yards, and 4 touchdowns away from having the best season ever for an Iowa receiver.  Those latter two figures seem eminently within his reach: so far he's averaging 108 ypg and 1.14 TD per game; assuming Iowa plays six more games (five more regular season games and a bowl game), he would obliterate the previous high-water marks and finish with 1405 receiving yards and 14-15 touchdowns.  The receptions mark would be a little harder; he's averaging 6.14 receptions per game, which would work out to 79-80 catches  -- 2-3 catches short of the record.  

On the other hand, expecting McNutt to maintain this pace is probably unwise: Penn State aside, Iowa's October schedule is full of extremely vulnerable defenses that McNutt has exploited repeatedly; November brings dates with a Michigan State defense that's thoroughly legit, a scrappy Purdue unit that did a solid job of slowing Illinois' attack this week (and held all-conference receiver A.J. Jenkins to 8 catches for 92 yards), and Michigan and Nebraska units that are shaky -- but still less of a smoldering crater than the jNW, Indiana, and (presumably) Minnesota secondaries.  Still, even if he doesn't maintain quite that remarkable pace, the season-best numbers are definitely within reach.  As are a few other career records: he's just 314 yards shy of the career receiving yards record that Derrell Johnson-Koulianos set last year (2616 yards) and 43 receptions shy of that catches mark that DJK set a year ago (173).  The yardage looks more doable than the receptions mark, but either way: McNutt is rewriting the Iowa record book, week by week -- and it's awesome to watch.

Meanwhile, there were some exciting performances from the non-McNutt corners of the Iowa offense, too.  Marcus Coker had his second straight fine game (23 carries for 139 yards -- a very healthy 6.0 ypc average - and 2 TDs) and continued to look like a much healthier, more confident runner than he had early in the season.  Playing a defensive line as hopeless as Indiana's certainly helps (there's a reason they were giving up 220+ ypg entering this game: they're really awful), but there's no getting around the fact that Coker looks more assertive and stronger than he did six weeks ago.  James Vandenberg had a solid day distributing the ball (mainly to McNutt, but hey), going 12/16 for 253 yards and 4 TDs (0 INTs).  Anytime you finish with as many touchdown passes as incompletions (aka, the Robert Griffin III Special), you're doing alright.  There are things Vandenberg still needs to work on -- his blitz pick-up (especially from cornerbacks or defenders on the edges) was very poor today and he tends locks on to one receiver (today, McNutt) a bit too much -- but on the whole he played well.  The only way Indiana was going to have a chance to pull an upset was if Vandenberg gave them gifts in the form of turnovers and he safely avoid that pitfall.  

Why, it was such a good day for the Iowa offense that we even had a rare sighting of the tight end in the passing offense -- actually catching passes, no less, and not just blocking!  Zach Derby had two catches for 26 yards and Brad Herman caught Iowa's final touchdown pass on a 1-yard play action route.  As a team, Iowa put up 45 points and 437 yards on a gaudy 7.7 yards per play average -- this is one of the more explosive offenses Iowa's fielded in quite a while.  The 45 points was Iowa's second-straight 40+ game and fourth of the season, their best totals since 2008.  The last time Iowa scored 40+ in consecutive games was the opening two games of the 2008 season (R.I.P., Maine and Florida International) and the least time Iowa scored that much in back-to-back conference games was in 2002 (against Northwestern and Minnesota to end the regular season).  

Can you tackle?  Do you have eligibility remaining?  Good news, you might be able to play defense for Iowa.  Seven games in, I'm not sure how much more there is to say about the defense: it's bad.  If you created a drinking game based on missed tackles you'd be buzzed by the end of the first drive, drunk by the end of the first quarter, and dead by halftime.  Morehouse put this year's performance into context -- and it's not pretty:

Through seven games, Iowa allows 161.6 rush yards a game.  That would be the most for an Iowa defense since 194.3 in 2000.  The 23.3 points allowed per game is the highest since 2000 (27.5).  The 406.7 yards Iowa has allowed through seven games is the most since, you guessed it, 2000 (440.9).

Iowa can probably get away with one more week of lackluster defense like this, given that this week's game is against yet another Big Ten bottom-feeder.  Hell, Minnesota's anemic offense may even improve the Iowa defense's numbers.  Can Iowa get away with playing defense like that against the stronger teams on the schedule in November?  Seems unlikely.  At the very least, it will put a lot of pressure on the offense to score a ton of points. There were a few bright spots for the defense on Saturday: after letting Indiana march up and down the field on the first two drives (both of which ended in Indiana touchdowns), they forced punts on the next two drives, held them to a field goal on the first drive after halftime, and forced a turnover on downs on the drive after that (albeit after allowing Indiana to drive the length of the field).  By the time they scored another touchdown Iowa was already up 45-17.  But their points allowed isn't really the issue -- even if it's higher than normal (quite a bit higher, in fact), it's not so high that Iowa can't win games giving up 20-24 points a game, particularly with an offense as generally potent as the one they have this year.  The bigger problem is that they struggle mightily to get off the field, which limits the offense's possessions, and that puts a lot of pressure on them to be efficient (i.e., score) with those possessions. They've been very good at that over the last few weeks -- they scored touchdowns on their first five drives yesterday and didn't punt until the fourth quarter -- but it's tough to rely on that week in and week out.

We can use timeouts after all?  It was a mixed bag in terms of the performance of the coaches yesterday.  On the bright side, they actually used timeouts before halftime to get the ball back and mount a drive before halftime -- and, lo and behold, it worked (thanks in no small part to a bit of individual brilliance from McNutt, but hey -- the point is to give him the opportunity to make those plays, right?).  On the less bright side, the starters stayed in the game for a bafflingly long time yesterday.  Vandenberg played virtually the entire game, which made little sense; Wienke couldn't have handed off to running backs and thrown a short play-action pass on the goal line?  Obviously the worst outcome was the injury sustained by Keenan Davis while blocking down the field, even though it doesn't sound like the injury was serious (early reports are that it was a sprained ankle).  There wasn't any reason for the starters to be playing in the fourth quarter.  

We did get to see the reserve running backs in action, albeit not in any meaningful minutes (Coker once again gobbled up all the carries then).  De'Andre Johnson ran for 26 yards on 5 carries, while Jordan Canzeri had 26 yards on 4 carries.  Both looked promising enough that it would be nice to see both get more carries -- Canzeri hit the hole with good burst and both guys displayed some nice elusiveness that we don't see from Coker.  Mika'il McCall was suited up and went through warm-ups before the game, too; it sounds like there's a very good chance that he'll be available to play before the end of the season -- and possibly as soon as this Saturday's Minnesota game.

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