Jerry Schultheiss-US PRESSWIRE
Really, how much is left to say at this point? Iowa played and Iowa lost. Yesterday's loss looked a lot like the loss the week before, and the loss the week before that, and the losses earlier in the season too. Same shit, different day. The problems with this team are well-known by this point. There aren't any surprises here.
But still: I am a professional blogger and professional blogging etiquette demands I give you some sort of recap here. I'll try to keep it briefer than normal -- I don't think any of us want to dwell on this shitshow any longer than we have to at this point.
* The offense? Yeah, it still sucks. The scoreboard says Iowa scored 21 points, but the offense only contributed 14 of those points. 21 points still would have been a dispiriting performance -- Indiana gives up, on average, 28.9 points a game -- but 14 points is even more pathetic. The only opposing offense to score fewer than 14 points against Indiana? Massachusetts, who scored all of six points in a 45-6 drubbing. Iowa racked up 345 yards of offense yesterday, roughly 85 yards less than Indiana's average (428.1 yards per game). That included 96 rushing yards, roughly 112 yards less than Indiana's average (208.4 yards per game), and 249 passing yards, actually 30 yards more than Indiana's average (219.7 yards per game). I don't think that implies Indiana has a decent pass defense; rather, teams rarely need to test it because they can run all over Indiana. Except Iowa.
To return to the scoring (or lack thereof) aspect of this offense -- since points are what ultimately matters -- let us note that this marked the fourth straight game where the Iowa offense scored fewer than 20 points. The last time the Iowa offense cracked the 20-point barrier was in September, when they scored 24 of Iowa's total of 31 points against Minnesota. For the season, the Iowa has eclipsed the lofty heights of 20 points in a game just three times -- UNI, Central Michigan, and Minnesota. That seems problematic.
* #BulliedByTheBigTen. There's no shortage of blame to go around for Iowa's miserable performance yesterday but, as much as anything, this was a game lost in the trenches. Iowa's offensive line struggled mightily to deal with the Indiana defensive line -- Iowa's guards, in particular, were absolutely bitchmade by Indiana's defensive tackles for most of the game -- which made it difficult to establish much of a running game. Vandenberg was only sacked twice, but Indiana got pressure on several other occasions (and, of course, there were still more plays where he simply made a bad decision or threw a bad pass even with adequate protection). The inability to establish a solid running game was the biggest problem. At this point, in the season the offensive gameplan should never be "put the load on Vandenberg's shoulders," especially against a team that had been giving up over TWO HUNDRED RUSHING YARDS PER GAME to opponents. Damon Bullock looked okay today -- not great, but not bad, either -- when he had a little room to run or a hole to run through. That didn't seem to happen very often, though. (Another thing that hampered the offensive line yesterday? Penalties. They picked up way too many penalties, which made things even harder for an offense that already struggles mightily to move the ball.)
On the defensive side of things, it was another disappointing effort from the Iowa defensive line. They (along with the rest of the defense) did a solid job of shutting down Indiana's run game -- just 67 yards on 30 attempts -- but they couldn't bring consistent pressure on the passer and they couldn't get to him when he scrambled out of the pocket and hit a big play downfield (which seemed to happen with depressing regularity). This was -- again -- what we feared we would see out of the defensive line this year. It's just depressing to see our fears proven so painfully accurate.
* Too much breaking, not enough bending. Speaking of the defense... "Bend but don't break" might be frustrating to watch at times, but it is a viable defensive strategy... but only if you actually avoid "breaking." Yesterday, Iowa's defense "broke" far too many times. They gave up 7 plays of 20+ yards (there was also a 39-yard kickoff return); all but two of those plays happened on drives where Indiana wound up scoring points. (And the two plays that didn't came on the drive where Indiana fumbled the ball on the Iowa 19-yard line... so they were likely going to score points if not for the turnover.) When Iowa could limit Indiana's explosiveness and force them to play the dink-and-dunk game, they did alright -- it is hard for teams (particularly an inexperienced team like Indiana) to sustain a slow, methodical drive over the length of the field. But if you're going to do that, you have to do just that -- and you have to limit the slippage. Iowa couldn't do that. (That said, a tip of the hat to Indiana receiver Cody Latimer, who had 7 receptions for 113 yards and 3 TDs, and tight end Ted Bolser, who had 6 receptions for 82 yards -- they were excellent yesterday. It must be nice to have playmakers like that in the passing offense...)
At the end of the day, it was another depressing day for the defense. A week after giving up over 300 yards rushing to Northwestern, they gave up over 400 yards passing to Indiana today. Indiana absolutely shredded them through the air yesterday. The defense failed at basically every level: they couldn't get pressure and they couldn't cover that well. Nor could they tackle that well -- too often they took bad angles or failed to wrap up after getting a hand on a player. The defense was an unexpected positive for this team in September, but that's been washed away this month.
* JVB. Again, what's left to say? Barring a remarkable turnaround, there are only three games left in his Iowa career. Yesterday was one of his better outings -- 21/34, 249 yards, 1 TD/1 INT -- but I'd still be loathe to call it a good performance. The same flaws that have been there all year (or all career, in some cases) -- overly jittery in the pocket, poor field vision, a lack of touch -- were again apparent yesterday, along with a breathtakingly bad decision/throw on the end zone interception. That play was a brutal punch to the gut, particularly for an offense as inept as the Iowa offense -- squandering red zone opportunities is at least doubly as harmful as it is for other offenses. But Vandenberg is what he is at this point.
* Playcalling that works? Iowa had, by my count, three good drives on offense all day -- two ended in touchdowns and the other ended in an interception in the end zone. Aside from that there was a whole lot of nothing. The offense went three-and-out five times, including three times on back-to-back-to-back possessions in the first half*. That was a killer for Iowa, especially since they had the momentum in the game at that point. They needed to build on that 14-0 (later, 14-3) lead; instead they just kept handing opportunities to Indiana. Eventually, Indiana was able to cash in some of those opportunities. As for the playcalling... too often Iowa tried to run up the middle (even though, as noted earlier, Indiana's tackles were making mincemeat of Iowa's guards much of the time) or threw short passes to the edges of the field. Whether the up-the-gut runs were called by Greg Davis or audibled into by Vandenberg... they didn't work. And yet we kept going back to them over and over again. The middle of the field again remained radioactive to the Iowa passing game for much of the afternoon, which was all too frustrating.
*Also not helping matters? The punting. Iowa really could have used a field-position flipping kick that gave the defense a little breathing room and -- maybe -- helped set up the offense with decent starting field position. Unfortunately, after opening the game with a solid 53-yard punt that was nearly downed inside the Indiana 5-yard line, Connor Kornbrath had three straight bad punts after those three-and-outs from the offense, all of which gave Indiana solid starting field position.
The red zone playcalling was also maddening, at least in the series that ended with Vandenberg's interception. Two runs up the gut, followed by an immensely difficult back-shoulder in the corner of the end zone? Hard to believe that didn't lead to any points. Iowa's inability to throw the ball into the end zone has been a source of frustration all year -- everything in short of the end zone -- and it was again yesterday. Again, where is Fedorowicz in the red zone? Where is play-action? Where is... oh, forget it.
* Go for it. Stop having faith in a defense that doesn't deserve it. Did I have a lot of faith in the offense to pick up a yard on 4th and 1 from the Iowa 28 with a little under five minutes to play? Not especially, given the miserable performance of the offense this year and Iowa's difficulties in short yardage situations against Indiana yesterday. (That said, the quarterback sneak has been a pretty reliable short yardage play for Iowa this year and that was very much a sneak-able distance.) Did I have more faith in them to get that yard than I did in the defense to force a turnover or force Indiana into a three-and-out? GOOD GOD YES. I understand that Ferentz's inclination is to trust in his defense... but that only works if you have a defense worth trusting. A defense that has given up almost 500 yards (400 yards passing) on the day is not a defense worth trusting.
* Life at the bottom. At least we can stop deluding ourselves into pretending that we are -- or were -- actual Legends Division contenders, even with the state of the Big Ten this year. That delusion was given new life after the inexplicable win over Michigan State in East Lansing, but three straight losses since then should have killed it dead. This is not a good team. It's not going to magically become a good team this year. Iowa sits at 4-5, under .500 for the first time since 2007. Iowa's also riding a three-game losing streak, also for the first time since 2007. And, barring an upset against either Michigan or Nebraska, Iowa won't be heading to a bowl game this year -- also for the first time since 2007. The parallels to 2007 have been manifold already this year -- we might as well make them complete. (That said, let's try to avoid the off-field ugliness that also characterized 2007.)
...that didn't end up so brief after all. Oh well.