Iowa-Missouri State: Breaking Down the Community Player Ratings

Ratings, ratings, and more ratings.

I explained the concept and origin of the Community Player Ratings last week, so click here if you missed that.  I tweaked a few things from last week, rearranging the sequence of the categories slightly, changing "Greg Davis" and "Phil Parker" to more general "Offense" and "Defense" categories, and splitting "Kicker+Punter" into separate categories, one for kicking-related activities and one for punting-related activities.  As always, feedback is appreciated.

Let's get right to the ratings...

KIRK FERENTZ

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Winning cures most ills, eh?  5-6-7 were the most popular responses this week, an improvement on 4-5-6 last week.  That said, there wasn't exactly a ton of consensus this week, either: 3-4-5-6-7 all received over 100 votes from you folks this week.  In terms of coaching decisions, the most debatable decisions Ferentz likely made in this game were the decisions to punt on the Missouri State side of the field, which he did three times.  Of course, not every punt from the opposition side of the field is created equally, either.  Punting on 4th and 14 from the opposition 40-yard line is different than punting on 4th and 2 from the opposition 37 or 4th and 6 from near midfield.  I think the punt on 4th and 2 is by far the least defensible decision; while the Iowa offense had struggled at times in the first half, getting two yards on fourth down isn't asking for a whole lot, especially when you have a running game that averaged around five yards a clip.

The punt on 4th and 6 from the Missouri State 46 is a little more defensible; if Iowa had tried to convert there and failed, Missouri State would have taken over in excellent field position, with a chance to score right before halftime.  On the other hand, there really wasn't much time left in the half (47 seconds) and Missouri State still would have needed to move the ball probably 30 yards just to get in decent range for a field goal.  And the Iowa defense had been playing pretty well to that point: the previous five Missouri State drives of the first half had ended punt, fumble, punt, punt, and punt.

THE OFFENSE

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Much like last week, there was a lot of division when it came to judging the offensive performance, with 4-5-6-7 all generating pretty heavy responses.  I think that jives with the overall offensive performance on Saturday, too: once again, Iowa produced a lot of yards (491), but once again, they also failed to produce a lot of points (just 28 this week, up from 20 a week ago).  That said, there didn't seem to be a lot of glaring errors in terms of playcalling or gameplanning on Saturday; Iowa leaned on its strength (the running game) effectively and did a better job of incorporating the tight ends into the offense than a week ago, which were both positives.  The halftime adjustments seemed to produce a more cohesive, dangerous Iowa offense in the third quarter -- one that was able to score touchdowns, no less.  On the other hand, some of the red zone playcalling was head-scratching (why does almost every pass have to short of the end zone?), which seemed to contribute to Iowa's failure on two of its trips into the red zone.  And while the coaches certainly don't deserve all the blame for the drops and penalties that plagued Iowa's offense Saturday, they're not blameless; for instance, maybe you don't keep sending out receivers who habitually drop passes and maybe you shelve that quick sneak play on third and short (at least until we learn how to run it without picking up a false start).

THE DEFENSE

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There was marginal improvement for the defense this week; last week 5 was the runaway favorite score for Phil Parker's performance, while this week 5-6-7 were all popular responses.  On the whole, the defense did play better: they held Missouri State to just 7 points on offense (remember, it's not Phil Parker's fault if Jake Rudock forgets what color shirt to throw the ball to in the fourth quarter), under 200 yards of offense, and forced several three-and-outs, especially in the second and third quarters of the game.  On the other hand, there were several coverage breakdowns (particularly on Missouri State's lone offensive touchdown), pressure on the quarterback was still pretty iffy at times, and, really, a performance like this was expected against a team like Missouri State.  This defense needs to prove that it can slow down some offenses that are actually good before it's going to win many plaudits, which is fair.

JAKE RUDOCK

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STATS: 19/28, 193 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT; 7 carries, 41 yards, 2 TD

Another week, another solid score for Rudock.  6-7 was the most popular assessment of Rudock last year and that was the case again this week.  His passing stats were less impressive this week, but they also owed something to Iowa's drop-happy receivers; Iowa pass-catchers dropped at least 4 catchable balls in the first half of the game Saturday.  The bigger issue with Rudock was that he once again threw a fourth-quarter interception; this one got returned for a touchdown that cut Iowa's lead to 21-14 in the fourth quarter.  The good news is that Iowa was able to respond to that mistake swiftly and emphatically, driving down the field on the next possession to score another touchdown and restore Iowa's two-score lead... but it's hard to give Rudock too much credit for that drive.  It was set up by Jordan Cotton's very good 35-yard kickoff return and Mark Weisman (5 carries, 24 yards) and Damon Bullock (2 carries, 17 yards) did most of the heavy lifting in terms of moving Iowa down the field.  Rudock did complete a key third-down pass to KMM to keep the drive moving, and of course he also finished off the drive with a nice run into the end zone.  Like the fourth-quarter interception last week, the late interception this week looks like a correctable mistake once he goes back and looks at the film; the key for him is going to be actually making those corrections, as well as not finding new mistakes to make in the fourth quarter.  Pick-sixes are never good, but they're especially damning late in the game; this one didn't cost Iowa a win, but the Hawks probably won't be so lucky if it happens in future games.

RUNNING BACKS

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STATS: 49 carries, 273 yards, 2 TD; 4 catches, 26 yards

Mark Weisman: 30 carries, 184 yards, 2 TD
Damon Bullock: 10 carries, 46 yards; 2 catches, 14 yards
LeShun Daniels: 6 carries, 30 yards 
Jordan Canzeri: 3 carries, 13 yards; 1 catch, 5 yards
Macon Plewa: 1 catch, 7 yards

The running backs carried the load for Iowa's offense on Saturday -- literally, as the 49 carries by Iowa running backs comprised more than half of Iowa's plays on offense.  And, for the most part, they did pretty well.  There were  a few negative yardage plays and a few minimal gain plays, but offensive line performance and playcalling had something to do with that as well; by and large, the Iowa running backs were able to keep the chains moving on Saturday.  Perhaps the most encouraging thing to see was that there was a genuine running back rotation, especially in the early going.  Weisman ran the ball 11 times in the first half, while Bullock, Daniels, and Canzeri all got carries during that stretch.  Iowa leaned more heavily on Weisman in the second half and I suspect that the first half rotation kept him fresher and more effective for Iowa in the second half of this game.  Hopefully we continue to see that rotation going forward, with the other backs cutting into Weisman's carry total even more -- 30 carries per game is likely not sustainable, even for our beloved Juggernaut.  As expected, Daniels got his first action of the season here; he looked promising, but didn't have any jaw-dropping runs yet, either.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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STATS: 15 catches, 167 yards, 0 TD

C.J. Fiedorowicz: 3 catches, 31 yards
Jake Duzey: 3 catches, 26 yards
Kevonte Martin-Manley: 3 catches, 24 yards
Matt VandeBerg: 2 catches, 17 yards
Don Shumpert: 2 catches, 15 yards
George Kittle: 1 catch, 47 yards
Jacob Hillyer: 1 catch, 7 yards

A week ago, the most popular responses here were 5-6-7 and, lo and behold, the most popular responses here this week were also 5-6-7.  It was another inconsistent performance by Iowa's pass-catching unit, with too many dropped balls (especially in the first half) bogging things down for Iowa's offense and making it easier for Missouri State to load up and stop the run.  There were a few bright spots, though: the tight ends seemed to be a much bigger part of the offense this week, especially when Iowa switched to a two-tight end look in the third quarter.  That's reflected in the stats, too, as 7 of Iowa's 15 catches by receivers and tight ends were by tight ends.  Tight ends were also targeted on a few other passes, too.  Kittle had the standout play of the day for the tight ends, hauling in a nice Rudock pass in-stride on a great wheel route on his way to a 47-yard gain.

The other highlight from this unit was probably the (slight) emergence of true freshman Matt VandeBerg, who went from being a likely grayshirt recruit to seeing action in Iowa's second game of the year.  VandeBerg showed good hands (he caught both passes thrown his way) and decent enough moves to get a few yards after contact.  How he's used the rest of the way will be interesting to track; given Iowa's dire need of someone -- anyone -- who can catch the ball, I suspect the main thing holding him back from more playing time is his knowledge of the playbook and the route schemes that Iowa runs.

OFFENSIVE LINE

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STATS: n/a

The offensive line took home primarily scores of 6-7 this week, down from 7-8 last week.  But that seems fair, even if Iowa did manage nearly 300 yards rushing in this game.  Rudock was sacked twice in this game and was pressured a disconcerting amount (once again, the interior of the Iowa offensive line looked shaky in pass protection) and while the overall stats for the running game look good, they produced those stats mainly by way of volume.  Iowa ran the ball 57 times Saturday, the highest total in several years.  But they averaged only 5.2 yards per carry; that's a respectable number, but lower than you'd hope to see against a middling FCS team, especially when the strengths of Iowa's offensive game are meant to be the offensive line and the running backs.  Iowa struggled to break big runs against Missouri State; aside from Weisman's late, game-icing 29 yard run and a 37-yard run from Weisman earlier in the game, Iowa's longest runs were a pair of 14-yard runs by Bullock and Rudock.  Iowa also had too many carries for minimal gains or negative yardage.  Part of the problem was that Missouri State was selling out to stop the run, but lots of teams are going to do that against Iowa.  Iowa needs to be able to make them pay when they do that and while a lot of that process involves tweaking the playcalling and improved play out of Rudock and his receivers, the offensive line (especially the guards) still needs to perform at a higher level than it has been if Iowa's going to have much hope of having a successful season this year.

DEFENSIVE LINE

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STATS: 19 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB hurry

Carl Davis: 5 tackles (1 solo)
Dominic Alvis: 5 tackles (1 solo), 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry
Louis Trinca-Pasat: 4 tackles (0 solo), 0.5 TFL
Drew Ott: 2 tackles (1 solo)
Darian Cooper: 2 tackles (0 solo)
Mike Hardy: 1 tackle (0 solo)

A marginal step forward for the defensive line this week; last week the most popular scores were in the 4-5 range, while this week the most popular scores here inched into the 5-6 range.  Still, that rating seems fair; the defensive line played fairly well against Missouri State, but the fact that they were unable to impose their will on one of the least-talented offensive lines they'll see all year is not exactly encouraging in the bigger picture.  Alvis was probably the standout player here, such as it was, with 5 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a QB hurry.  But let's be honest: no one from this unit exactly stood out from the crowd on Saturday.

LINEBACKERS
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STATS: 17 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 2 pass break-ups

Anthony Hitchens: 8 tackles (2 solo), 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 pass break-up
James Morris: 6 tackles (3 solo), 1 forced fumble, 1 pass break-up
Christian Kirksey: 3 tackles (1 solo), 1 QB hurry

Another solid day for the Iowa linebackers, with scores of 7-8 carrying the day once again.  Last week it was Kirksey filling up the stat sheet, but this week is cohorts got in on the action.  Hitchens probably made the flashiest plays on Saturday, notching a pair of tackles for loss (including a sack) and getting a key pass break-up, although he also got flagged for a foolish late hit penalty on the sideline.  I would expect this unit to lead the rankings all year for Iowa's defense; if they don't, it either means we were very pleasantly surprised by the defensive line or the secondary or Iowa's most experienced unit had a frightful day (which likely means very bad things for Iowa as a whole).

DEFENSIVE BACKS

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STATS: 16 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, 1 pass break-up

Johnny Lowdermilk: 6 tackles (5 solo), 1.0 TFL
B.J. Lowery: 3 tackles (1 solo), 1 forced fumble, 1 pass break-up
Desmond King: 3 tackles (1 solo), 1 fumble recovery
Tanner Miller: 3 tackles (1 solo), 1 interception
Sean Draper: 1 tackle (0 solo)

A slightly better day for the Iowa secondary this week, with scores in the 4-5 range emerging as the most popular here.  Of course, it helped that Missouri State QB Kierra Harris is no Jordan Lynch.  There were still worrying breakdowns (Iowa defensive backs looked out of place a few times in the first quarter, though Harris and the MoSt receivers were unable to make them pay; King got burned on a double-move on Missouri State's lone offensive touchdown), but they also settled down after the early going and played fairly well.  Tanner Miller appeared to have his share of breakdowns (again), but he at least managed to balance the ledger somewhat with a key interception in the fourth quarter that ended any hope of a Missouri State upset bid.

KICKING GAME

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STATS:

Mike Meyer: 0/1 FG (missed 33 yd), 4/4 XP, 3/5 touchbacks, 1 tackle
Jordan Cotton: 1 kickoff return, 35 yards
Missouri State kick returns: 2 kickoff returns, 61 yards (long 33 yd)

Five wins the day in this category, which seems appropriate for a unit that was almost equal parts good (multiple touchbacks on kickoff returns, Cotton's 35-yard return) and bad (a missed field goal, allowing two quality kickoff returns from Missouri State, a stupid late hit penalty).  The lowpoint was probably Meyer's missed 33-yard field goal; he's a good enough kicker that he really shouldn't be missing those.  Thankfully, it didn't hurt Iowa in this game, but hopefully he's got his "inexplicable missed field goal" out of his system for the rest of the year.  The kickoff coverage wasn't so hot, either; on the two kicks Missouri State actually returned, the Bears were able to start drives with good field position thanks to sloppy tackling and stupid late-hit penalties.  On the other side of the ball, Jordan Cotton displayed better judgment when it came to kickoff returns and had a very nice return (35 yards) on the one return he did attempt.  That return looked a bit more like the Cotton of 2012 in the return game, rather than the over-eager Cotton who struggled in this aspect of the game against Northern Illinois.

PUNTING GAME

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STATS:

Conor Kornbrath: 5 punts, 186 yards (37.2 avg), 4 punts inside-20 yard line
Kevonte Martin-Manley: 1 punt return, 10 yards
Missouri State punt returns: 2 punt returns, -3 yards

Well, here's a semi-curious result, with 5 emerging as the most popular assessment of the punting game on Saturday.  Honestly, I'm wondering if this is a flaw with the system because the performances of the players themselves in the punting game seemed pretty good on Saturday.  Kornbrath's stats don't look terribly impressive on the surface, but you have to remember where on the field he was punting from.  He doesn't get to decide when or where on the field he gets to attempt a punt; if Iowa attempts three punts on the Missouri State side of the field, that's not on Kornbrath.  Here are his five punts:

1Q: 4th and 5 at IOWA 17; punts for 46; downed at MOST 37.
2Q: 4th and 14 at MOST 39; punts for 25 yards; fair caught at MOST 14
2Q: 4th and 7 at MOST 42*; punts for 32 yards; fair caught at MOST 10
2Q: 4th and 6 at MOST 46; punts for 40 yards; tackled at MOST 6
4Q: 4th and 7 at IOWA 38; punts for 43 yards; tackled at MOST 16

* This was initially 4th and 2 at MOST 37, but Iowa took a 5-yard delay of game penalty, presumably to give Kornbrath more room to work.

His punts gave Missouri State virtually no ability to generate returns; the two times they tried, the return man was stopped cold (or lost yards).  Four of his punts forced Missouri State to start from around their 15-yard line (or worse).  He didn't shank any punts.  I suppose, ideally, he would have uncorked a longer kick on the first one (the only point in the game when he had the opportunity to do so) and it would have been better if he could have pinned them a bit deeper on a few of his kicks. But none of his kicks were bad.

KMM was perhaps a bit too passive in punt return duties -- there were one or two punts that he might have been able to return and instead fair caught -- but he did get a solid 10-yard return on the one punt he returned.  And, finally, a shout-out to Jordan Cotton, whose presence in the passing game ebbs and flows, but has emerged as a very strong special teams player the last two seasons.  In addition to his kickoff return duties (see above), he's been excellent as a gunner on punt returns; he recorded both tackles on Missouri State's two attempted punt returns Saturday.

It's hard to shake the idea that the punting category is getting penalized for Ferentz's decision to punt, punt, and punt again in Missouri State territory.  But if you divorce that decision from their actual performance, I think it's hard not to have a pretty favorable opinion of this unit: they didn't do anything spectacular, but they were certainly a net positive on Saturday.

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As I said at the top, feedback is still very much welcome.

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