Well this game didn't go as I expected. I think more than anything it was just a few dumb plays that kept Iowa from really rolling (mostly bad penalties), but for the first win in 11 months, it didn't feel that great.
Anyway, let's get into those 4 factors.
Get in a rhythm
If it weren't for all the stupid penalties, I'd say Iowa did a pretty good job in this department. They weren't blazing fast, but had a decent tempo that was quick enough to keep the defense hurrying to get set, but slow enough to chew up some clock. Iowa had 4 possessions of over 4 minutes and only had 2 3-and-outs (though there was also that pick six that was on the first play of the drive).
I think Iowa has settled on its recipe for the year. It's going to be frustrating, just like most years with Kirk Ferentz, but I think has a chance to work. The plan is to run the ball a lot...and then run it some more. Add in tempo and all those rushing plays should wear down the defense. And, given that Iowa plays in so many close games, hopefully that worn down defense will allow Iowa to secure the win in the fourth quarter. That's basically what happened on Saturday, and really probably should have happened last Saturday if a quick out that everyone saw coming hadn't been called.
There are still a few things that need to get worked out. Iowa once again wasn't set before the snap on a 3rd-and-1 and there were a few occasions where it took way too long to get in the subs and the play call. Iowa even had to burn a timeout once in the first quarter in the redzone (though, that worked out...C.J. Fiedorowicz caught a 5 yard pass on a 3rd-and-3 and Rudock scored 2 plays later).
It sure felt like in the first half that Iowa didn't really have much of a game plan or much respect for Missouri State, and as a result were not very aggressive at all. Iowa didn't take any shots down the field, they didn't blitz a lot, and twice punted from inside MSU's 40 (which is something KF actually hasn't done a lot of the past couple of years). And Iowa was only up 7-0 at halftime.
Things did change in the second half though. There was some play-action and deeper throws, Iowa blitzed a lot on third down, and even went for it on 4th down deep in MSU's territory. While not successful all the time (the 4th down went no where), overall the aggression worked out.
Find out what the backups can do
While Iowa was never able to build a lead worthy of putting in the second team, they did rotate in a lot of guys, especially at the skill positions on offense (minus QB). By my quick count, 7 WRs played, including true freshman Matt VandeBerg; 4 runnings backs played; 5 TEs played. Rudock was able to spread the ball around to all of these skill players too. Ten different players caught passes. So we got a decent look at some of the depth on offense.
I thought LeShun Daniels looked good. It was his first or second run, and he showed really great patience letting the blocks set up in front of him. I think we'll see more of him in the 5 carries a game role. If Iowa wants to keep up the 50+ carries a game, which I think they kind of do want to, then all the backs will have their role.
This one is a little harder to judge. But as I said it didn't look like Iowa had much of a game plan in the first half, but I did think they made good halftime adjustments. The decision to change to more 2 TE looks inside of 3-wide was a very good move. It helped combat the 3-4 and provide extra blockers in the running game. The tight ends also proved to be better targets than the WRs in the passing game. The WRs were really struggling in the first half, so it made a ton of sense to play less of them and up the TEs. And hopefully that is a takeaway for the rest of the year.
There was a play in the 4th quarter where Ray Hamilton looked like he was going to motion to an H-back position and then kept running out wide. He was lined up against a smallish CB. It was a mismatch in Iowa's favor and Rudock threw a fade to Hamilton. It was well covered and the pass wasn't anywhere close to catchable, but the idea was good. So maybe, just maybe Greg Davis is learning how to use the tight ends.
For the second week in a row, the overall feeling was not too pleased with this team. Missouri State, a not good FCS school, was within 1 score in the 4th quarter. That is unacceptable. But, at the same time, there were some things to like and some glimmers of hope. Rudock played well and made good decision, especially when deciding it was time to run. If you take away those couple of sacks, one which he was completely blindsided, he rushed for over 40 yards and 2 TDs. I also thought the offense took a step in the right direction with getting the TEs involved and in adding in some mid-ranged passing routes. We saw a lot less screen and quick outs. Iowa picked up a few key 3rd downs by find guys settling down in the middle of the field past, a novel idea, the first down marker.
The defense also did its job. At one point I was seriously wondering if the Bears would even break 100 yards (though they finished with close to 200). Though the stat sheet only shows 2 QB hurries and 1 sack, the pash rush was kind of there in the second half, especially when Iowa blitzed. A lot of credit was given to Tanner Miller on his game sealing interception, but Carl Davis was closing in fast on the MSU quarterback and did knock him over immediately after the ball was released.
Now we still need these things to change from promising signs to actual good play. And if that could happen this week, that would be great. It's Hate Week. Go Hawks. Beat State.