On Friday, I was reminded that the proper acronym for the Northwestern Wildcats is jNW. With the way jNW ran all over Iowa I think that maybe the j should stand for jackrabbits. Or maybe jackhammer, because the Hawks took a real pounding. Anyway, I plan on doing my best to remember jNW. Let's burn it in.
Juggernaut Not Well
Mark Weisman started the game at running back and was playing okay (but didn't look 100%) until AIRBHG struck once again. Already nursing a sprained ankle, now Weisman has a groin injury to deal with.
At least Damon Bullock is back and it doesn't look like he missed a beat. He rushed for over 100 yards and looked really shifty back there finding the smallest of holes. I would really love to see the two of them healthy together as a 1-2 punch, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen this year (unless somehow, some way Iowa makes a bowl game).
Jordan Next Wideout
The receiving corps did not have a good game. There were drops aplenty and they struggled to get open against a fresh-faced jNW secondary. But Jordan Cotton, looks like the wideout of the future...it's just too bad he has just one more year. He seems to be the only guy who can consistently get open. Yes, Keenan Davis gets more targets, but a lot of the time he is covered, but just makes a good play in traffic. Cotton has the speed Greg Davis likes to talk about and can actually create some separation. Now, he just needs to work on not dropping the ball.
just Not Wise
I don't think this was a huge factor in the game, but it's worth bringing up against. Kirk Ferentz definitely should have taken the 3 points at the end of the game, try the onside kick, then try to get a TD and 2-point conversion. Yeah, that is extremely unlikely, but was really the best option there.
Ferentz has made these types of decisions before. While it's probably not the first thing I'd like him to review in the off-season, but he should probably do a little reading on game theory.
But like I said, this was a small part of the game...it was lost well before that bad decision. So on to the four factors.
Four Factors in Review
Play assignment defense - Iowa was able to make Northwestern completely one dimensional. The Wildcats finished with just 84 passing yards. The problem was even though they were one dimensional, that one dimension was extremely effective against the Hawks.
Iowa didn't play assignment defense. One of the most killing plays of the game came after Micah Hyde downed a John Wienke punt at the 1. It was a great play. The defense trotted out, James Morris picked the absolute wrong gap to fill, and Venric Mark was off to the races. Turns out, Hyde is way faster than Mark and easily ran him down, delaying the touchdown.
They were plenty of other examples of missed assignments and poor tackling. The defense gave up 349 yards on the ground. Even when everyone knew jNW was going to run the ball, Iowa couldn't stop them.
Attack the corners - Hey, Iowa actually tried to do this. The strategy matches Greg Davis's horizontal offense, so it's not a big surprise. Early in the game, there were some major cushions and the Iowa passing game took advantage of them. The problem though it wasn't consistent enough. There were way, way too many dropped passes, and still too many off target throws. Plus, with absolutely no threat to pass in the middle of the field or down the field, those cushions on the outside began to shrink to the point that at the end of the game the receivers struggled to get open.
That is a major problem. And while a lot of the focus has been on Vandenberg's struggles, the receivers have been a big part of the problem. If you can't get open against the second string secondary of Northwestern, then you don't have much of a change getting open against anyone.
Keep it close - Down 25 in the third quarter was not close enough. To Iowa's credit, they did battle back and had a shot to kick a FG, get an onside kick, score a TD, and covert for 2... Of course, Kirk Ferentz opted to not take the points and had Vandenberg sail a pass on 4th down.
The blocked punt was really the killer in the keep it close strategy...so was the long Mark run from the 1. Iowa wants a sloppy, defensive, field position battle of a game. Northwestern killed that idea with a couple of big plays.
Have the bigger return - This wasn't a factor. Mark didn't return a punt and his one kick return was just 14 yards. Jordan Cotton was also shut down in the return game. He had 2 returns for 33 yards.
Jell Next Week
Looking forward, Iowa is sitting at 4-4 (2-2), with Michigan and Nebraska still on the schedule and getting bowl eligible looks like a pretty tall task. I hate calling a game a must win, but these next two probably are. Indiana is coming off its first B1G win of the season against a terrible, terrible Illinois team. Iowa should be able to win this game, but is going to need an all-around better performance.
The offense actually looked close this week. Not like close to good, but close to competent. Vandenberg had one of his better games and Bullock ran the ball well. Still, Iowa only managed 17 points and that's not going to cut it with the way the defense is playing.
It actually looked almost fixable though. It was just dumb plays here and there that killed drives. A dropped pass, a stupid delay of game penalty, a bad sack, etc... There may be the slightest bit of hope here if Iowa can just put everything together.