THIS POST ISN'T GOING TO FOCUS ON A LOT OF POSITIVES. But there are some. The run defense has been strong through three games and if you look at Kirk Ferentz's better teams they all were strong against the run. Previous Iowa pass defenses have had some problems, even the 2002 season. But strictly looking at statistics doesn't tell the whole story. In 2002, Iowa's offense was so strong that many teams were playing catch up and that means more yardage through the air. Some of Norm Parker's defenses were so tough against the run, many teams simply gave up on it and passed more times than normal.
It's too early to determine if Iowa's run defense is really good or if the opposing offenses lacked a strong enough rushing attack to make an impact. What is for certain is that Iowa's secondary is making mistakes and that's leading to touchdowns. Against NIU, B.J. Lowery misplayed a four vert and Jordan Lomax left his zone leading to touchdowns. Against MSU, Desmond King got beat on a double go route. Against Iowa State, there's more mistakes and let's take a look.
First, sorry about this not being the best Vine. Iowa did send the linebackers on a blitz (you miss that part) leaving the secondary with man coverage. We are seeing this much more this season. Perhaps this is Jim Reid's influence on the coaching staff. Iowa's lack of pass rush from the front four is forcing their hand too. We fans wanted blitz and we're getting it. We see a complete break down by senior B.J. Lowery who fails to get himself in position to make a tackle on the receiver. He plays the ball and not the man and over runs the tackle, something you absolutely can not do when there's nobody behind you. The end result was a big touchdown for Iowa State.
Here's a big play:
Here's another break down. Iowa State comes to the line with four wide receivers, two on each side. Tanner Miller and B.J. Lowery have coverage on the short side of the field, Lowdermilk and King the wide side (lower portion of the video). It's unclear to me what exact coverage Iowa uses here, Hitchens and Kirksey play man while Morris takes a zone drop. It looks to me like Cover-1. Lowery has a man that runs deep and Hitchens takes a man on the out. Tanner Miller slides to their side and takes the man on the crossing route. Left alone and giving up the inside is Desmond King (I'mm guessing he thought he had inside help). Once ISU's Sam Richardson sees Lowdermilk turn his shoulders following the crossing route he throws the ball to a streaking wide receiver. Part of it is a good play design. Lowdermilk has to get deep as the deepest man, so he might have been too deep to make a difference.
Here's the second touchdown.
Play action doesn't fool the linebackers. They drop into zone. The safety though, no help.
The last touchdown:
Iowa was sending the linebackers on a blitz on ISU's third and fourth downs. This was fourth and four. James Morris told Marc Morehouse he has the option to check out of the blitz if he sees something that would warrant it. He admits he wishes to have this play back. Sometimes, the opponent just calls the right play against your defense. This was one of those times. ISU took advantage of the man coverage that Iowa runs with their blitz package and got the receiver underneath on a quick route to the vacated area. Tanner Miller sticks with the inside man and becomes a screen for Lowery to make the tackle.
How about that onside kick:
Iowa practiced this at both the spring open practice at Valley High School and in Kinnick on Kid's Day. They do work on it. They need to work on it some more. The break down here is pretty obvious and all around. Missed blocks and missed recovery.
The positive is that these mistakes, much like the two games prior, are mental errors. The touchdowns don't appear to happen because Iowa has the lack of physical ability in the secondary (e.g. they're not getting beat because they are too small or too slow). These things can be fixed. Phil Parker has long enough resume as a defensive back coach to not believe he'll have these guys in the right place and with the right knowledge. The responsibility is all on the players to read things properly and get to the right spot.
Finally, I hope this puts to rest any notion that Iowa was playing a "prevent" defense in the fourth quarter. Iowa State's touchdowns came on third and fourth downs facing an Iowa blitz against man coverage in the secondary. When you gamble you leave the possibility of the big play. Phil Parker is gambling this year using his defense's strength, the linebackers, to make a play. The blitz has been successful at times, forcing quicker throws and disrupting passing lanes. Iowa's defense is ranked 23rd in the country in 3rd down conversion defense. Through three games opponents have converted the first down only 13 of 44 tries (29.5%). However, opponents have converted 5 of 7 fourth downs.
Iowa has to clean up the mistakes in the secondary as the competition only gets better. Their blitz packages are all on film now and opponents will be better prepared. Iowa State's Courtney Messingham got the better of Phil Parker late in the game. Future offensive coordinators will have route combinations and game plans for Iowa's third and fourth down defense. Just like the players he coaches, Phil Parker too has to get better this week too.