- This is Iowa football... and it's not working. I wish I had better things to tell you after a disappointing result like that, but nobody can watch that Iowa offense and conclude that anything's going well. The Greg Davis Experiment is in year three, and it is crashing and burning with stunning aplomb.
Marc Morehouse delivered a withering indictment of everything going wrong in this article from Sunday, and there are several doozies. You can start here:
It was a zone read from Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock to running back Damon Bullock. Rudock rarely keeps the ball on a zone read and defenses know that. So, the one half step gained by the deception was lost long ago.
And then there was Iowa State defensive end Mitchell Meyers. He lined up across from center Austin Blythe. Blythe's aim was clearly the linebacker and he locked up there. It looked as though Mitchell might've been left guard Sean Welsh's block. Either way, no one touched Mitchell.
He nearly took what was an uncomfortable-looking and late handoff. Rudock was spun around and actually tried to throw a block. Four ISU defenders buried Bullock, whose 1.8 yards per carry in Iowa's 20-17 loss to Iowa State was cemented with that play.
It goes downhill from there. But you know that. You saw the game too.
Morehouse also points out that Iowa has averaged 22.8 points per game under Davis, which is down almost 15% from the 26.6 averaged during last three years—the ones y'all (and we) hated the worst—under Ken O'Keefe. That's about 49 points in a 13-game season. And yes, when seven touchdowns a year go missing from a team that has an unusual penchant for playing tight games, it's extremely noticeable.
The points per play are minuscule at 0.28. Essentially, it takes Iowa 25 plays to put seven points on the board. Announcers, analysts and Hawkeye partisans swooned and called it "vintage Iowa football" when Kirk Ferentz's boys ran a 16-play, eight-minute drive for a touchdown in the first quarter, but here's the thing: if it takes that much effort to get one drive to finish in the end zone, you're probably not going to score a lot of points. And sure enough, Iowa's offense stalled out again and again while trying to grind out those long drives on Saturday, and that second-half sputtering doomed the Hawkeyes' chances of hanging onto that 14-3 lead.
I'm sorry, but you know what Baylor calls a 14-3 lead over Iowa State at home? A slow start to the first quarter.
At its most basic level, a football play is essentially a roll of the dice. Some teams succeed on their plays more often than others, but even the best offenses run a risk of a penalty, injury, turnover, negative play, whatever every time they snap the ball. That doesn't mean they should run a conservative offense because of it; quite the opposite, actually. A team should minimize the number of opportunities it has to blow a drive, and get to the end zone as quick as possible instead. Asking your offense for 16 plays in a row without dooming the drive just so you can get one touchdown is a recipe for a final score in the teens. Lo and behold.
Against a defensive front that featured neither size nor speed, Iowa could not establish a running game. This is a broken record. The Hawkeye tailbacks gained 89 yards on 31 carries against Iowa State. LeShun Daniels never got the ball. Yeah, he still needs work in pass protection, but c'mon.
Mark Weisman (18 touches) and Damon Bullock (16 touches) were the two focal points of the offense. Weisman you can sort of understand. Bullock, not so much. Jordan Canzeri, who has been easily Iowa's most potent rusher on the year, had three rushes and a kick return before disappearing into the Kinnick shadows. There's talk that Canzeri is limited by hip problems. Okay. He still averaged six yards per carry, and Weisman and Bullock... did not. They very did not.
Bullock was a mess on Saturday. He's fine as a safety valve in the passing game but he's a minus in size, speed, agility, tackle-breaking, acceleration and vision ("Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln..."). If he's touching the ball that much, either it's garbage time (nope), a lot of people ahead of him on the depth chart are hurt (citation needed and probably nope), or he's the best RB Iowa's got (c'mon). I like Damon Bullock. His anemic production speaks for itself, though, and it doesn't have pleasant things to say.
The passing game is a mess in general. We're about to get to Rudock and his conservative approach but there is no way an offense with that receiving corps should be that dismal getting downfield. West Virginia's receivers aren't significantly better, and I'm still not sure I would take Clint Trickett over Jake Rudock on pure arm talent alone. But goodness, the Holgorsen Air Raid is a thing of beauty, isn't it? The clarity of concept, the positions to succeed that the players are put in and the execution are all significantly better than Iowa's Fränkenzone.
In other words, if West Virginia can incinerate a secondary, why can't Iowa?
- Bad Jake Rudock can take Iowa out of a game in a hurry. The interception was a bad throw from the start, and Ray Hamilton probably wasn't going to catch it even before he fell out of nowhere. But not only did the pick lead to a short field and a score, it officially spelled the end of Rudock's poise and productivity. From that point on, Rudock was 5/9 for 35 yards, was sacked twice and took part in that zone read disaster from earlier. That's a passer rating of 88.2, and that's not even counting the attempt with the pick.
An 88.2 rating is dismal. It's Rob Bolden-esque. It's how drives go south and punts go boom and games go pffffft.
Now to be fair, Rudock's entire season rating is still 129.5, which is better much in the same way that getting a parking ticket is better than a piano falling on your car. It's good enough for 73rd in the nation... or um, 31 spots behind Hawkeye castoff Cody Sokol. So that's awkward.
Now, if you're thinking, "yeah, but Sokol's just in a different system, that doesn't mean he's better than Rudock or the coaches made the wrong decision on who to keep," oh yes, we know. You could—and should—have stopped at "system."
Oh, and just to reiterate, this has all happened against an FCS team, a MAC team, and a team that just picked up its first win of the year against Iowa. The schedule's about to get way, way worse.
But more generally, Rudock plays scared too often. Yes, that's Student Section Jargon, and that kind of talk is usually the sign it's about time to wrap it up, b. But if you object to "Rudock plays scared" it's over little more than tone, and if you don't want to use the term "scared" I think we can find some middle ground on "irrationally averse to negative consequences." And at that point, we're just arguing a distinction without a difference.
A quarterback cannot give up on challenging the secondary to make a play so easily, so often, and so readily. We've mentioned his need for confidence before, but that game was Rudock's magnum flatus. It might be the easiest game Iowa State's secondary plays all year. Rudock was facing a defense that had given up nearly seven yards per snap coming into the game, and he led Iowa to precisely one play of 15 yards or more—a 33-yard seam hookup with Hamilton. And that one play was just about all Rudock was interested in on the day, as far as going downfield goes.
Iowa third-to-last in the country in plays of 20-plus yards with five.— Matt Cozzi (@matt_cozzi) September 15, 2014
But again, even if you don't know the numbers, you know all this. You saw the game too.
- The defense was good, but... ...it wasn't good enough. The way to beat Iowa is to draw the defense inside, isolate the LBs in coverage and work the sidelines. Sage Rosenfels knew it. Seneca Wallace knew it. Bret Meyer knew it, Austin Arnaud knew it, Steele Jantz knew it. and QB Sam B. Richardson knew it. Also, Dan McCarney knew it, Gene Chizik knew it and Paul Rhoads knows it. It's ISU's blueprint and Kirk Ferentz just never seems to catch on.
Oh, and UNI knew it too. It just so happened to be UNI so Iowa won anyway, but Sawyer Kollmorgen may as well have had an Iowa State jersey on because his performance was the perfect Act I to Richardson's Act II on Saturday.
Quentin Alston, god bless him, doesn't have the coverage skills his predecessors did. Reggie Spearman chugging after a wide-open DeVondrick Nealy was the stuff of nightmares. Josey Jewell took care of every step of an interception except for grabbing the ball at one point—and that was a fun little disaster—and Iowa's back seven were one step too slow all day long, leading to haphazard, desperate coverage and flags galore.
Sure, Iowa State couldn't run on Iowa, because nobody can run on Iowa's 7th-ranked rush defense. Okay, great. Iowa has also faced a 60/40 pass/run ratio, so if opposing teams are trying to attack your base personnel package three-fifths of the time, maybe try not having three linebackers on the field at all times? Maybe?
This is 21st-century football. The good coaches know it. And slowly but surely, the coaches who remain stuck in the 20th century will go away, never to come back. What's that buyout figure again?
But I'm not telling you all anything you don't already know. You saw the game too.