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THE TAKEAWAY: NORTHERN IOWA

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Sure, Iowa just eked out a victory over the Northern Iowa Panthers, 31-23. But how much do we really know? What was really important about beating the Panthers? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.

Matthew Holst

- This is Iowa football. There may be variations in game plan, but by and large, you know what you're going to get out of the Kirk Ferentz Hawkeyes—especially in September. This probably frustrates you, but it's how it is, for better or worse.

Case in point: Checkdown Jake Rudock, throwing 34 of his 41 pass attempts 10 yards or shorter (and as Hawkeye Gamefilm notes, most of those at <5 yards). It wasn't fun to watch; indeed, if it was reminiscent of any QB in the Ferentz era it was (gulp) 2012 James Vandenberg.

And then you look up, and Rudock's got a 31-41, 250-yard stat sheet with two TDs and zero picks. That's a 142.93 passer rating, which rates better than Vandenberg's and Ricky Stanzi's junior seasons and just behind Drew Tate's. Now, Rudock obviously has to go through the entire season before we start putting too much stock in those comparisons, but that production and complete lack of disastrous passes is exactly what Greg Davis and Kirk Ferentz want from their QB.

Eventually, Iowa's going to have to exploit weaknesses deep and over the middle, and you saw an inkling (and little more) of that from the passing game this week. For now, though, expectations are being met.

- This team is vulnerable... UNI didn't win—obviously—but it put enough on film to give more talented opponents a pretty decent blueprint on how to attack Iowa: the intermediate passing game. It takes a well-coached QB and receiving corps to pull off, mind you—the timing Sawyer Kollmorgen and Brett LeMaster displayed made some passes virtually impossible to defend, to say nothing of what David Johnson was able to do in space—but that Bo Bower interception is hardly enough to keep an opposing offensive coordinator from salivating at the prospect of throwing at Iowa's LBs. Quinton Alston was borderline disastrous in space, and he was supposed to be the best linebacker of the bunch.

The secondary looked so, so mediocre (aside from Desmond King, who might as well never be thrown at for the rest of the season). There's growth to be done there, but woof.

- ...But it's not that vulnerable. With all that said, Iowa scored four touchdowns on offense and left plenty more points on the board with two empty red zone trips, so it's not like the offense was broken. And on the other side of the ball, the defensive front four were utter beefmonsters. Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat were virtually unblockable all game long, and Drew Ott looks solid at DE. The depth is finally there too. Hey, look: this is a pretty lousy year for offensive lines in the Big Ten. There are a lot of teams for whom Davis and LTP (to say nothing of Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie in backup roles) will be serious problems, and ones without solutions at that.

Iowa's rushing attack never gained steam against UNI, but once the slog of the schedule begins, there'll be situations where it's simply time to lean on Brandon Scherff and the line and pound it forward a dozen times in a row. Barring disaster, that'll be a strength for Iowa as well, and there aren't many DLs on the schedule going forward that can neutralize this strength.

- Tevaun Smith is as much of an asset as you'll let him be. Kudos to Smith for the two best plays of the afternoon: a winding, 35-yard reverse that netted him the unlikely honor of being Iowa's leading rusher for the game (bonus: barely beating out Mark Weisman, who just so happened to be the team's leading kick returner) followed by this ludicrous one-handed grab for Iowa's third score of the game:

Smith's not a Devin Funchess or Stefon Diggs, but he is the most dynamic playmaker Iowa's got on the roster, WR or otherwise, and one hopes Jake Rudock learns to target Smith more than once every eight or nine attempts. Some more downfield action would be great too, obviously; Smith's longest catch was for seven yards (though he did draw a crucial pass interference call on a deep route that kick-started Iowa's last TD drive).

- Get better John Lowdermilk. No, he's not ill. He just had a pretty lousy day at safety and it would be very beneficial to the Hawkeyes if Lowdermilk got better at football.