The Good: Third Down Conversion Percentage
While watching the game on Saturday night my friend and I were discussing what made Iowa so successful in 2015. There are many factors that go into Iowa being successful in 2015 (wink), but we agreed that third down percentage was probably the most important statistic. As of today, Iowa is ranked 17th in the nation in third-down percentage, converting 67 out of 144 opportunities, good for a 47% success rate.
By the end of the night, it was clear that Iowa converting third downs was absolutely the most important statistic. They'd converted 10 of 15 third-down opportunities (technically they converted 11 but one play didn't count because Minnesota was penalized). On Iowa's opening drive, they converted three third-down opportunities alone. Same for their penultimate drive. Of the 10 conversions, six were from five yards or longer. It also shouldn't come as a surprise that C.J. Beathard either threw or ran for every one of the conversions. (Adam had more on C.J's numbers in The Takeaway)
The Bad: Pass Rush
I will credit the defensive line with containing Mitch Leidner as much as possible but my lord, that pass rush. Iowa only had one sack on Leidner and it was due to an intentional grounding penalty. Other than that, nothing. No quarterback hurries. No pass breakups by the lineman. Nothing. We've accepted the fact that Iowa has difficulty getting to the quarterback without help from their linebackers. But when the line is simply shut out from doing anything? That's unacceptable.
The Ugly: Linebackers in Pass Coverage
Hats off to Minnesota OC Matt Limegrover for knowing exactly how to exploit Iowa's defensive weakness on the edge. It was a thing of beauty to behold for Minnesota and a sight of horror for Iowa fans. The Gophers would line up in a bunched formation and have their receivers/tight ends run routes that forced Iowa's linebackers to the perimeter, an area they generally struggle in. This was no more evident than on the 40-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lingen. The Gophers lined up in a bunch formation, got Cole Fisher to bite on a play-action and Lingen ran a wheel route down the sideline for an easy reception.
The Gophers were also able to exploit the soft underbelly of the cover 2, primarily by KJ Maye running halfway across the football field to catch balls thrown right over Josey Jewell's outstretched hands. The good news is that Iowa won't face a wide receiver as explosive as Maye for the remainder of the season. The bad news is that Iowa's problems on the perimeter are beginning to show, again, and teams are trying their damnedest to take advantage.