The Good: The Coaching Staff
As the clock struck zero and Iowa went into the half down 17-10, there was that all too familiar sense of dread creeping up on Hawkeye fans. It was a one-possession game, at Jack Trice, and Iowa State was playing disciplined football. Iowa usually doesn't win these games. The game notes sent out earlier in the week supported this assumption:
Three of the last four meetings have been decided by a field goal, all Iowa State wins.
Sam B. Richardson was an impressive 12-15 for 186 yards and two touchdowns. The pressure was scarce, as Iowa had lost arguably its best defensive player in Drew Ott and Richardson was picking apart Iowa's zone. Iowa's secondary was struggling, mistakes were being made, and penalties were costing Iowa stops when they needed them.
It wasn't any easier on offense. LeShun Daniels was lost to injury and the only remaining back was Canzeri, as no one seriously thought that Ferentz would give Wadley reps considering his ball handling issues. Beathard was clearly shaken by the atmosphere of "The Largest Crowd in Jack Trice Stadium History" and missed on the majority of his throws. If there was anything positive about his performance, it was his scrambling ability that got Iowa out of trouble when they were deep in their own territory.
Despite Ferentz's aggressive approach with the fake field goal, Iowa didn't convert and Iowa State appeared to take momentum into the half. Iowa usually doesn't win these games.
Then, something happened.
Iowa came out at half and immediately forced Iowa State into a three and out. Thanks to a shanked punt, the Hawkeyes were set up with great field position, drove down the field and tied up the game. Richardson, who was comfortable for the majority of the first half, was suddenly feeling the pressure from Iowa's defensive front. The coverage, which was spotty at times, tightened up and Iowa even found a serviceable nickel/dime from a guy listed as a wide receiver, Joshua Jackson.
The theme of the second half was redemption. The charge on the defensive line was led by Jaleel Johnson, who found himself on the bench after a couple of boneheaded offsides penalties. Johnson was responsible for stuffing the line of scrimmage and forcing Iowa State into the three and out to start the third quarter. Late in the third, Johnson sacked Richardson on second down, giving Iowa State a third and long and ultimately forcing them to punt. Jaleel rallied a line without its best pass rusher to, for lack of a better word, play some nasty defense.
Desmond King, who had a less than stellar game at cornerback, was even less than stellar as punt and kick returner. But it was King who set up Iowa on the 50-yard line with a brilliant punt return in the fourth quarter. On that same drive, when it looked like Iowa might be trying to bleed out the clock and settle for a field goal, Greg Davis dialed up a play-action pass, had C.J. Beathard roll out and throw a beautiful ball to Riley McCarron, who made an equally beautiful catch. Yes, the same Riley McCarron who'd dropped a couple passes earlier in the game and had Iowa fans wanting him cast into the fires of Mt. Doom.
You know the rest. King redeems himself on defense by picking off a questionable pass from Richardson, giving Iowa the ball at Iowa State's 25-yard line. Canzeri, who had fumbled at Iowa State's seven yard line earlier in the fourth and had Iowa fans saying "Well, here we go again", toted the rock twice and gave the Hawkeyes the insurance touchdown. It's a Hawkeye State.
Whatever happened in that locker room at halftime transformed Iowa into a completely different football team. Their performance was gutsy, emotional, gritty or whatever cliche you'd like to use. The credit for their performance has to go to Kirk Ferentz and his staff. The playcalling of Greg Davis, taking advantage of the ridiculous holes being opened up for Daniels/Canzeri and calling play-action at the most crucial of times, was exceptional. Phil Parker, who had Iowa showing 4-3, dime, nickel, and raider, flustered Richardson and shut down Iowa State's passing game.
Ferentz, who is often criticized as not "getting" rivalries, understood what needed to be done on Saturday. His team came out in the second half prepared to win, his coordinators had a solid gameplan and the kids executed. Something feels different about this Iowa team. And, as much as many of us apprehensive to say (yours truly included), all credit goes to Kirk Ferentz for having the Hawkeyes playing a better brand of football.
The Bad: Penalties
As Iowa finished on a high note (because, y'know, they won and made adjustments), it's not worth nitpicking the mistakes of the first half. But...the penalties. For the second straight week Iowa has accumulated five or more penalties. The two offsides penalties by Johnson were avoidable. The pass interference penalty on Niemann was unnecessary as the pass was: 1) From a wide-receiver; 2) A duck, and 3) Into triple coverage. So was the personal foul by King, who was probably just frustrated at that point. Iowa shores up the discipline a little bit and they'll cut down on the penalties.
The Ugly: Injuries
The sole ugliness on Saturday came when Drew Ott and LeShun Daniels left the field of play with injuries. Ott left in the first quarter, went to the locker room, returned without pads and had his left arm in a sling. Daniels, on the other hand, remained on the sideline, kept his pads on and even ran through some drills but never returned.
Yesterday, Ferentz called both of their injuries "significant". It's wholly speculation, but that might be a little gamesmanship on Ferentz's part, as Daniels was standing on the sideline for the remainder of the game and looked as if he could return at any moment. Further, Daniels and Ott are listed as starters on the Pittsburgh game notes.
Should Ott miss significant time, Iowa will likely start Parker Hesse or Matt Nelson in his stead. Hesse, a redshirt freshman who was converted from linebacker, filled in for Ott against Iowa State. He looked solid but he's 30+ pounds lighter than Ott so there could be concerns about his ability to get any sort of pass rush. Nelson, also a redshirt freshman, stands at 6'8, 270lbs and is the tallest player on Iowa's roster.
If Ferentz isn't pulling a Belichick and is actually being sincere about LeShun's injury, Iowa will need to find a no. 2 back ASAP. Canzeri could take 20+ carries a game but let's be honest: Canzeri shouldn't take 20+ carries a game. That means Akrum Wadley or Derrick Mitchell could get some reps against Pittsburgh. Wadley showed flashes of brilliance last season but one has to think that Ferentz doesn't want to field two running backs with ball handling issues (though, to be fair, on Canzeri's fumble against ISU he was likely gassed). That could mean that Derrick Mitchell gets the call when Canzeri needs a breather.