Iowa’s effort against Minnesota on Saturday was nowhere near perfect. The offense still seems to be struggling. And while C.J. Beathard looked much more agile and mobile than he has in previous games this season, his timing in the pocket is still off. And just as we feared, the loss of Matt VandeBerg for the season is huge. The receivers have just not stepped up to the plate to fill that hole. In particular, Jerminic Smith and Riley McCarron have been prone to some drops. I won’t say that MVB would have definitely held onto all of those, but it’s clear that his hands are at least a little more sure than the rest. This is disconcerting, to say the least, as Iowa struggled to make anything happen in the air and gave up a couple interceptions in the process.
That said, there are a few bits of optimism to point to in last week’s game. I am, by no means, an expert on evaluating line play, but even this layman could tell that moving Boone Myers to left tackle gave Iowa the quicker step it needed to protect Beathard from backside pressure. Also, the moves on the interior line seemed to create a better chemistry for the inside rushing attack.
I think that, as much as we complained about him previously, Myers is probably the most athletic lineman we’ve got, and he has a faster first step than anybody else on the line. Is he the greatest left tackle ever? Hardly, but he is serviceable and will only get better as the season wears on, provided he can stay healthy. I also don’t believe that he’s got the raw strength to handle interior defensive linemen the way that Daniels and Welsh do, which may have contributed to the success of the rush.
Additionally, the Iowa defense looked entirely reinvigorated this week. The porous interior shored up nicely and the linebackers were almost always in position to fill the gaps. For a much better analysis of Iowa’s front seven, check out Rob’s awesome video about the D-line and linebackers.
And even though Desmond King has yet to find his way to an interception this season, do not doubt for one second that he isn’t better than last year. Offenses have, by and large, avoided him and when they have targeted him, they have failed. He has absolutely proven again why he was the Thorpe award winner and a unanimous All-American last year. Desmond King is shutting down large portions of the field and has been lights out in run-support.
But I’m stalling, because H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. was so horribly wrong and so was I in predicting this game’s outcome. So let’s look at what happened.
The biggest thing here is that Iowa’s defense stepped up in a huge way. Even though there were no real changes to the lineup as far as I can tell, the entire front seven were just much more effective at maintaining their lanes and handling their assignments. There were no gaping holes for Minnesota to run through and no chance for Iowa to get gashed up the middle like in the three games prior.
The defense looked like the same one that came to play against Iowa State, and the Minnesota box score shows it. Iowa was also, as a result of stout defense, able to control the game, running a season high 72 plays from scrimmage. Finally, Iowa seemed to clean up a lot of the avoidable mental mistakes, only drawing four flags. However, Iowa’s three turnovers this game was more than than the two they had committed all season prior to that point. With 72 plays, this would indicate that these turnovers were coming at times when the Hawkeyes had already moved the ball successfully. I don’t foresee this being a problem as the season enters the home stretch. So, unlike the Hawks, H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. takes another loss and moves to 3-3 on the season.
This weekend is another chance for Iowa and the computer to put another tick in the win column. And with Iowa heading to Purdue, I think we can all take a moment to enjoy the fact that we are not Purdue fans. Because we’d be really lonely. Really really lonely until basketball season started. Purdue is, quite simply, not good. Their 3-2 record is as shocking to me as the fact that two Purdue quarterback transfers have been starters in the SEC this season. Up to this point, Purdue allows opponents to rush for nearly 70 yards over their season averages. Even at its worst, Iowa’s defense was not that permissive. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. and I are both optimistic that Iowa’s running game and rush defense took a step forward against Minnesota and we don’t see Purdue being able to do much at all.
The computer can’t really ignore a few things that I personally am choosing to. Firstly, Iowa’s turnovers last game have H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. spooked and expecting Iowa to commit two against Purdue. However, with it predicting Iowa to rush for nearly 220 yards, I don’t see Beathard having to take too many risks in the passing game and I really don’t see two fumbles. And if Iowa is going to run the ball for that much, I think the time of possession game is probably going to swing in Iowa’s favor as well, limiting Purdue to a quite a bit fewer plays.
Almost 80 sounds a bit far-fetched. As does Purdue throwing for 275 yards against an Iowa defense that has been incredibly stingy against air attacks. In all, I think the computer is playing this one conservatively, but still says Iowa wins by a touchdown and is fairly confident in the outcome. I personally, however, am going to go a little more aggressive and say Iowa wins with a score closer to 42-21. What do you think? Go ahead and add your score predictions to the comments below.