We’re back, baby! Nothing like a trip to West Lafeyette to turn the lights back on for your offense. Oh sure, there are some issues still and areas of major concerns. And yes, next week’s opponent just took the #2 in the country to OT and probably should have won. But Iowa showed us a glimpse of the team we thought we were getting this year, even if only for half a game against less than stellar opponent.
1. Run, Baby, Run
I said it in the week leading up to Saturday, and quite honestly, anyone with a pulse knew it had to happen, but Purdue is not good at stopping the run and with the concerns over Iowa’s passing game coming in, Iowa was going to have to try to establish the run. And boy did they establish it. Over, and over, and over again. Leshun Daniels Jr. finished with 156 yards and 2 TDs. Akrum Wadley had 170 yards and this gem:
If Iowa is going to be successful the rest of the way, they’re going to need sustained success running the ball. It will be a tall task against Wisconsin this week, but the offense as a whole goes as the run game goes.
2. Pass, Baby, Pass?
Just when I thought you couldn’t be any worse, you go out there and do something like this... And totally redeem yourself! Well, sort of. CJ finished Saturday with only 140 passing yards and there was plenty left to be desired from the passing game. But what I saw this weekend did seem like a marked improvement from last week. Beathard and Co. did just enough to keep Purdue’s terrible run defense honest and provide a little cushion for the running game. Perhaps most importantly, CJ was able to find McCarron for a 42 yard touchdown. The ability to take the top off the defense has been missing without MVB and we saw an effort to get back to it Saturday. In addition to the successful McCarron TD, Jerminic Smith also found his way behind the Purdue secondary on more than one occasion, Beathard just wasn’t able to find him. At this point, that’s really all this offense needs. Take enough shots to keep the safeties from creeping too far up, throw some quick hitters to provide balance and keep the linebackers true and occasionally connect on a big play. The numbers weren’t eye-popping, but CJ sat most of the 4th quarter and with the running game doing its thing, I liked what I saw out of the passing game for once.
3. GD Greg Davis = Good Day Greg Davis?
Maybe I was watching a totally different game, but for the first time in a while I didn’t find myself constantly swearing at my TV set about ridiculous play calling. Sure there was an occasional “WTF ARE YOU DOING” in there, but for the most part I was pretty satisfied. As I said above, the running game got going early, but the passing game was sprinkled in very nicely. Deep shots were taken just enough to keep everyone in their natural spot and one even landed in the 1st quarter. When you throw up 21 in the first quarter and 35 by halftime, things are going pretty well offensively. A lot of that had to do with Purdue being really bad at football, but I have to tip my hat to Greg Davis for giving me some hope for this offense going forward.
4. Wait, What Was That About Hope?
Why do I do that to myself? I’ve spent my lifetime as an Iowa fan. How many times do you need to be burned before that hope just stops coming back and you accept the inevitability that is mediocrity? Iowa has been struggling with its offensive line for much of the year. Things got brutal in the loss to Northwestern and didn’t look any better in the 1930s throwback we saw at Minnesota. When Cole Croston was unavailable for Saturday and the OL shakeups we saw implemented a week ago were put into long term effect, I admittedly had no idea what to expect. Things looked pretty damn good in the first half. Then KF went and pulled a KF and left the first team in longer than most would’ve expected and down goes Boone Myers. Fantastic. Following that injury, Ike Boettger moved out to left tackle, Sean Welsh kicked out to right tackle and Levi Paulsen came in at right guard. Keegan Render stayed at left guard, where he had been with Croston out for the second time in his career. At the end of the day, we saw 4/5 OL playing in a spot other than where they started the day. It’s still not clear whether Myers or Croston will be available against Wisconsin, but with the way that defense has looked so far, the Hawkeyes are going to need everyone up front to bring their A game. Without a pair of starters, it could be a LONG day.
Oh, you thought I was done. No, no, no. This is Iowa. It can never be just a rain cloud following you around. There has to be an impending storm. Like when your abysmal passing game (which, as I said, showed signs of life Saturday) loses one of its best pass catchers to an ankle sprain. George Kittle spent most of the second half Saturday hanging around the Iowa sideline in a walking boot. He is also in that “questionable” group for next Saturday. Fan-freaking-tastic. This is why we can’t have nice things.
5. Luckily, The Second Team Looked Great!
All this injury talk would be much more concerning if we hadn’t just gotten to see the second string guys get some extended minutes. With a big halftime lead and injuries mounting, KF was forced to pull his starters for most of the 4th quarter. And with all that time, the second team sure showed us something. Like that if a few key guys go down this team is in serious trouble. The offense failed to do much of anything and the defense may have been better served just standing still. Things got so bad the starters had to come back to save the day. I get that these guys don’t prep quite the same way and it’s tough to sit for three quarters then turn it on. I’ll even throw them the excuse of line change type subbing making for a bigger drop off than just shuffling a couple guys in. But the drop off we saw Saturday was massive and serious cause for concern in my opinion. We are staring a slew of injuries in the face and the guys who will be forced to step in did not look the part last weekend.
Oh, and Most Hated Rival, don’t ever make us put our starters back in. This is the sh*t that happens when you make Desmond King put his Gatorade down and throw a helmet back on.
6. Mabin Gonna Mabin
Gregory. Oh, Gregory. You thought you were going to get off because your backups looked so terrible? Not so fast my friend. The only thing I learned from watching those backup DBs in extended time is that the reason you haven’t been benched to date is there is youth behind you. Desmond King is amazing and will be sorely missed next year. Greg Mabin, I’m just not sure I will miss you. Every game I see the same thing. Guys running free behind you. You running right with guys but refusing to get your head around and just allowing them to make a play on the ball. It’s mind numbing. I’ll grant you that I probably hold you to a higher standard because you’re standing opposite the best corner in the country, but man, you gotta step it up here.
And while we’re at it, Brandon Snyder, bruh, stop trying to be the stereotypical-walk-on-Ferentz-safety-that-is-a-great-story-and-probably-nice-guy-but-always-has-a-man-running-free-behind-you. I hate to pick on specific players and have no illusions that I could do remotely close to as well as these guys, but it seems like every time you see an opposing WR running free, it’s either between or behind Mabin and Snyder. Maybe it’s a skill thing, maybe it’s a talent thing, but it’s going to be a trouble thing against some of the offenses Iowa will be facing down the stretch. Let’s hope they get some things “cleaned up.” Soon.
7. The Big Ten is Big Time
We pretty well knew going into the weekend that the top half or so of the Big Ten is pretty damn good. But that game Saturday night was a ton of fun to watch. Bama looks like Bama, but the rest of the SEC looks like trash. The Big 12 looks like the rest of the SEC if the rest of the SEC had Indiana’s defense. Ditto for the Pac 12, ex Washington (who looks damn good). The ACC actually looks pretty decent and some middle of the pack (see what I did there) teams have shown some depth for the conference lately. But the top 4 of the Big Ten are better than the top 4 of any other conference hands down. And that includes a way overrated Nebraska in there. Throw in the middle tier of this conference and I think this is the best the Big Ten has looked in a while. Next Saturday brings with it a major test for this Iowa team that lost a ton of respect nationally following the losses to NDSU and Northwestern. A win in Kinnick against a top 10 Wisconsin team that has looked damn good, and I think Iowa is back on track in the West. There are still major tests ahead with Michigan, PSU and Nebraska, but the road to Indy still runs through Iowa City. Just ask Tom Dienhart.
That’s all I got. Happy Monday. Hope everyone has a better week than Darrell Hazell will have. See you in Kinnick on Saturday.