You can exhale now, everyone. Iowa somehow managed to win out in New Brunswick, despite some pretty unimpressive play, a plethora of penalties, and getting carved up on the ground...again. There are two ways to look at this: either “just win baby” or “if we can’t dominate Rutgers, we are screwed against everyone else.” I will pick the former...for now. This game had an odd resemblance to 2014 at Maryland. That was a game where Iowa clearly had an edge in talent and let Maryland hang around just long enough to let them come back and bite. Iowa avoided the same fate here, but there are many things to work on going forward, obviously. So what went right and what went wrong for the Hawks?
What went right?
Rushing Game: There are actually two parts that are positives here. First, the statistics are encouraging. 193 yards for an average of 5.1 ypc and that includes the QB kneels and a couple sacks. It was encouraging to see Beathard moving around, especially early in the game. Maybe it’s just me, but he seems to not be 100% when running. He looks a bit clunky and doesn’t quite have the elusiveness of early last year. Not to mention he is taking some pretty big hits when he takes off.
Second, the two-headed monster Wadley and Daniels returned and looked solid. I was happy to see the Hawks start with Wadley and use Daniels as more of the change-of-pace back. Wadley has better ability to explode through the hole on first down, when we seem to run the longer zone-blocking run plays. This would shorten the distance for the offense on second and third down. And not to disparage Daniels. He has speed and would have been well over 100 yards if not for the called back TD run at the beginning of the 2nd half. But Wadley seems to be more effective out of the gate.
Defensive stands: The goal line stand with 3 minutes left before halftime was awesome. It was particularly inspiring considering they had just given up a huge play to Janarion Grant. From my view, it actually looked to Grant’s injury may have lit a fire under the defense at the end of the half. And credit to the offense for capitalizing with a 99(!)-yard TD drive to close the half. There was also a defensive stand midway through the 4th quarter that would have tied the game up if Rutgers had kept pressing.
99-yard TD drive: Not much to say here, other than the offense did not look more crisp at any point during the day than it did during this drive. It’s also worth noting that I’m glad Ferentz is starting to defer the choice during the coin toss. This is exactly the reason why. If Daniels’ TD run had held up, the Hawks would have been up 14-0 early in the second half, without giving Rutgers a shot.
Return of the Raider: Glad to see the Raider package was finally unleashed. Iowa had 4 sacks on the day and the Raider look clearly confused the Rutgers OL and Chris Laviano was taking plenty of hits, even if he wasn’t sacked (there was one in particular where Josey Jewell lit him up badly). Additionally, there were at least a couple blitzes thrown in there. The DL needs help due to lack of size and depth. Blitzing needs to be a tool the Hakweyes can use effectively.
What went wrong?
Passing game: C.J.’s numbers were pretty meh. He went 12-23 for 162 yards and also took a pair of sacks. He also seemed to overthrow his receivers on a couple passes. He seemed to have adequate protection for the most part, but I think a lack of a dynamic true #1 WR is really hurting him. Jerminic Smith is fine, but he’s still young and has shaky hands. He doesn’t appear to get great separation to utilize his excellent speed. Not only that, but Iowa desperately needs to find a replacement for Henry Krieger-Coble. Teams are figuring out that Matt VandeBerg is going to get the first look on 3rd down. Not having a reliable #2 TE is hurting the Hawks’ ability to move the chains.
Speaking of 3rd Down: Iowa went 3-11 on 3rd down yesterday. That’s absolutely unacceptable especially against a pretty questionable Rutgers defense. The Hawkeyes are not being very efficient on 1st down and leaving themselves several 3rd and longs. My gripe about the playcalling yesterday was that Iowa seemed to go straight to play action on 1st down without setting it up with a run first. I already alluded to the importance of the RBs to get the offense going on 1st down. Coming out throwing is not Iowa’s strong suit, so the playcalling seemed to be a bit backwards yesterday.
Penalties: The Hawks were penalized 7 times for 57 yards. Again, absolutely unacceptable. When Iowa prides itself on being one of the most disciplined teams in the country, it cannot have outings like that. And it wasn’t just the number of penalties—it was the timing. On the first Rutgers drive, nickel back Manny Rugamba was called for an offsides on what would have forced Rutgers into a fourth and long. Ike Boettger got called for an illegal block below the waist that called back a long LeShun Daniels TD. To be clear, based on my knowledge of the rules (take it for what it’s worth from a HS referee), the block was completely legal, but apparently there’s a new point of emphasis in the college game this year (read about it more here). And finally, the OL had a false start on the first play following Brandon Snyder’s fumble recovery. It ended up not hurting, but it’s those types of penalties that take the wind out of the sails in a hurry.
Still a lot to improve on before Northwestern comes to town next weekend. Hopefully it will be a rewind of the previous two years against the Purple Kittens. For now, it’s a win and Iowa is 1-0 in the conference.