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THE MONDAY REWATCH — MICHIGAN STATE

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The second half gave me night terrors.

Iowa v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Each week I’ll be rewatching the game and trying to make sense of just what went on. What worked? What didn’t? Let’s try and answer those questions.

Previous rewatches:

Week 1: Wyoming

Week 2: Iowa State

Week 3: North Texas

Week 4: Penn State

There are ugly games and there is what we witnessed Saturday against Michigan State. It wasn’t so much that it was one particular thing that went wrong, but the culmination of the whole just left a lot to be desired.

Not much preamble with this one folks, so let’s dive right in.

First, Nate Stanley had a really up-and-down day. Let’s take a look at a couple of his throws.

Early in the game, Stanley had Matt VandeBerg deep. Meercat beats the coverage and... Stanley overthrows him. Iowa would later score a touchdown on this drive which takes away some of the pain but, still, disappointing.

The play itself is just some play action. Stanley fakes to the fullback and then to running back Akrum Wadley before firing the ball downfield.

Iowa ran a decent amount of play action in this game, to varying degrees of success.

On this play, Stanley fakes the zone run stretch play to the right before not seeing anything going on downfield and deciding to keep the ball himself. He scampers for a short gain, but on the whole the play action game really wasn’t particularly creative during the afternoon.

Iowa was rather conservative in its play calling and while doing a few funky things (such as the fake field goal thing) didn’t really move too far outside the box.

Stanley’s two biggest gains on the day were to Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Nick Easley. The first, to Smith-Marsette, helped set up Iowa’s lone touchdown of the day.

More than anything, this is a poor play by the Michigan State corner. He’s hardly looking once the ball is thrown and Smith-Marsette makes a nice little adjustment on the route to come back and catch it like a punt.

You’re never going to be mad at a completed pass far down the field.... but it still wasn’t the absolute prettiest play in the world. Perhaps Stanley did see the corner not really looking and purposely under threw the ball a bit. I’m not really sure.

Regardless, big gain.

Stanley’s best throw — and, honestly, one of his finest this year — was a ball to (who else) Nick Easley.

Coming out of halftime, Iowa needed a spark, badly. I really thought this play was going to do that.

It’s 3rd and 8 on the opening possession of the second half. A touchdown makes this game a whole lot closer and steals the momentum back.

Stanley puts a whole bunch of touch on this throw and it lands perfectly in Easley’s hands. Perfect throw, good catch, first down. Too bad that drive would end in one of the most horrendous plays I’ve ever seen in my life.

On the whole, however, Iowa struggled mightily on offense. It’s lone touchdown of the day was a nine-yard run by Akrum Wadley.

Beautiful zone counter. Touchdown. As Harrison pointed out to me in our Slack chat, this is something Iowa really doesn’t do enough of — there’s a lot of space there! Alaric Jackson makes a great a block, T.J. Hockenson hooks the defensive end and Keegan Render pulls and gets a nice little shove on the defender too. Touchdown.

There’s a huge, gaping hole there — something that would end up being a rarity on the day.

Stuck on its own eight yard line, Iowa calls a zone run to the right side. Nothing. Field position was a huge issue for the Hawkeyes in this game and part of the inability for the offense to do anything was being backed up near its goal line for long portions of the day.

Iowa started five drives from inside its own 20, which really isn’t ideal.

Michigan State certainly helped its cause by constantly getting penetration. I mean just look at Iowa’s line in the play above. It gets absolutely walloped from the beginning of the play.

Zone running is all about the running back using his vision to find the hole. Wadley, a quick and elusive runner who is great at cutting back, eventually gets there in the above play but it’s hardly a hole at all.

It doesn’t get better.

Stretch handoff to the short side of the field. Nothing.

Actually, it gets worse.

Stretch, again, to the short side of the field. Again, absolutely nothing on the zone run.

There’s been plenty of jokes on the Twittersphere about Iowa audibling into runs. Well, it’s not entirely untrue.

To the short side of the field, for some reason, again.

I’m not a football coach, but maybe — just maybe — try something different if what you’re doing isn’t working. Iowa’s struggling to get consistently good blocks from its line, its fullbacks haven’t been great (by the way, Brady Ross is starting to take some snaps from Drake Kulick) and Stanley hasn’t really been able to stretch the field in conference play to alleviate some of the pressure in the box.

Penn State and Michigan State just stacked their defenders up. Iowa doesn’t have a sledgehammer to break through the wall and are instead trying to go around it. As it turns out, the wall is doing most of the winning.

There were some things I liked that the Hawkeyes did in its run game, including this play.

Iowa has a formation where it splits Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson out, putting them in front of wide receivers as blockers. On this play Matt VandeBerg and Smith-Marsette both act like they’re receiving a screen pass and instead Stanley hands it off to Wadley for a short gain.

It doesn’t go for all that much, but sort of illustrates the need for misdirection and deceptiveness Iowa needs more of in its offense.

The play was set up earlier by this one early in the game, though it didn’t work. At all. Not even a little bit.

The Spartan linebacker creeps up and makes a great play on the ball. If he hadn’t batted the ball down, this play probably still doesn’t go for a lot — it’s relying on Easley to make the safety miss.

In this case, the safety reads it perfectly and would have likely stopped Easley for minimal gain. More than anything, I like moving personnel around and trying to do different things with them.

I think Iowa lacks creativity on occasion in its offense and I will take literally anything different they decide to do.

Defensively, the Hawkeyes were again solid, holding MSU to 300 yards of offense on 68 plays and allowed just 17 points. The Spartans didn’t score in the second half and didn’t see the end zone after two quick touchdowns to open the game.

With Manny Rugamba hobbled (though he did enter the game in the second half) Michael Ojemudia got the start and... it didn’t go all that great, at least in the beginning.

Here’s him getting beat a second time.

After that, however, he wasn’t picked on nearly as much and the Hawkeyes settled into a bit of rhythm, defensively.

It’s really a shame Iowa’s had two great defensive performances over the past two weeks and not a whole lot to show for it. I think that, more than anything, is the most disappointing part of these losses.

As far as formations go, Iowa went nickel five times, goal line three times and 4-3 on the other 60 defensive snaps. The nickel wasn’t particularly successful, though I do like the defensive line of A.J. Epenesa, Brady Reiff, Parker Hesse, and Anthony Nelson the Hawkeyes employ on that set.

Defensive line snap counts — defensive end: Anthony Nelson (57), Hesse (43), Epenesa (24) and Sam Brincks (15). Defensive tackle: Matt Nelson (23), Cedrick Lattimore (38), Nathan Bazata (48), Parker Hesse (7) and Brady Reiff (7).

Nothing really stands out from that, though I still think Epenesa should be on the field more. I digress.

Maybe my favorite defensive play was this one.

Michigan State had a false start on 4th and 1 originally, causing them to elect to punt instead of go for it. However, Iowa then was somehow called for a delay of game (disconcerting signals — seriously) and Sparty decided to go for it.

Stuffed. Loved this play and thought it was going to give Iowa a bit more momentum.

I’ll end with just one more.

On third and long late in the fourth quarter, Iowa had a chance to get the Spartans off the field. The Hawkeyes are in nickel here and as the MSU receivers clear out, there’s a huge space in the middle of the field.

The defensive line losses contain and the rest, really, is history. Disappointing, more than anything, but it’s hard to ask the defense to give much more than they did on Saturday.

Anyways, this certainly wasn’t the prettiest game Iowa ever played. The Hawkeyes often win the ugly ones, but the last two weeks they haven’t got enough from their offense in order to do that.

Illinois is next for Iowa and that should be a game it’s able to win easily. We’ll see.