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THE MONDAY REWATCH — MINNESOTA

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An ugly game, but was it a step forward or smoke in the mirror?

Minnesota v Iowa
Our man Stan.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Each week I rewatch the Iowa game and try to figure out what we just witnessed.

Catch all the previous editions of The Rewatch right here.

With the Floyd of Rosedale on the line, the Iowa football team was able to do just enough against Minnesota to keep the pig in its rightful home. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win all the same.

I will admit I feel a tad better about this team after rewatching the game. That said, there were still plenty of issues that continued to show their ugly heads.

The Hawkeyes struggled to finish drives in this game and punted nine times — five off the foot of Ryan Gersonde and four from Colten Rastetter. Defensively, however, Iowa was able to keep the potent Gopher running attack in check and rarely allowed big plays.

Iowa got two old friends back — Josey Jewell and James Butler both returned and played well.

Even so, this game never had the feeling of a true defensive slugfest. It was more about who could limit the offensive mistakes the most and make a couple big plays when they absolutely had to have them. Iowa had issues executing its game plan, even if the play calls weren’t all that bad.

With that in mind, we’ll start with the offense today.

SNAPCOUNTS:

Wide receiver: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (41), Nick Easley (38), Matt VandeBerg (35), Brandon Smith (10.)

Running back: Akrum Wadley (38), James Butler (23), Ivory Kelly-Martin (2.)

Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (46), Noah Fant (41), Nate Wieting (8.)

Fullback: Brady Ross (15), Drake Kulick (9.)

Iowa ran a lot single wide-receiver sets this week (16, to be exact) and Smith-Marsette was on the field for all of them. In part, it’s due to the fact the Hawkeyes were trying to run clock towards the end of the game.

If there’s one thing this team likes to do, it’s run out of their 13 and 22 formations which means Wieting and the fullbacks are going to have elevated snap counts. Fant’s snaps were are also quite a bit closer to Hockenson’s this week.

Anyways, the Hawkeyes ran seven-straight plays out of their 22 formation (two backs, two tight ends) on its longest drive of the day, an 11 play, 59-yard march in the fourth quarter that eventually led to a field goal. Most importantly? It took nearly five minutes off the clock.

Smith-Marsette isn’t a one-trick pony and Iowa isn’t using him as such. He’s an explosive, talented player and the Hawkeyes are putting him in a whole bunch of different situations.

Speaking of that field goal drive — which was, in my opinion, the most important of the game — Smith-Marsette is involved in one of the most interesting plays during it.

Now, you might be saying, what’s so important or intriguing about James Butler getting a first down on a 2nd and 2?

On the surface, not much.

Iowa did need a decent drive at this point in the game to run some clock, if nothing else. Here’s the situation: after giving up a long touchdown drive to Minnesota, the Hawkeyes were forced to punt after a holding call on their ensuing offensive possession stalled the drive.

The Iowa defense came up big, as it has all season, and forced Minnesota into a 3-and-out, leading back to this particular drive. This is the second play of the possession and at this point, the Hawkeyes were 1 of 12 on third-down conversions. Giving the Gophers any reason to get up — third down does that to teams — wasn’t something Iowa wanted to do.

Even with how awful the Minnesota offense was in this game, if the Hawkeyes get stopped here, they’ll have to punt with over eight minutes left on the clock. Plenty of time for the Gophers to do something.

But, why this exact play call? Well, look at it again. As I eluded to before, Smith-Marsette is heavily involved with this play. Stanley puts him in motion, and the play looks like it just might be a jet sweep.

The Minnesota defenders immediately react and start to move, though they’re not entirely sure what’s coming. Kamal Martin (No. 21), moves inside, though quickly realizes it’s not a sweep. He gets taken out of the play by Hockenson.

Sean Welsh actually misses a block here on linebacker Thomas Barber (No. 41) and if the guard gets there, this play could have gone for a couple more yards. Meanwhile, the two safeties are well off the ball and also react with Smith-Marsette goes into motion. Safety Duke McGee (No. 8) is too far outside to make an early impact on the play, again keying in on Smith-Marsette.

The other linebacker — Jonathan Celestin, No. 13 — is a non factor in the play as well.

No, it’s not the prettiest play in the world, but it’s critical. And it’s interesting because it was set up by a couple of other calls earlier in the game. One — and it’s an important one — comes to mind first.

Iowa finally got a jet sweep to really work.

Defensive lineman Merrick Jackson — an Iowa Western CC product — gets faked here. Or, really, he’s got his eyes on Wadley. By the time he realizes Smith-Marsette has the ball, it’s too late.

The wideout has plenty of speed and another benefit too — great blocks from Matt VandeBerg and Brady Ross. The Gopher linebackers really don’t take all that great of pursuit angles and justlikethat, ISM has 17 yards.

There was another variation to the play too, something quite a bit different.

If Stanley hands the ball off to ISM on this read option, that play is going down as a loss. He, instead, correctly reads the defensive end, keeps it, and grabs a respectable gain.

Now this play is a slightly different look. It’s three wide receivers instead of two, but I like the idea Iowa’s trying to mix up these formations and really give defenses something to think about. It’s just — and this goes back to my bigger gripe — Iowa wasn’t always able to execute on offense consistently during this game and hasn’t throughout the season.

Here’s a 3rd and 2 I found rather frustrating early on.

Stanley apparently doesn’t want to test the one-on-one coverage he has with ISM, so he’s left with this.

Four defenders and two receivers. Noah Fant is covered. Linebacker Thomas Barber (No. 41) comes down hard on Stanley and he has no choice other than to try and get the ball in the general direction of a well-covered Akrum Wadley.

Just one of those plays it seems A) Minnesota was in good position and/or recognized what was coming and B) it really doesn’t seem like Brian Ferentz gave his team a whole bunch of options on this play.

And if you think about the field position — very close to midfield — if they get a first down here, the chance of getting some points on the drive is pretty high. Instead, they’re forced to punt.

Not everything was bad, however, and Iowa scored on its first play of the game for the first time this season. A couple highlights from that drive:

Then the second play of the drive:

After Easley’s catch, Minnesota called a timeout. That early in the game, that’s a huge win for Iowa. Talking with the coaches didn’t help the Gophers and three plays later Wadley was in the end zone.

The whole drive was crisp and well executed. Stanley was making easy throws and having little issue finding his targets.

Then things started to slip. Iowa would either get behind the chains, get a negative or short game from its running backs, someone would make a mistake... just a bunch of drive killers.

It’s happened all year and as much as I’d like to just put it on the team being young and needing time to grow, they also keep sparking and getting my hopes up.

Deep ball touchdowns. Hook it straight into my damn veins.

Let’s move on to the defensive side of the ball.

SNAPCOUNTS:

Defensive end: Anthony Nelson (49), Parker Hesse (43), A.J. Epenesa (29), Sam Brincks (21.)

Defensive tackle: Nathan Bazata (43), Matt Nelson (40), Cedrick Lattimore (25), Brady Reiff (18), Parker Hesse (7), Garret Jansen (7.)

Nothing significantly different here, though for the second game in a row Lattimore has saw has snaps drop significantly. That’s the most snaps Brady Reiff has played this season and he’s starting to carve out some time in the rotation.

It’s kind of interesting, because Reiff started the year as a tackle almost exclusively in the nickel package, but has since lately been going in when Lattimore does.

In his stead, we’ve seen more Garret Jansen, who is the new ‘pass rush’ tackle. He only really comes in during obvious passing situations. Parker Hesse at tackle is the same way and the pair both played all seven snaps at the position together.

That said, Iowa only ran nickel twice during this game. The other five times were something a little different. It’s a 4-3, but it’s the same defensive line that comes in during it’s nickel packages — Anthony Nelson/Epenesa at end and Jansen/Hesse at tackle.

I kinda want to come up with a name for this.

3rd and 11 and... it works.

Iowa ran it during Minnesota’s last four offensive plays and ended up with three stops short of the first down marker. Oh, and this Anthony Nelson sack to seal the game.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no fan of Iowa’s nickel and dime defensive packages and I’m glad they’re trusting their linebackers.

In case you need a refresher as to why:

Not to pick on Manny Rugamba too much here (and it’s not the easiest play in the world to make) but the formation is literally statistically proven this season to not work a majority of the time.

Overall the defensive backs had a pretty solid game, led, of course by Josh Jackson and his four pass breakups.

He directly caused an interception with one:

He literally just punched the ball out of the receivers hand. Jackson is a goddamn beast.

The talented junior leads the nation in both passes broken up and passes defended. Best not to test him, folks.

Speaking of coverage, Iowa pulled Parker Hesse back into pass defense, which I found interesting. I haven’t seen that before this game, which honestly is pretty fascinating. It didn’t have much of an effect on this play but, still, it’s interesting.

Phil Parker continues to do some great things with this unit and it’s hard to have a whole lot of criticisms of them.

Iowa gave up just 281 yards of total offense, which is the least they’ve given up since the first game of the season against Wyoming.

So what are the takeaways here?

This team.. it can be frustrating and irksome more often than not, but they have flashes of being good. The problem is, they just have issues executing sometimes and I don’t know if it’s because they’re (relatively) young or something else. I really hate to use youth as an excuse, but I guess it’s the most logical explanation. I still think coaching is no small part of it, but I digress.

How they play against Ohio State will say a lot.

That game could turn very ugly, very quickly and it’ll be interesting to see how they react. The Buckeyes have absolutely everything in front of them and will play inspired. Can the Hawkeyes match their intensity? Can the play clean on offense?

There are plenty of questions to be answered. If this week was a step in the right direction, I’d like to see them show it. Otherwise they’re going to get run off the field at home.

It really is that simple.