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Overreaction Monday: Time to Get Back to the Basics of Iowa Football

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The Iowa Hawkeyes got back in the win column on Saturday, but things still looked shaky at times. It’s time to get back to the basics, the fundamentals. The bye week is the perfect time to do just that.

Illinois v Iowa
Brandon Snyder and Amani Hooker teaming up in the secondary is one of the major bright spots from last week.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

How much better is Monday morning coming off a win than a loss, huh? I mean, don’t get me wrong, that game had me incredibly nervous for quite a while, but I feel a heck of a lot better today than I did a week ago. I could get used to this. It’s unfortunate we won’t be able to feel the same way next week, but this bye comes at about the perfect time for the Hawkeyes to take what little momentum was built this weekend and figure some things out for the home stretch.

What needs figured out after a 45-16 win, you ask? Plenty. For starters, and I understand how this may come across on a day where they came up with 4 turnovers and touchdown, the defense has to figure out some of the basics. The bye week is a perfect time to get back to the basics, focus on the details and get some guys right.

Despite those turnovers and the incredible play on the pick six, I found myself frustrated most of the game by putrid tackling. It obviously didn’t cost the Hawkeyes this game, but there were a number of plays extended and big time yardage gained due to some missed tackles. This was an Illinois offense that isn’t just “not good,” they are down-right awful. And despite holding them to only 16 points, the defense gave up 446 yards of offense and 200 on the ground - both more than the Iowa offense managed. Not. Good.

Perhaps most concerning to me about this particular aspect of the game is just how emblematic it seems to be of the team as a whole. One game it looks like a strong point, the next it looks like a major concern. There is no consistency. And I suppose that’s just part of it when you are playing so much youth across the board, but I don’t know that it’s a viable excuse for the defense.

We expected it out of Nate Stanley to start the year. He was a true sophomore with a total of zero starts under his belt. Most of us have since grown accustomed to him playing pretty well pretty consistently. Until he isn’t. The long ball is still an issue and I hope to the football gods he and the WR group spend a bunch of time this week just getting timing down, but he is markedly better at this point than any sane person should have expected.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa
Nate Stanley has far surpassed any expectations I had for him at this point in the season.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line was the inverse of that. They were supposed to be the rock on offense, full of experience and a strong point. We’ve gotten pretty accustomed to a lot of volatility out of that group.

Hopefully, the bye week gives the staff the extra time they need to keep developing these young guys, hammer home some basics on tackling, and iron out some of the kinks that have led to so many inconsistencies. I think they can. I hope they can. I honestly believe last weekend was a step toward that.

The primary reason I feel we could be on the right track was the change we saw on the offensive line. True freshman Tristan Wirfs became one of only a handful of true freshmen to ever get a start along the offensive line under Kirk Ferentz, and the youngster from Mt. Vernon looked like he belonged. He held his own in pass protection and lived up to the hype in the running game. But even more importantly, his insertion at RT allowed the staff to slide Sean Welsh into his natural position at G where he is an absolute road-grader. He was OK at tackle, but just sort of a guy. He’s not a guy at G, he’s a dude.

I think an extra week of practice here for a guy like Wirfs to hammer home fundamentals and build that chemistry over two weeks before being tested again really could go a long way in helping this offensive line get things straightened out. They’ve gone from a centerpiece to the offense to a liability and this could be the week they finally get back to what we expected. If they can start to create any semblance of a running lane or a cut-back lane for a guy like Akrum Wadley, this offense will look much better. I’m thinking, hoping, praying they take that step.

Being able to finally run the ball effectively would be a major step forward in the development of this offense under Brian Ferentz. Unlike like a number of my brethren here at the Pants and what seems like a growing number of the commentariat, I actually haven’t had a huge problem with the play calling to this point. There have been a few head-scratchers and certainly some things I would do differently if someone wanted to hand me hundreds of thousands of dollars to call plays, but on the whole I like that there has been a concerted effort to break tendencies this staff built nearly two decades to establish.

The biggest reason for my forgiving attitude, and believe me - the numbers above don’t exactly make it easy: I feel like he’s been calling plays with his hands tied behind his back to this point. The one hand is likely to stay tied there, courtesy of his father, and we’ve got two previous OCs worth of evidence that will be the case. But the other hand has been strapped behind him thanks to a combination of brutal field position for much of the year (I mean seriously, I haven’t looked at hard data but how many times have we been pinned inside the 10?) and the complete lack of push from the offensive line. Think about it for a second, the guy has been calling offensive plays with a head coach adamant he run the ball at minimum 50% of the time, defenses crowding 8+ guys into the box nearly every play and an offensive line getting no push whatsoever. It’s hard out here for an OC.

So, as much as I agree they could do more to pull guys out of the box with personnel groupings and formations, I sympathize with the difficulties faced to this point. I sincerely hope the bye week provides the extra time needed to figure some things out along the line and the staff to install some things to counter what we all know every defense will do down the stretch.

None of that will matter if the ball security issues we’ve seen this year continue. No, I’m not talking about interceptions. For starters, Stanley has only thrown 2 of them, and he went basically 5 games between them. But the one this weekend wasn’t exactly terrible. Sure he threw into some coverage that is ill-advised, but it was a bomb downfield and the way the punting game has looked of late, does anybody think we would have done better kicking?

When I talk about ball security, I’m talking about the fumbles. I can’t recall the last time I saw so many fumbles from an Iowa team at this point in a season. I mean, seriously, there’s been 9 fumbles by an Iowa player so far this year, 1.5 per game. That is absolutely unacceptable and it’s one of those things I’m sure just drives KF crazy. You KNOW he’s writing that down on the card and grabbing a fresh piece of gum. You take even half of those away and the offensive production numbers look a hell of a lot better. I expect it to be a point of emphasis during the bye.

I expect there to be a lot of points of emphasis this week. Most of them will be the basics, the fundamentals. Ball security. Wrapping up on tackles. Perfecting the zone-blocking scheme in the run game. All areas that have been trouble this season, but are staples of a good Iowa team. This is the perfect time to “get some things cleaned up” and build some momentum.

If they can, I still like the makeup of this team and think we could see a very successful season. If not? I don’t think it’s 2012, but it could be close. The schedule gets brutal pretty quickly. Some young guys will have to grow up during this week off. For now, I’m keeping the faith.

And that’s it. That’s all I got. Have a great week and.........

Wait, did you really think you were getting out of here without listening to me jump for joy about the good sh*t stuff we saw last week?!? Ya’ll, Kirk Ferentz either called or allowed (and does it really matter?) both a fake punt and an onside kick in the same game! This is not a drill, this is what we’ve all dreamed of. River boat Kirk is going for it on 4th down, faking field goals and punts and onside kicking and holy hell, can you imagine if the offense was actually humming and the defense was consistent?

I mean, things have not been great all around and the punting woes mean special teams is not without some blame. But this has really been a bright spot the last couple weeks. I know, the pessimist in me wants to say, “yeah, but we had to blow those special plays against a crappy Illinois team and now they’re worthless.” They aren’t worthless. They played a hand in winning a Big Ten game and if nothing else, they are on tape and every team from here on out will have to spend at least some time in practice working on how to stop them. That’s some time, any time, they aren’t preparing for our offensive game plan or our defensive scheme. Love it.

And finally, welcome back Brandon Snyder! Good lord this kid is a freak. Who comes back from an ACL tear in 6 months? And who comes back in 6 months and looks like they never left?

There were some issues in the secondary on Saturday, but none of them were Brandon Snyder. If we are pointing fingers, Miles Taylor gets some blame and it got him the hook(er) (see what I did there? - I’ll be here all week). I’ll toss a little toward Manny Rugamba, who just hasn’t looked like the same guy we saw last year. But on the whole, the secondary looked pretty decent last week and not nearly as concerning as the front four.

Even with everyone’s favorite freshman on the field a fair amount, the defensive line struggled to get much pressure against an Illinois offensive line that is probably the worst they will face from here on out. That can put a lot of stress on a secondary and the combination of Snyder and Hooker roaming back there seemed to be un-phased. I’m excited to watch that duo close out this season together and damn happy to have Snyder back and healthy.

NOW we are done here. Attack the week. It’s a freebie with no time to be spent worrying about the upcoming opponent (you know you do). Get right. Get healthy. Get caught up on work. Or check back frequently to the Pants to get caught up on hoops and crootin and everything else you’ve missed out on fretting over the inconsistencies of this football team. Trust the staff will be taking this week to get their things right as well.

Go Hawks!