Each week i’ll rewatch the previous Iowa game and try to get a sense of what went right and what went wrong.
Week 1: Wyoming
Week 2: Iowa State
On Saturday afternoon, Iowa downed North Texas 31-14 after trailing by four points at halftime. The Hawkeyes were tremendous in the final 30 minutes, limiting the Mean Green to just 93 yards on 19 second-half offensive plays.
The final four drives for North Texas? Punt, Punt, Punt, interception. It was a slow start, but despite a few injuries the Hawkeyes were able to take care of business and move to 3-0 on the year.
Speaking of those injuries, we got our first taste of running backs Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin this weekend.
Both running backs showed some promise in the absence of Akrum Wadley and James Butler. Toren Young got 23 snaps while Ivory Kelly-Martin had 15. Wadley had 15 while Butler received 31.
The young duo made the most of their opportunities on the field as Young had 81 yards on 19 carries and Kelly-Martin ran for 74 and two touchdowns on 11. Iowa’s run blocking has been somewhat suspect this year at times, but against the Mean Green, it was able to open up some holes, especially during the second half.
Overall, Kelly-Martin and Young were fairly impressive. They hit the holes hard, were smart with the ball and got some nice yardage after contact. Young, especially, was able to drag defenders several times and the Iowa running game looks to be in fairly good hands while Butler misses a few games.
The Hawkeyes ran for 238 yards as a team — the most so far this season — and basically ground the North Texas front-seven to bits. Iowa used two or three tight ends on 47 of 86 plays and a fullback 39 times during the game. It was no secret the Hawkeyes wanted to pound the rock, especially in the second half.
Iowa rarely strayed from a power set, sometimes motioning Noah Fant into a strong-I formation. Speaking of which, motioning Fant into the backfield is something the Hawkeyes are starting to do more and more of as the season goes along. There’s far more movement in the offense this year than there was last, perhaps the greatest difference we’ve seen so far from Greg Davis’ offense to Brian Ferentz’s.
That run came early in Iowa’s win. It’s not really a complex play, but it’s a different look. Iowa’s already tried to give Fant the ball on a tight end end-around this season and those are the types of wrinkles that could end up going for a big gain at some point this season if called in the right situation.
Regardless, it’s just another thing the defense has to prepare for. Speaking of end arounds, Iowa tried a fake one early-on in the game as well.
Later on in the game, Ihmir Smith-Marsette actually did get an end around, but it went for zero yards. Not everything works.
Making teams respect it, or at least be wary of it, is important for any success they’re going to have with it. Running it also opens up certainly plays, like it did above.
Elsewhere in the offense, Stanley had another respectable day. He went 16 of 27 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. His first was one of the weirdest (and perhaps luckiest) touchdowns I’ve seen in awhile.
The ball, which looked like it was originally intended for Smith-Marsette, was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Hockenson was in the right place at the right time. Iowa lined up with trips at the top of the field (using tight ends as two of their trips guys) and it looked like Smith-Marsette, after faking to the outside, was running a flat-type route across the middle.
Regardless, it’s Hockenson’s first touchdown of his college career and he ended with three catches against the Mean Green on four targets.
Nick Easley was targeted nine times, making five catches. He leads Iowa in targets this season with 22. Noah Fant is a close second with 17 and had two catches on four targets on Saturday. Matt VandeBerg is third this season with 14 targets and had three catches for 19 yards against North Texas.
Fant’s biggest catch came on a critical 4th-and-5 in the third quarter. Iowa had put together a nice drive after stopping North Texas on its opening second-half offensive possession, but stalled at the Mean Green’s 23 yard line.
Fant made a great catch in traffic and hauled a defender into the end zone with him.
Iowa was 4-of-5 on fourth-down and Kirk Ferentz is continuing to gamble a bit. This is calculated and he shed some light on the process during his postgame press conference.
It started the year the new Kirk stuff started, you know, quite frankly. (Laughter.) And I don't know if because of our approach to fourth down or those fakes didn't work, I'm still trying to decipher that. I think we started a different approach, and that was an out-of-season study we did, and we just talked about it, and we spend a lot of time talking about it every Thursday ask now -- and part of it is the feel of the game. That particular juncture I just felt like we needed -- you're either going to dig in and do something or we were going to keep screwing around here, so I felt like we just had to do something.
An out-of-season study? Talking about it every Thursday? Frankly I just found that fascinating.
Fant also converted a 4th-and-3 to start the game on a quick pass out of the backfield on a tight end screen, a play call I really liked.
Stanley wasn’t perfect and did have a couple overthrows, but at this point it’s just pretty obvious the long ball is a work in progress.
He also missed Fant on the same drive, which really killed some first half momentum the Hawkeyes had built.
One of these days he’s going to connect on one of those. One of these days a long missed throw is going to cost Iowa a game. We’ll see which one happens first.
Deep throws have been an issue on the other side of the ball for Iowa and against North Texas, the Hawkeye defense made some adjustments to varying degrees of success.
Iowa went base 4-3 on 34 defensive snaps, though switched it up occasionally and used dime on 10 and nickel once. Jake Gervase was benched in the first half after struggling mightily over the past few games and Amani Hooker took over for him on the second defensive series.
Coincidently, that was the first time during the game Iowa pulled out its dime package, which consists of Hooker, Matt Hankins, Michael Ojemudia, Josh Jackson, Manny Rugamba and Miles Taylor. The nickel package just subtracted Hooker.
Anyways, the first time they used it was a 2nd and 25. North Texas called a running back screen and it, uh, didn’t work thanks to Parker Hesse.
North Texas wasn’t able to convert on third down and had to punt. Major kudos to Hesse, by the way. He had one of this best games and has gotten better and better over the past couple years.
On the next defensive series Iowa did end up calling a nickel defense and it didn’t work. At all.
Hankins gets burned, badly.
The defensive backs are still hit and miss, but it was nice to see Iowa deviate from the course to try and slow down the Mean Green attack. Interestingly enough, North Texas went shotgun every single play in this game. Iowa used dime just three times in the second half as its base defense started to play a bit better.
The Hawkeyes allowed less than 100 yards in the second half and just looked like a much more cohesive unit.
Josh Jackson again had a tremendous game and with Josey Jewell hobbled (he does not look completely healthy) the junior corner might be Iowa’s best defender.
He had his second pick late in the game and nearly had another midway through the second quarter. The dude can ball.
Jackson also murdered the ball on a North Texas field goal attempt.
The dude is just an animal.
So what can we gather from Iowa against North Texas? Well, it certainly wasn’t as clean of a performance as we would have hoped for leading into a massive game with Penn State, but not everything was bad.
Losing Butler is going to hurt and it’ll be interesting to see how much Kelly-Martin and Young sub in for Wadley, who will be nursing an ankle injury. Iowa’s been (mostly) a second half team this year and pitched a shutout over the final two quarters.
Even so, it wasn’t until the middle of the fourth quarter that Hawkeyes picked up a double-digit lead against an obviously inferior team. That’s worrisome. Really, the entire defense remains a question mark. Will Iowa be able to have a consistent pass rush this season? if not, are the defensive backs good enough in coverage?
Those are just questions that will need to be answered.
In order to beat the Nittany Lions, Iowa’s going to need Nate Stanley to play the game of his life and that’s going to include making some deep throws. Noah Fant has had some drops this year, which he needs to be able to clean up if he expects to catch more than two or three balls a game, something the Hawkeyes need.
The fact Stanley has now completed a pass to 10 different receivers (Brandon Smith caught his first pass against North Texas) is an excellent sign and means he’s going through his progressions and making good decisions.
Anyways, Big Ten season is upon us. Time to see what this team is really made of.