Each week I’ll be rewatching Iowa’s football game from the Saturday prior to try and piece together what went right and what went wrong for the Hawkeyes.
In Iowa’s 24-3 win against Wyoming, it was... very much the first game of the season. There were plenty of mistakes — the Hawkeyes turned the ball over four times — as well as some really good moments. The defense was stellar, holding Wyoming to just 3.3 yards per play and bailed out the offense more than once.
Defenses often progress faster than offenses do, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple defensive plays.
We’ll start with cornerback Josh Jackson, who had not only his best game at Iowa, but also probably locked himself a spot among the starters. Remember, Manny Rugamba was suspended for this game.
On Wyoming’s second offensive play of the game, Jackson introduced himself to wide receiver C.J. Johnson with this nasty hit. It was just a short flat route, perhaps an attempt to help Cowboys’ quarterback Josh Allen get in some sort of rhythm.
Jackson read it all the way. It wouldn’t be the only time he’d do so.
Later, Jackson makes a play that just might have changed the entire game. It’s a good play action pass, and safety Jake Gervase bites a bit before making the correct read and backpedaling downfield. It’s not unforgivable — it is 2nd and 1, after all — but he’s too late to make a significant impact on the play.
Jackson is more than fast enough to stick with the wideout and makes a tremendous play in the endzone. Wyoming is stuffed on the next play and punts away one of its best chances to make the game close.
Oh, and don’t forget about this gem.
This was the backbreaker for Wyoming. The Cowboys had strung together a nice little drive (this was the 8th play) and were threatening to make the game a little closer.
Jackson read Allen and the dig route perfectly. As a bonus, he then flipped field position with a nice little return. Shades of Desmond King, anyone?
The junior ended the game with five tackles, the pick, and the pass deflection. Not bad for his second career start.
As a whole, the secondary played a solid game. Allen didn’t have a touchdown and Iowa was able to keep everything in front of them as the quarterback finished 23-40 for a pedestrian 174 yards.
That said, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the group.
Michael Ojemudia gets absolutely beat here. This should have been caught and it would have made the game a whole lot more interesting. Would Iowa have responded on offense? Would Allen have marched down and scored again?
Wyoming had seven drives of five plays or longer and got a grand total of three points out of it. Perhaps that’s being a little nitpicky, but there definitely was the opportunity for the Cowboys to inflict serious damage.
Moving on, Jake Gervase had a fairly nice game at the free safety spot.
You knew it was going to be a run, I knew it was going to be a run and you can be damn sure Gervase knew it was going to be a run.
The Cowboys were 1-5 on third downs in the first half and sniffing out plays like this is exactly why. Gervase also had a pass deflection and it’s comforting to know the secondary has — at the very least — some potential.
Obviously you don’t want to overreact to everything early in the season (unless you’re JPinIC), but plays like this are 1) a momentum killer for the other team and 2) indicative of a well coached defense. Phil Parker called a good game and should be commended for that.
The other big STUFF happened on the Wyoming drive prior. Check this out.
That’s what you call a momentum killer, people. Iowa was bending at certain points of the game and willing to give up a few throws, but when push came to shove, well, Iowa was doing the shoving.
The defensive line was tremendous in this game and was a big part of the reason Iowa gave up 57 total rushing yards. They were getting the push and the linebackers were cleaning up the pieces.
Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann both had great games, flying all over the field and making the plays Iowa needed to pull out a win. I mean, just look at what the Outlaw was up to early in the game.
Hesse should have had the sack, but Allen pulled an Eli Manning-type sack escape (though without a helmet catch from David Tyree) and broke free of the defensive lineman’s grasp... only to find himself thrown down to the turf by the Outlaw.
Jewell made a living in the backfield on Saturday afternoon, tallying two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. For his efforts, he was named the Walter Camp defensive player of week and led the Hawkeyes with 14 total tackles.
Sheesh, dude, save some for the rest of the guys (no don’t actually).
I’m going to circle back to the defensive line for just one more second. True freshman A.J. Epenesa helped change the game with this sack. In fact, as I brought up in the Sunday recap, I believe it was the last 38 seconds of the first half that really decided the game.
It all started with Epenesa’s tackle for loss on what looks like a play that was supposed to be a read option. It went down as a sack on the statsheet.
We all know what happened next.
So what did we really learn about the Hawkeye defense? I think the bottom line is that once again, Iowa is going to be able to rely on them to keep things afloat if the offense is sputtering. Jewell is one of the best linebackers in the nation and remains elite at directing traffic. The defensive line will be solid and the cupboard isn’t quite as bare as maybe we thought in the secondary.
Let’s move on to the offense.
There was... some good, some bad, and some just plain strange. Nate Stanley, making his first start, threw 15 passes for the Hawkeyes, completing eight and throwing a pick.
Iowa kept things fairly basic, putting him under center 42 times and in the gun 13. Brian Ferentz went to a heavy set (two or three tight ends, plus a fullback) 18 times and didn’t run a single play with five wideouts.
There were a few wrinkles, which I’ll get to, but first the three touchdowns Stanley threw.
The first, a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Noah Fant. Fun fact: including this play, Iowa converted two fourth downs on the first touchdown drive.
Fant goes in motion, runs a flat route and Stanley makes an easy throw. Pitch and catch.
After the Epenesa sack, Iowa had great field position and immediately took a shot down the field. Stanley hits Fant once again.
Nice little seam route from Fant, who makes the grab in-stride and capitalizes on the momentum heading into halftime. Good stuff.
His last was a pretty throw to newly-minted folk hero Nick Easley (DID YOU KNOW HE TURNED DOWN A WALK-ON OFFER FROM IN-STATE RIVAL IOWA STATE???)
We’ll hear that a lot during the game with those guys from Ames at the end of the week, I think. I’m also already tired of the Easley puns. Anyways:
Easley lines up near the left hash and runs a post/crossing route across the field. Fant draws the safety away and takes the corner with to the left as Easley goes to the right. Stanley drops the ball right into Easley’s hands, who barrels his way into the endzone.
Easley’s lower body strength really impressed me here, as he basically drags the the defender across the goal line with him. It’s a good play and more or less put Wyoming away for good.
Add on another decent throw to Easley, a little strike to Matt VandeBerg and a couple other short throws and you have Iowa’s passing yardage. All-in-all, it wasn’t a mind-blowing performance.
Stanley started the day 0-4 with a pick and things weren’t really looking great. It says something he was able to rebound and put together a decent day, but it might be a bit before we see his true breakout as a passer.
The aforementioned interception:
I mean that was pretty lucky, but where exactly was Stanley throwing it? The defensive back who tipped it nearly had the pick himself and it was thrown almost right to him. Just a poor decision.
To be fair, it did happen on Iowa’s second play of the game and a down it had very little success on against Wyoming. In fact, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t convert a third down until the third quarter on their 37th play (of 57).
Iowa finished the day 4 for 13 on third. Not. Great.
Part of the issue was the running game. Outside a couple big Akrum Wadley runs and a few nice totes from James Butler, there really wasn’t a whole lot going on. The Hawkeyes finished 138 rushing yards as a team. That won’t win you a whole lot of games in the Big Ten with a young quarterback.
Wadley was dancing around early in the game and struggling to find holes, some of which simply didn’t exist. There’s a multitude of plays in the first half where this is pretty obvious, so I just picked one.
Ike Boettger absolutely gets his ass handed to him on this play and is sideways almost as soon as the play starts. Welsh slams his guy into the ground and T.J. Hockenson probably should have been called for holding, as he hooks the cornerbacks arm. So, a mixed bag, I guess?
Speaking of Hockenson, the redshirt freshman saw a whole bunch of playing time and obviously has the eye of the coaches. He had some good moments, but there were also a couple instances where he struggled a bit.
Wadley was much better as the game went on and finished with 119 yards rushing on 24 carries, but it was still disconcerting to see the one thing on offense Iowa is relying on this year struggle a bit.
Butler was a nice addition and got 10 carries, which he turned into 47 yards. If he keeps running like this, he deserves another five a game, minimum.
On this play, the line got a good bit of push and beefed up by two tight ends, were able to push everyone forward. More of this, please.
Iowa definitely missed center James Daniels, who sat out of the game with a minor injury. Ross Reynolds got the start at guard while Keegan Render slide over to play center.
Iowa has a history of injured lineman, so building depth isn’t exactly the worst thing.
A couple of other new faces saw the field against the Cowboys as well. Including Epenesa, six true freshman saw playing time: Matt Hankins, Geno Stone, Ivory Kelly-Martin, Noah Clayberg and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Smith-Marsette got into the game and... promptly fumbled the ball on an end around. He really shouldn’t sweat it though, as Stanley fumbled the ball three times, losing two of them.
I’ll chalk it up to a rookie mistake for both players. Stanley just went the wrong way on this one:
Gotta learn to just go down, sometimes.
As far as wrinkles in the offense go, there were a few things. On the first play of the game, both Butler and Wadley lined up in the backfield. Wadley got a jet sweep and lost a yard, but it was nice to see Brian Ferentz mess around with getting them both on the field at the same time.
Later in the game they both lined up to the side of Stanley, so there’s definitely some things in progress for Iowa. The Hawkeyes weren’t hesitant to get some guys in motion either and even experimented with handing off the ball to Fant.
It didn’t really work, but I’m all for playing around with this type of stuff.
It’s weird, but I kind of dig it. Very Iowa to try and use a tight end to run the ball.
There’s going to be some very high highs and very low lows for this offense this year. Iowa State will really be the true test of this unit and seeing how Stanley reacts to a hostile crowd will go a long way towards how I feel about this season.
The running game should get going and I’m hoping Butler will have the chance to really shine. It really struck me as strange Iowa didn’t manage to get a single rushing touchdown, though I have a feeling that will change next week.
Bottom line: There’s a lot for this team to work on and we should expect to see some growth against the Cyclones. If we don’t, this could be a frustrating year.