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THE REWATCH — NORTHWESTERN

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Oh so it *could* get worse

Northwestern v Iowa
GOOD JOB GOOD EFFORT
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Each week we’ll take a look at what went right — and wrong — for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Catch all the previous rewatches right here.

And now Iowa’s on a three-game slide.

In the most disappointing performances of the season to date, the Hawkeyes fell 14-10 to Northwestern at home to Kinnick. It was pretty hard to watch, especially considering the win meant the Wildcats will represent the West Division in the Big Ten Championship.

Overall, Iowa couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t hit the big plays when they needed to, and got outcoached throughout the game. Defensively the Hawkeyes gave up 184 rushing yards on 40 carries and were very inconsistent throughout.

What a deflating loss.


Offensive snap counts

Wide receiver: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (50), Nick Easley (49), Max Cooper (18), Tyrone Tracy, Jr. (11), Kyle Groeneweg (7).

Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (61), Noah Fant (32), Nate Wieting (18).

Running back: Mekhi Sargent (38), Ivory Kelly-Martin (21), Toren Young (8).

Fullback: Austin Kelly (14)

Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays

Offensive penalties

— OT Alaric Jackson, one, -10 yards total (holding); G Ross Reynolds, one, -10 yards total (holding)

Personnel packages

— 63 total offensive plays — 2WR/2TE/RB (25); 3WR/TE/RB (19); 1WR/2TE/FB/RB (7); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (6); 1WR/3TE/RB (4); 2WR/TE/2RB (3); 3WR/2TE (1).

Not having Brandon Smith in the lineup certainly did not help Iowa. They missed his blocking tremendously and he’s become a fairly reliable target for Nate Stanley over the past couple games.

With the sophomore wideout out, Ihmir Smith-Marsette picked up some more snaps, as did Max Cooper, Kyle Groeneweg and Tyrone Tracy. Smith-Marsette was the best of this group and had probably his second-best best day in an Iowa uniform, setting a single-game receiving mark (90 yards) and tying a career high in catches, with four.

He also scored the fourth touchdown of his college career:

Just a nice, confident throw from Nate Stanley. It’s a good route by Smith-Marsette as well, who had the defenders beat by several steps. With the Wildcats down to bare bones at corner, it’s a little surprising to me the Hawkeyes didn’t attack them more.

I think this game is very different if Brandon Smith plays, but regardless Smith-Marsette was doing a lot in this game and I wish they would have targeted him even more (and perhaps put him in better situations) than they did. He saw eight balls come his way, though didn’t register a drop.

Here was his most impressive catch of the evening:

Smith-Marsette’s route is a fade down the sideline and he makes a truly acrobatic grab. It’s a solid throw by Stanley, though this drive would end in a missed field goal.

This was also one of Iowa’s very, very few third-down conversions on the day. The Hawkeyes were just 3-of-13 on the evening and are 17-of-47 on third down during this three-game losing streak.

Speaking of third downs, Noah Fant was on the field for just seven of the 13 attempts against Northwestern. He had just one catch during the game, which went for no gain and was on the field for only nine of Iowa’s 26 second-half snaps.

Fant was targeted by Stanley just three times and all came before the seven-minute mark of the third quarter. Here’s his only catch:

There aren’t really any good options on this play, so Stanley just dumps it off to Fant. There’s no room to run and the Hawkeyes end up punting a couple plays later.

It’s just unfathomable to me how Fant was only on the field for 32 plays in a close game. Iowa had some mismatches it could have tried to take advantage of and simply didn’t. Especially in a game like this where your running game isn’t working all that well, the moderate passing game becomes critical.

Stanley and Co. couldn’t ever really get it going, but I think a large part of the blame goes to Brian Ferentz. I didn’t think the play calling was real great in this game and I don’t understand why Iowa didn’t at least make a passing attempt to take a couple deep shots.

Or, you know, at least have your all-star tight end on the field on an early fourth-down attempt. That would seem sensible.

Why is Nick Easley running a route that nearly runs into the official? Why are all these routes breaking open late, but you’re not giving Stanley extra protection when you know that your tackles have occasionally been struggling the last few weeks? Why is Tyrone Tracy on the field?

And, of course, why the hell is Nate Wieting in a fourth down passing situation and Noah Fant isn’t? That’s an absurd and completely undefendable decision by the coaching staff.

I don’t know what’s going on with the coaching staff and Fant, but they’re costing the team by not getting him on the field more. I’m not sure what else there is to say about that.

Oh, but, before I forget here’s that miserable fumble to end the game. I had to watch it again so now you do too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team fumble away its final two possessions in a single-score game before.

Sigh.


Defensive snap counts

Defensive line: Parker Hesse (55), Anthony Nelson (55), Matt Nelson (48), Sam Brincks (48), Chauncey Golston (32), A.J. Epenesa (31), Cedrick Lattimore (25), Brady Reiff (24).

Linebackers: Jack Hockaday (74); Djimon Colbert (72), Nick Niemann (13), Kristian Welch (5).

Defensive back: Amani Hooker (79), Jake Gervase (79), Michael Ojemudia (78), Matt Hankins (78), Geno Stone (69), Riley Moss (4).

Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays

Defensive penalties

— CB Matt Hankins, one, -15 yards total (pass interference).

As has been the case all season, Iowa’s defense played good enough to win. Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia both made their return to the starting lineup and were... fine. I still think Julius Brents is maybe better than either Ojemudia or Hankins, but I digress.

Nick Niemann is starting to get a few more snaps as he returns from injury, but everything else was pretty much as normal. Well, outside of giving up 184 rushing yards, that is.

Northwestern’s Isaiah Bowser continued his strong streak of games with a 31 carry, 165 yard rushing performance. He didn’t have a ton of long runs, but wasn’t dragged down for a loss once. He was always moving north-and-south and getting good 4-, 5-, 6-yard, etc chunk gains because of it.

The downfield blocking from the Wildcat wide receivers is great here and Bowser breathes fire on the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes tackling isn’t great as they try to hone in on the overgrown Koopa and Bowser is able to smash his way for a 12-yard gain.

Bowser also scored the Wildcats’ first points of the day:

Jack Hockaday gets chopped, Colbert gets blocked and Jake Gervase is out of position. Bowser is barely touched as he rumbles down the field and it’s due to Northwestern’s blocking.

This was the best blocking team Iowa’s faced this year — especially downfield — and it showed throughout the game. Credit to Northwestern, they came to play.

It wasn’t all blocking, however, as Bowser has some moves.

Hockaday. Yeesh.

While Bowser did his best to kidnap all of Iowa’s momentum, the Hawkeye defense did have a few good moments. They held Northwestern to 7-of-19 on third down, but did allow both of the fourth downs the Wildcats tried.

They got to Thorson quite a bit, however, registering four hurries and two sacks. The Hawkeyes were able to contain the mobile quarterback fairly well, allowing him to rush for just one net yard.

The senior was also 15-of-30 passing for just 122 yards. Here’s a video of A.J. Epenesa helping cause one of those hurries by murdering offensive tackle Blake Hance.

This is just beyond impressive. Hance staggers back after just one punch from Epenesa and has lost all control of the situation after he begins to lose his balance.

Thorson is smart enough to get out of the way before Epenesa gets there and pretty much just throws the ball away. It was an awesome play for the Hawkeyes to make on third down, a place where they’d been really good up until the past few weeks.

While Epenesa’s snap count is still a bit low, I honestly think it’s right where it needs to be at this point. Sure, he’s going to start next year barring something weird, but I just don’t see any need to force the issue right now.

He’s been great in Iowa’s third down pass rush package and I see no need to shift things up.

Unlike last week, the Hawkeyes were able to generate quite a bit of pressure in this game overall. Amani Hooker got a sack on a blitz, which was just a really nice play by him.

This is well timed by Hooker, who starts his movement towards the quarterback a split second before the ball is snapped. Northwestern doesn’t block this play well at all and Hooker is hardly even touched by the offensive tackle.

The running back (I think it’s Bowser) is pass blocking inside and can’t help with Hooker. Thorson gets dragged down for a loss and the Wildcats punt two plays later. This sack turned out to be an absolute drive killer.

Speaking of killing drives, an interception works well too and the Hawkeyes got two of them in the third quarter. The first pick from Geno Stone on Northwestern’s first drive of the second half:

Stone is just helping over the top and makes a good play on the ball. Not a great throw at all from Thorson, but still a really nice read by the young Iowa defensive back.

The second pick was courtesy Jake Gervase and led to a touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes a 10-7 lead:

Tip drill!

This is a right place, right time kinda thing. Good on Gervase for the heads up play. Hopefully there are a few more of them in the next couple weeks.

Because with the offense playing the way it is right now, they need all the help the defense can possibly give them. The Hawkeyes get Illinois this week and if that’s not a place where they can get their offense looking half respectable again, we’re going to be in for a very long game against Nebraska in two weeks.