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THE REWATCH — IOWA STATE

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The Hawkeyes’ world-beating defense saves the day.

Iowa State v Iowa
HULK SMASH
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Each week we’ll rewatch the previous game and try to figure out what went right — and wrong — in the weekend’s game. Catch all the previous rewatches right here.

It’s never a bad week following an Iowa win over Iowa State and for the fourth year in a row, we get to enjoy just that.

The Hawkeyes got it done with a simply brutal defensive effort, allowing just 19 net rushing yards in the 13-3 win. That’s the tied for the fifth-fewest rushing yards allowed under Kirk Ferentz, which is something of an absurd stat in and of itself — we’ve really been treated to some excellent defense the last 20 years.

Iowa State had just 188 yards total, which is the least amount they’ve had in a game since they got beat 71-7 by Baylor in 2013 and gained just 174. It’s the least amount of yards the Cyclones have gained in this series since they had just 113 during the 2009 CyHawk game.

Considering the defense won this game, we’ll start there today.


Defensive line snap counts:

Defensive end: Anthony Nelson (44), Parker Hesse (35), A.J. Epenesa (23), Chauncey Golston (12)

Defensive tackle: Matt Nelson (37), Sam Brincks (28), Cedrick Lattimore (16), Chancey Golston (11), Parker Hesse (10), Brady Reiff (1)

Defensive penalties:

— DE/DT Parker Hesse, one, -15 yards total (roughing the passer); DE A.J. Epenesa one, -5 yards total (offsides)

Overall this is about as good of a rotation’s Iowa had along its defensive line in a long, long time. Just about everyone’s snap counts were in line with what they had against Northern Illinois, with of course Lattimore and Reiff back after a one-game suspension.

Reiff, who spent a lot of time in Iowa’s pass-rush packages last year, barely played. Lattimore was well down from his snaps last year, but I’d expect him to pick up a few more in the weeks ahead.

Also, Golston, much like Hesse, is putting in time as both a defensive end and a tackle, something I like a lot.

The only other major change from last week was Kristian Welch not playing due to injury, with Djimon Colbert getting the start instead. I thought he played pretty dang well. Jack Hockaday also got the start over Amani Jones, which was expected.

One thing that did surprise me, however, was Iowa — through two weeks — has still not entered a nickel or dime package once. I was almost sure this would happen this week, but it didn’t, with Iowa electing to keep its linebackers on the field during passing situations.

During the obvious passing downs, it was Anthony Nelson and Epenesa at defensive end, with Hesse and Golston at tackle. Iowa went to its line standup ‘Raider’ package five times, with the same personnel down in stances another seven times.

Both worked well.

This was a really nice play early in the game from Nick Niemann (49). DC Phil Parker sends both Niemann and Hockaday (48) on a blitz, while Epenesa drops back into pass coverage.

Iowa State could do absolutely nothing here. The Hawkeyes secondary gives Niemann the few seconds he needs to get, untouched, to ISU quarterback Kyle Kempt. The Cyclones are forced to punt, which they shank and Iowa gets excellent field position.

This was just a tremendous defensive drive from Iowa early in the game. Here was the previous play:

The Hawkeyes are rolling with Anthony Nelson (98) and Hesse (40) at end, while Lattimore (95) and Matt Nelson (96) are at the tackle spots. Lattimore stunts and both he and Matt Nelson help seal the front of the line.

The other Nelson and Hesse get tremendous pressure and are a big part of this hurried pass, which is targeting David Montgomery — not Kempt’s first choice. Credit to the secondary for playing solid coverage.

In all honesty, I almost love this type of play more than the sacks. Almost. Granted, Iowa State’s tackles weren’t exactly the best, but they were manhandled the entire day. It forced the Iowa State quarterbacks to throw a lot of short passes and they just didn’t have the time to really set up the deep throws Cy was able to get to in last year’s game.

Late in the fourth quarter, with Kempt hurt and the Cyclones on a last-gasp drive, Epenesa (94) fittingly ends the contest with a strip-sack.

In right around 46 snaps this season AJ Epenesa has nine tackles, three tackles for loss (22 TFL yards), three sacks (the TFL are the sacks), two QB hurries, two forced fumbles and a pass deflection.

That’s incredible and he was named the Big Ten co-defensive player of the week for his efforts in the CyHawk game.

Epenesa played the majority of his snaps in the second half and it makes a big difference with him being able to come off the bench fresh as the game winds down. Anthony Nelson and Hesse have played 92 and 66 snaps at defensive end so far this season, respectively, and they clearly have the gas tank to help wear down defensive lines.

Then comes in an absolute monster in really critical junctures who is fresh. That’s almost unfair and the reason I think Iowa’s defensive line might be among the top-three in the nation.

Oh, here’s where Kempt got hurt by the way. Certainly nothing malicious, just a football play.

Also, watch Golston (No. 57) on this play. He beats not one, but two different Iowa State linemen to help get pressure. Epenesa was credited with the sack here, but it was a team effort.

Iowa’s currently tied for second in the nation with nine sacks, are fifth in total defense allowed (199.5 yards per game) and second in points allowed with five per game. The Hawkeyes had four sacks against Iowa State, while the Cyclones had exactly zero.

This might have been my favorite:

Matt Nelson (96) absolutely destroys the center and then body slams Kempt to turf. I’m willing to bet the ISU quarterback will be feeling that one all week.

Moving on from watching Iowa State quarterbacks get sacked, the Hawkeyes spotted ISU running back David Montgomery just 44 yards on 17 carries. Stopping him — as well as the rest of the Cyclone rushing attack — was critical to Iowa winning this game.

Montgomery had little room to run all day as the defensive line did its job and ate up blockers like they were candy. Iowa is sitting seventh in the nation in rushing defense (60 per game, 1.97 yards per carry) and showed all day long why its one of the best defensive units in the country.

For starters, Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler (18) completely misses a block here. He’s supposed to come down on safety Amani Hooker (27). He doesn’t do this and Hooker fills the hole, getting his shoulder pads on Montgomery.

Montgomery breaks the tackle, but cornerback Michael Ojemudia (11) reads what’s going on well and is in good position to make a play. It wasn’t the only time he’d make one.

This was the tail end of Iowa State’s 13-play, 66 yard drive on their first offensive possession. Ojemudia comes in unblocked to tackle backup running back Sheldon Croney (25) for no gain.

The Cyclones would get the first down, but a clutch goal line stand helped the Hawkeyes limit the damage. David Montgomery gets stopped by Colbert here on second-and-goal here during one of the redshirt freshman’s many solid plays.

The pulling left guard (Josh Mueller, No. 54) misses his block on Colbert, who blows the play up before it started. Kempt threw an incompletion to Hakeem Butler on the next play and a false start ruined a potential fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line opportunity for the Cyclones.

After this first drive, Iowa State had the ball 10 more times. Here’s how those drives went: Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Turnover on downs, Punt, Punt, Fumble, End of the game.

During that span, Iowa State ran 44 more plays for 116 yards. I’d also like to note that the Cyclones ran just two plays in Iowa territory for the rest of the game.


Offensive snap counts

Wide receiver: Brandon Smith (43), Nick Easley (34), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (28), Kyle Groeneweg (18), Max Cooper (4)

Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (60), Noah Fant (44), Nate Wieting (8), Shaun Beyer (2)

Running back: Toren Young (40), Mekhi Sargent (22)

Fullback: Brady Ross (21)

Offensive penalties

— LG Ross Reynolds, one, -15 yards total (illegal block); FB Brady Ross, one, -10 yards (holding); Team, two, -10 yards total, (delay of game, illegal procedure)

Offensive personnel

— 64 total plays: 2WR/2TE/RB (26); WR/2TE/FB/RB (15); 3WR/TE/RB (11); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (6); 3WR/2TE (3); WR/3TE/RB (2); 3WR/2RB (1)

Iowa got very little from its offense for most of the game. Nate Stanley finished 16-of-28 for 166 yards in his second underwhelming performance in a row and the running game really wasn’t there either — 36 carries for 110 yards.

For the fourth game in a row, an Iowa tight end led the team in receptions — Hockenson, 6 catches for 33 yards — and the Hawkeyes got a combined five catches from five different wide receivers.

It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. Iowa State’s defense was good, especially linebacker Mike Rose who finished with a game-high 11 tackles. He was simply too fast and had too good of a pursuit angle for Toren Young to escape him here in the first half:

Iowa ran 28 plays for a grand total of 73 yards in the first half and while they didn’t turn the ball over during the entirety of the game, it was hard for them to find any sort of consistency or momentum.

It was the first game of the season for starting tackles Tristian Wirfs and Alaric Jackson and they looked a little rusty. The line struggled to open up holes for the running backs and while Stanley wasn’t sacked, Iowa State did get several hurries and hits.

Here’s a play from the first quarter where the line, uh, doesn’t do the world’s best job of pass blocking.

Watch the line, because while the coverage downfield is good, several other things are going on here.

First, Iowa State is sending a blitz as its third down and they want to generate some pressure out of their three-man front. Iowa is five-wide and doesn’t have running back help in pass protection.

The ball is snapped. Rose (23) dives in immediately, where he’s engaged first by right guard Cole Banwart (61) and then left guard Ross Reynolds (59). Meanwhile, defensive tackle Ray Lima (76) and defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike (50) are engaged with left offensive tackle Alaric Jackson (77), Reynolds and center Keegan Render (69).

Lima slides off Render, his teammate Uwazurike and then Jackson to get to Stanley. Jackson doesn’t see this pressure very well and remains engaged with Uwazurike,

Rose and Lima break through the line while Stanley still has the ball in his hands and the quarterback takes a hit. Wirfs does a solid job from his right tackle spot.

While it wasn’t like this the whole game, I think this play illustrates the fact Iowa still has work to do along its offensive line in order to make it cohesive. Granted this is a formation where the Hawkeyes don’t have a tight end on the line (something they nearly always have) but you’d still expect this offensive line to be able to pick up this relatively light pressure a tad better.

As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t just the passing game that was struggling either — run blocking was certainly an issue.

This was another 3rd and 9 in the first quarter, only this time Iowa elected to run the ball:

Mehki Sargent is dropped for a loss of three yards. I liked exactly zero things about this play, starting with the play call and I don’t think Stanley audibled into it.

I know sometimes draw plays can work on third, but that wasn’t the case here. Nearly as soon as the ball is snapped, Rose and defensive end JaQuan Bailey (3) are through the line and linebacker Willie Harvey (2) isn’t far behind.

It’s pressure from everywhere, immediately. Unless I’m mistaken, I’m pretty sure Bailey was supposed to be Wirfs’ (74) assignment, but considering Banwart is uncovered in Iowa’s zone run blocking scheme, he’s supposed to be assisting.

I think Banwart’s more concentrated on the linebackers here, who run a bit of stunt. I’m a little surprised he didn’t at least try to chip Bailey, but perhaps he thought Wirfs was fine on his own.

Regardless, Iowa State does a great job of getting penetration here and this play really never was going to work.

Let’s move back to Stanley for a second. His throws were a little out-of-place throughout the day and nearly throws an interception on 3rd-and-15 (if you haven’t noticed the theme, Iowa was bad on third down with the exception of one drive, which we’ll get to in a second).

Stanley’s targeting Groeneweg here, who caught a five-yard pass on the play prior to this one.

The ball is low and the only player with even a chance to catch it is defensive back Brian Peavy. I’m not sure really what else to say here, it was a bad throw and a turnover at this point would have completely changed the entire game.

Iowa gets a field goal on the next play and leads for the first time all day. It wasn’t much, but after the 45-yard catch from Ihmir Smith-Marsette that set up this scoring drive, it was a little momentum.

Speaking of that play, it was a beauty:

That’s the longest play Iowa’s had this season so far. It’s also fitting Smith-Marsette was injured on it.

He’s on the depth chart this week, at least, so hopefully he’ll be back. Iowa desperately needed to get some points and this toss feels in no small part a big reason why the Hawkeyes won this game.

That said, the biggest offensive play for Iowa of the day was Brandon Smith’s 30-yard catch on third down.

Perfectly timed and perfectly placed.

This was the second-to-last play of a drive Iowa needed in order to take control of the game. It went 13 plays, spanned 83 yards and took 6:30 off the clock in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Iowa converted three different third downs on the drive and overcame a 10-yard holding penalty from fullback Brady Ross. Stanley was 5-of-6 passing on the drive for 72 yards and converted two of those third downs with his arm.

His targets on the drive: Hockenson (2), Fant (2), Easley (1) and Smith (1).

Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young both saw action during the drive, with Sargent eventually punching the ball in for a two-yard touchdown.

So what did we learn from Iowa State?

First, I think it’s fair to say this defense is legitimate. Iowa’s started off this season by beating two teams that each had eight wins last season and both went to bowl games. The Hawkeyes defensive line continues to play at an extremely high level, making things a lot easier on its linebackers and secondary.

Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia are both solid at the corner positions and sure tacklers. At safety, Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker have both been solid. They’ve got room to grow and still haven’t really been tested a whole lot, but I think they’re at the very least they’re slightly above-average starters.

Offensively Iowa has to find something in the passing game. A receiver really needs to step up and be the possession-type player that this offense really needs to be successful. That will open up the running game a bit more, which will make a world of a difference.

It’s hard, however, to not be sitting at 2-0 and just outside the Top-25 polls. UNI will be tough this week, but Iowa is far deeper and more talented than the Panthers.

That should serve as a tune-up for the massive test just two weeks away — Wisconsin.