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The Rewatch: Penn State

The end zone was rarely the ending.

Penn State v Iowa
For the second straight week, Stanley was hurried and hit repeatedly.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The broadcast crew nearly ran out of fingers, toes, and other placeholders to count Iowa’s consecutive drive streak against P5 schools without scoring a touchdown. For two consecutive weeks Iowa’s offense was able to move the ball into scoring position, but struggled to put points on the board. It took a highlight reel catch by Brandon Smith to finally end a drive in the end zone. We are going to be using Skycam video to show what’s going on with Iowa’s offense. This week we focus on the passing game.

Last week the offense was a total train wreck with penalties, turnovers, and general dysfunction, but this week actually featured quite a few positive plays. In the end, Iowa’s offensive players and fans remain frustrated by the lack of points.

This week, two turnovers put a struggling Penn St offense in prime position to score. With a cohesive offensive and defensive system, Iowa cannot afford to give away the field like that an expect to win. Both turnovers were a result in breakdowns along the offensive line.

Redshirt sophomore Mark Kallenberger, who saw his first action as a starter at right guard, sees a Penn St linebacker show blitz. He slides right to pick up the blitz and center Tyler Linderbaum slides left, play side, leaving a massive gap for PJ Mustipher to crush Tyler Goodson. This play was going to be a loss, but a blown assignment leads to a turnover.

On Iowa’s second turnover, Nate Stanley faces pressure up the middle from #54 Robert Windsor. Linderbaum initially gives a reach to Windsor to help Cody Ince, who saw 18 snaps at LG, and then slides over to assist Kallenberger. The problem is that initial punch pushes Windsor across Ince and he’s not able to regain control. Linderbaum tries to help again late, but the damage is done. The interior pressures forces Stanley to sail his throw over the middle, and it is picked off. Had Stanley been given a little more time, Ragaini is coming out of his break cleanly and would have had a nice gain. (Side note: I can’t believe this wasn’t called targeting. Pretty clear launch with forceable impact to the helmet/head.)

Some positives

A lot of criticism is being hurled toward the senior signal caller, and he definitely understands that comes with the territory. With Iowa’s struggles in the middle, a lot is being put on his plate and the passing game. When he’s had a pocket, Stanley has been really effective.

Iowa has 2nd and 8 and goes shotgun 11 personnel. Here is a “spread” staple of zone read play action with a slot slant behind it. The play action holds the linebacker and Nico Ragaini cuts between the levels of the linebackers and safeties. Ball placement is perfect. Right on Ragaini and does not lead him directly into the safety.

It was great to see senior Nate Wieting show up in the box score with his receiving this week. He has been a really good blocker this year, but he came through with some big catches. Landan Paulsen gets beat by the DT, but Iowa is running one of their favorite plays, 4-verts. Stanley fires a rocket to Wieting running up the seam. It’s throws like this that has him on NFL radars. He fits this into the smallest of windows between the linebacker and safety.

Another play executed with great protection and timing. Wieting’s route here is really well done as well. Penn St brought a linebacker on a blitz and Mekhi Sargent squares him up keeping Stanley clean.

Ihmir Smith-Marsette motions across the formation pre-snap. This brings the safety on the right side up to cover his responsibility, the TE. However, Wieting remains in to help protect Stanley for the double move. Smith-Marsette gets the corner to stumble on his sluggo route. Because the safety was forced to slide closer to the line-of-scrimmage, there is no topside help. Another great pass puts Iowa at first and goal late in the half.

One of my absolute favorite plays of the day. Iowa has a big third down late 3Q down four. Iowa bunches Smith-Marsette, Ragaini, and Tyrone Tracy to the right. Tracy and Smith-Marsette cross routes pulling three defenders with them. This leaves a void for Ragaini who runs another really clean route. Tracy is actually held on the play as well, but Iowa can decline and take the yards on the catch and run.

It’s late and the offense needs a play to keep the drive, and their hopes, alive. Ragaini shows off his route running again Stanley fits this into another tight window for the first down. Watch Ragaini’s feet here. He does a beautiful job of getting the defender to take one misstep.

Close your eyes

Iowa’s offense typically wants to use a lot of play action to move defenders’ eyes and not let them follow each route. This is one of the few times I’ve gone through plays and noticed Tristan Wirfs get beat multiple times. Each time it was to the inside and I have to wonder if he is expecting help from his guard occasionally on that move. Luckily, Iowa is able to get past this and get points right before halftime.

Later in that same drive, pressure forces and errant throw. Penn St brings six defenders the DE goes wide. That brings Sargent outside and vacating a spot for the middle rush. He sees it too late and Stanley is forced to get rid of the ball. If he has an instant more, he hits Smith-Marsette for a big gain on a crossing route.

This one hurts...a lot. Coming out of a timeout, the clear focus is to get the ball to Smith in a 1v1 situation. They missed this opportunity last week on third down, and weren’t going to not go there this week. Smith gets a pretty clean release and beats his defender to the inside. Stanley would tell you he still should have hit him on target and that’s likely the case.

It also is clear to see that pressure up the middle keeps him from being able to step into the throw. Penn St blitzes up the middle and Linderbaum has a little indecision (reaches both hands out) on which one to take. Sargent helps, but Linderbaum is beat either way. Instead of taking the lead, Iowa is forced into a field goal and one point deficit at halftime.

To set up the late first half score, Iowa went with a double move. Here they go back to that action and add extra protection with the fullback, Brady Ross, and running back, Toren Young. Despite only brining four rushers, Windsor splits Linderbaum and Paulsen. Stanley is sacked shortly after giving his fake.

To start the final quarter, Iowa is in Penn St territory and down just four points. Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz dials up a play with Smith-Marsette coming in motion. This gets the safety to retreat slightly. Smith-Marsette drags the corner across and has the attention of the linebacker as well allowing Wieting to get leverage on the safety. He runs a crisp route and with a clean pocket its a big play to get into scoring position. The problem is there is pressure up the middle from Windor (again). Stanley is flushed out of the pocket to the right and cannot get enough on it to hit Wieting. Again, it was a four man rush that does the damage.

Defense keeps the game within reach

I really can’t say enough good things about the defense. Penn St came out with a clear plan to attack with their most explosive player, KJ Hamler. Their first two plays are an attempt to get him the ball. They end with an incompletion and a sack.

I really don’t know how the first play is legal. All of the Penn St wide receives are blocking downfield before the pass is made. Clearly, Hamler is the only target. Pressure from Chauncey Golston creates a near turnover.

On the second play, Iowa brackets Hamler with Nick Niemann covering him in man coverage and both safeties giving help on deep and breaking inside or out. Great coverage leads to a sack.

Jack Koerner has really taken off playing free safety and these two plays were incredible. On the first, he slants in and stops the run short of the end zone. Then, Penn St runs a little bit of trickery. He sniffs it out and stays with the tight end. Penn St ends up with a penalty on the play and it’s the start of pushing them backwards in a wild series of plays

If Iowa can find a way to sure up the interior line play, the offense really has a chance to take off. Last week changes in personnel were made giving Kallenberger his first play at guard and redshirt freshman Cody Ince saw more snaps as well. I’m not sure if we will see improved play in the future, but if Iowa wants to win more than half of the remaining games they need it sooner than later.