In its previous two conference games, Iowa had found the end zone just one time, and it took a Randy Moss-like moment from Brandon Smith to get there. This week, Iowa adjusted the game plan in an attempt to avoid the negative plays that plagued them against Michigan and Penn St. Coming into the week, Iowa was having reasonable success on both first and third-downs. Second-down, however, had been an absolute disaster. Iowa ranked in the bottom third nationwide in second-down efficiency (gaining at least 70% of the needed yards for a first down).
Luckily for Iowa, coming into Kinnick Stadium this week was a Purdue defense that has struggled to stop both the run and the pass.
Second Down Success
Early in the game, Iowa was facing 2nd and 9. After giving up 10 sacks and many more hurries and hits on Nate Stanley in those previous two games, Iowa uses a quick hitch to Brandon Smith from an empty set. It was only a four yard route, but with the cushion, Smith is able to get upfield and through the first defender to pick up the first down. A little confidence and sign of what is to come.
Later in the drive, Iowa has 2nd and 6. The Hawkeyes come out in 21 personnel (two backs and one tight end). This time, Purdue goes to press coverage out wide with a two high safety shell. Smith uses his size and improved route running to get a clean release at the line. Stanley throws downfield off of just a three-step drop (again trying to minimize his hits) and connects for the big gain. Notice how after the previous time he was beat on the hitch, the corner peaks into the backfield right as Smith is running past him. Stanley hit the ball into the small outside window before safety help could arrive.
On the next drive, Iowa has 2nd and 4 in its own territory. Set up in a shotgun, Stanley sees a linebacker creep toward the line of scrimmage. As he does this, a safety slides over to cover Nico Ragaini in the slot. This forces the safety on Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s side to rotate to the high-center of the field. Stanley knows he has Smith-Marsette one-on-one downfield. There is a really quick play action that forces the high safety into a slight false step. That’s all it takes to keep him from being able to give help and Smith-Marsette races past the corner to make an outstanding one-handed grab. Even with a free blitzer, Stanley is able to get rid of the ball before the pressure can affect his throw. He uses a very subtle slide to create some addition space in the pocket as well.
Side note: If you are in press coverage on Smith-Marsette, you better get your hands on him. No one is staying in front of that guy in a straight line footrace.
With a drive starting inside their own 10 yard line, Iowa faces 2nd and 7 knowing they need to make some progress downfield. Once again, they go shotgun with an empty set. A key here is there is still a running back and tight end on the field so Purdue wouldn’t have a chance to change the defensive personnel prior to lining up. Smith-Marsette is line up wide with a corner giving a moderate cushion and Ragaini is in the slot with the safety eight yards off the line. The outside receiver runs off the corner with a fly route leaving a big void for Ragaini to run a quick out. Easy pitch and catch for a first down. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz continues the theme of short drops and quick releases to minimize the pressure Purdue can generate.
After failing to gain any yardage on 1st down, Iowa faces 2nd and 10 while still backed up in their own territory. Smith-Marsette comes in motion into the backfield and Stanley fakes the jet motion. All three Purdue linebackers follow the motion and Stanley finds a huge hole on the right side aided by Mark Kallenberger and Tristan Wirfs. Left guard Landan Paulsen pulls around and gets eight yards downfield before he find anyone to hit. This goes down as an efficient play and sets up 3rd and short. (Iowa seems to have found something with Paulsen pulling around to the right as you will see in later videos).
This time Iowa faces 2nd and just 2 yards and is in Purdue territory. As we are seeing more and more, Iowa comes out in shotgun 11 personnel. A quick play action pulls both linebackers forward, and its another easy connection for a first down out wide to Ragaini. The safety has no chance to get through the traffic, due to trips formation, on the outside before Ragaini is able to turn upfield.
In what might be the overall play of the game, Stanley connects on a big 2nd and 10 to get Iowa to 1st and goal. Stanley is able to read the linebacker and safety rotation indicating a blitz. He kills the original play to get Tyrone Tracy on a seam route from the slot combined with a deep comeback from Smith on the outside. Purdue actually has the safety cover the outside flat. They were thinking they could jump Stanley throwing hot into the blitz, but instead Stanley takes advantage of the fact that the corner is never going to be able to get to a ball thrown to the inside. Big play and catch leads to Iowa’s touchdown of the day.
It’s another 2nd and 10 where Iowa is looking to make a quick throw to keep Stanley clean. It appears he has Mekhi Sargent open on the slant, but the official covers the passing window. By the time Sargent clears the official, coverage has picked him up. Iowa could use more of what happens next as Stanley improvises and breaks the pocket to his right. Brandon Smith abandons his route to the inside and cuts upfield and toward the sideline. Stanley hurls the ball on the run and hits Smith in stride. Smith taps his toes like he's getting ready for the next level as well. First down Hawkeyes.
We’ve gone a little off-topic lately with Iowa converting a few downfield passes on 2nd down. To wrap it up here, Iowa gets back on plan trying to avoid any mistakes that would push them out of scoring position. Once again, Paulsen pulls around to lead Stanley on a designed quarterback run. It isn’t a big gain, but it keeps Iowa in field goal range and creates a very reasonable 3rd and 5. Let’s not forget to acknowledge the little shoulder shake and spin from Stanley. Those aren’t fun hits for a quarterback, but he’s putting it on the line for his team.
If a defensive lineman hits the center in the head before the snap and the official didn’t see it, did it even happen?
(I was 100% convinced in the moment this play was going to cost Iowa the win).
More of this please...
A few additional highlight plays for Iowa offensively.
Following the interception by Riley Moss, Iowa has an empty set forcing Purdue to back off coverage in the center of the field. Tyler Goodson starts out wide and first crosses routes with the receiver. As he comes across the field, he crosses once again with Nate Wieting. The linebacker has no chance to redirect with Goodson as he is at full speed. The pass is only one yard downfield, but Goodson shows off his speed getting to the outside for the big gain.
Facing 3rd and long, Brandon Smith has options on his route. He and Stanley read the defense and after cutting inside initially, Smith cuts outside for the corner route. Stanley’s ball position keeps Smith away from the defender leads to a big first down. The offensive line deserves recognition on this play as well. This isn’t the quickest developing route and set of routes, but Stanley is able to step cleanly into the throw to deliver on target.
After Iowa has a mental error with alignment wiping out a 30+ yard pass to Smith, Iowa dials up a screen to Tyler Goodson. Everyone saw the massive pancake block by Kallenberger, but I also want to point out the job Tyler Linderbaum does on this play. He shows his athletic ability here to get outside and turn back to stop inside pursuit. One way to increase scoring for the offense is to continue finding a way to get the ball into #15 hands.
To close out the game (or what everyone watching thought was to close out the game), Sargent breaks two explosive plays in the run game. The first is traditional outside zone to the left. Alaric Jackson and Paulsen get a nice double team before working upfield. Shaun Beyer also does a great job of driving his man outside creating the seam for Sargent who does his job to run through arm tackles inside the 15 yard line.
The second run uses gap blocking and once again it is Landan Paulsen pulling and crushing the defensive lineman. This happens while Kallenberger, Wirfs, and Wieting completely cave in the right side of the line. Once again, Sargent shows great patience waiting for traffic to clear before breaking an arm tackle and diving into the end zone.
It’s another week and another Phil Parker special. I could clip about 80% of the plays to show all of the great things the defense has been doing, but I want to focus on just a couple key contributions.
The first one is reserve defensive lineman John Waggoner, who saw nine snaps but made a positive impact on the first. He recorded Iowa’s only sack of the game, which is quite shocking considering all of the times they were hitting or hurrying Plummer. Purdue called play action with max protection. Waggoner cut inside initially, but showed a nice burst to get back to Plummer before he could scramble upfield.
Later in the game, Purdue is backed up in their own territory. Recognizing Iowa had multiple backups in on the defensive line, Purdue tries to use misdirection in the run game. Waggoner does a great job staying home and keeping Purdue from gaining any positive yardage. Cedrick Lattimore kills this as well by getting so much penetration that he actually knocks the pulling guard out of the play.
Here is a quick weekly reminder that AJ Epenesa and Geno Stone are really good football players. They can completely wreck a play in an instant.
Finally, not only did Riley Moss get one interception by sinking into his zone, but he nearly had another by doing the same thing later in the game.
Where to go from here
The offense still has scoring opportunity efficiency issues, but they are making some changes that should help create more points (coming into the game Iowa ranked 97th in scoring opportunity efficiency). The biggest difference will be if they are able to find a way to generate any consistent success in the run game. Iowa was able to crack 100 yards rushing late in the game, but that isn’t nearly what most people were expecting (hoping) coming into the game given Purdue’s recent defensive struggles.