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The Rewatch: Northwestern

Iowa’s offense gets a boost from three freshman.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Northwestern
Goodson jump-starting the Iowa offense again
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

After Tyrone Tracy escaped from being surrounded by six Northwestern defenders, sprinted across the field, and raced down the sideline into the end zone I made a note to two friends: “Game over”. In a game that featured one of the best defenses in the nation facing off against one of the worst offenses in the nation, it wasn’t an outrageous thought. While Iowa only needed that single score, they were able to add an additional 13 points to win 20-0 at Northwestern.

I’m not sure I can even count how many times I’ve watched this replay, and I still do not get tired of seeing memes of Tracy being surrounded by a host of Wildcat defenders only to be followed with a picture of him celebrating in the end zone.

Tracy’s escape is one of the many outstanding moments of this play. It starts with Iowa putting players in a position to be successful based on formation. Nate Stanley is in shotgun with Goodson to his right and one step forward while Shaun Beyer in the same position to his left. This formation allows Iowa to have seven blockers to combat the zone blitz from Northwestern. The other thing that stands out during this play is how Stanley slides to his right in the pocket giving him an improved view and position to make his throw to Tracy. It’s a laser and Tracy does the rest. The 50-yard touchdown goes down as one of the most memorable of the season.

A little traction in the run game

This was the second straight game where Iowa totaled over 100 yards rushing. The three main running backs (Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young, and Tyler Goodson) totaled 131 yards on 35 carries. While these numbers might not jump out to most fans, they compare very similarly to how Wisconsin’s duo of Taylor and Groshek did against that same Wildcat defense (28 carries for 125 yards). As bad as Northwestern’s offense has been, their defense has been solid for much of the season.

Iowa continues to utilize a variety of formations and motions to assist the run game. On this play, Iowa uses motion to move Nate Wieting into the backfield as an H-back. Landan Paulsen has taken his share of criticism this season, but he has done well as a pulling guard in the run game. He and Wieting do a nice job to seal the lane for Sargent to pick up this 3rd down.

While this play looks like a pass, it actually qualifies as a rush for Goodson. Once again, Iowa is in shotgun, but this time has both Sargent and Goodson next to Stanley. Goodson goes in motion behind two receivers to the right of the QB. Stanley hits him in motion and Iowa does have a numbers advantage at that point. It doesn’t go for a big gain, but it is another way for Iowa to get Goodson the ball in space.

It’s 1st-and-Goal and Iowa goes with Sargent and Goodson flanking Stanley in shotgun again. This time Stanley gives to Goodson, who has Sargent as a lead blocker. He’s able to get to the corner and nearly scores. The other portion of this play that is important is that Iowa once again has Kallenberger and Wirfs crash while pulling Paulsen from the left side. This action holds the linebackers whose initial reads are following the movement of the offensive line. That little instance of hesitation is enough for Goodson to race around them.

Iowa utilizes tight splits from its three receivers in this shotgun formation while Northwestern stays in a two-deep shell. At the snap, the Wildcats do bring an outside linebacker from the offense’s left side, but that player doesn’t need to be blocked. This time out of shotgun it is zone blocking and a quick give to Goodson. Interior lineman Tyler Linderbaum and Kallenberger punch the initial hole in the defense and Wirfs is able to get to the linebacker at the second level. This is a continuation of the theme of Iowa using a variety of formations and blocking schemes from shotgun to effectively run the ball.

This isn’t the most explosive play of the game, but it’s an important 4th quarter run on 1st down when Northwestern knows Iowa is trying to control the clock. It’s one of the few times Iowa goes 20 personnel, but it is really effective here. Fullback Brady Ross is offset and crosses the formation to seal the lane for Toren Young. When he is able to hit the hole with momentum, he’s a load to bring down for defensive backs.

This might be my favorite run play of the game. There is nothing exotic or out-of-the-ordinary with the formation or play call. The greatness of this play is the combination of a job done by the offensive line and vision of Goodson. Northwestern brings a blitz from the outside linebacker who initially lined up wide on the inside receiver. Goodson gets the ball and sees the cutback lane underneath the blitzer. The rest of the linebackers are caught in the wash from Wirfs caving in the defensive line and Kallenberger pulling to the right. Had Tracy been able to get to his defender a little earlier, Goodson has a chance to bounce this outside for a big (possibly scoring) play.


Freshman tight end Sam LaPorta made a name for himself on the eve of the inaugural National Tight End Day (thanks George Kittle). Backed up inside their own 10 facing 2nd and 6. Iowa is in their traditional run oriented 22 personnel. This time, Stanley play actions and both backs go into their short pass routes. The lone receiver, Tracy, runs a deep route occupying a defender allowing LaPorta to cross underneath gaining position on the defender. Stanley is given time for this long developing route to clear and places the ball perfectly. LaPorta shows great instincts to attack and high-point the ball as well. From there, he does his best Kittle impersonation and runs out of the tackle getting upfield for a 41 yard gain.

Let’s keep the tight end theme going with another important play. This time it’s Shaun Beyer who finds some open field to pick up a key 4th down in the 3rd quarter. In a formation we saw earlier in the game, Stanley has his sort of personal protectors with him in the backfield. Northwestern’s defensive end crashing inside leaves the entire right side of the field open for Stanley to roll out. He finds Beyer, who initially looked to block, leaking out into the flat. Beyer is only a yard downfield at the time of the catch, but is able to pick up ten more yards before being knocked out-of-bounds.

It’s Tyrone Tracy making another splash play for the offense and really taking advantage of his increased usage due to the Brandon Smith injury. Pre-snap motion stacks Nico Ragaini and Tracy ensuring a clean release for both receivers. They start on parallel routes downfield before Ragaini, from the inside, cuts straight to the sideline. The corner is forced to take Ragaini on the deep out and this allows Tracy to have leverage on the deep safety as he cuts toward the sideline behind the corner. Once again Stanley is given time and space to climb the pocket and deliver a strike to Tracy. It’s his second explosive play of the game and sets the offense up in scoring position once again.

This is a perfect example of what a clean pocket allows Stanley to do. Northwestern only brings four rushers for this 3rd down and 6 play in the 1st quarter. Stanley starts his progression working from Tracy on the right side, back across the middle where Beyer, Ragaini, and Sargent are routing, and all the way back left Ihmir Smith-Marsette. There isn’t a lot of space to fit the ball, but when Stanley is given 3.2 seconds from snap-to-release and a pocket to step into the throw, he doesn’t need a large target window. This was also one of several really nice catches in traffic by Smith-Marsette. He continues to expand his game beyond his blazing speed deep threat ability. (Don’t be afraid to watch this clip from the end zone camera multiple times. You get a great feel for what Stanley sees and reads as the play develops. By keeping his feet moving he’s able to quickly set once he sees Smith-Marsette)

No room to run

When the defense pitches a shutout, there are plenty of highlights to choose from. This time we have chosen to highlight three plays where the defensive line blew the play up before it started. Iowa was able to completely shut down Northwestern’s rush attack and never let the duo of Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson get going.

Early in the game with no score, Northwestern chooses to go for 4th and 2 just inside Iowa’s territory. They elect to give the ball to Anderson who is quickly met by Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa. Golston wins immediately with a swim move and the Wildcats, for some reason, think it’s a good idea to not block Epenesa at all. Those two meet the ball carrier behind the line-of-scrimmage and end the play before it has any chance.

Week-after-week we see Golston completely stonewall his blocker using his tremendous length and strength. As the runner approaches the edge, he quickly sheds the blocker and adds to his tackle-for-loss count. Plays like this are the ones that end up on teaching films. There is no other word for this other than textbook.

It’s another run, and another highlight of Golston shutting down his side of the field. He’s ability to quickly stack the right tackle with both arms, shove him a yard into the backfield, and then turn his body to force the ball back into the pursuit. Tip of the cap to Daviyon Nixon who tackles both the pulling right guard and the running back in the same motion.

Despite the frustrations by many Hawkeye fans that Iowa didn’t go for either of two fourth down and short situations before half, it was clear that the play was to force the Wildcats into attempting to score with significant space between them and the end zone. While I’d love to see Iowa’s offense be given the freedom to attack in those situations, it’s hard to argue with a shutout. Had you given me the option for a 20-point win in Evanston at any point prior to the game, I would have taken it in a heartbeat and moved on to the bye-week.