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The Rewatch: Rutgers

A shutout by the defense leads to a fun day in Iowa City

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Rutgers at Iowa
You know what direction he’s pointing? West. Bring it, clowns.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via 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.

It might feel a bit odd being so early in the season, but Iowa is 1-0 in the Big Ten Conference already this season.

The Hawkeyes shutout Rutgers 30-0 for their first season-opening conference shutout since 1981 at Kinnick on Saturday. The defense was obviously impressive and limited the Scarlet Knights to just 125 yards on 49 plays.

Iowa also forced three turnovers, had eight quarterback hurries and also had two tackles for loss. It was pretty dang impressive to watch.

Defensive snap counts

Defensive line: A.J. Epenesa (41), Chauncey Golston (39), Daviyon Nixon (26), Brady Reiff (23), Cedrick Lattimore (23), Amani Jones (12), Noah Shannon (7), John Waggoner (7), Zach VanValkenberg (6)

Linebacker: Djimon Colbert (44), Nick Niemann (43), Kristian Welch (41), Dillon Doyle (8), Barrington Wade (5), Seth Benson (5), Joe Evans (2)

Secondary: Jack Koerner (44), Geno Stone (43), Michael Ojemudia (41), Matt Hankins (41), D.J. Johnson (9), Terry Roberts (8), Wes Dvorak (6), Devonte Young (2), John Milani (2)

Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays, though not pre-snap infractions

Defensive/Special teams penalties

Chauncey Golston, one, -2 yards total (holding); Matt Hankins, one, -15 yards total (personal foul on a punt return); Nick Niemann, one, -15 yards total (personal foul on an interception return)

Through two games this season, Iowa is giving up an average of 7.0 points per game, a mark that is tied for fifth nationally. Now the Hawkeyes have obviously been the beneficiary of games against two fairly bad opponents — though this year’s iteration of the Scarlet Knights is definitely improved over last, at least in some areas.

We had an inkling this Iowa defense could be pretty dang good before the season and they have proven to be just that. Allowing just 41 passing yards during the game which was the fewest number since the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech in 2010.

A big reason why? Look no further than the defensive line.

I mean good lord. What are you supposed to do to stop that?

This play from early in the third quarter comes courtesy of Iowa defensive ends Zach VanValkenberg (74) and Chauncey Golston (57) with Brady Reiff (91) and Cedrick Lattimore (95) at tackle.

The Scarlet Knights come out in a five-wide spread look with quarterback Artur Sitkowski alone in the backfield. Upon the snap, both Iowa defensive ends stunt to the inside while the tackles step out to take their gap assignments.

Simultaneously, linebacker Kristian Welch (34) makes an untouched beeline to Sitkowski. It is a beautiful defensive play and the entire front seven is in perfect harmony. That is pretty reassuring.

Here’s another stunt from earlier in the game:

This is with the starters — A.J. Epenesa and Golston at DE, Reiff and Lattimore at DE — and it’s Epenesa and Reiff pulling the stunt here. Iowa’s lineman and linebackers are not sucked in by the offense’s fake and focus their attention inside.

Throughout the day the Hawkeyes dominated the line of scrimmage and it is no different here. Epenesa crashes hard inside and the tackle really belongs to a number of lineman and linebackers on this play.

By my count Iowa used a defensive line stunt eight defensive snaps last week and it seemed to be pretty effective. Neither Rutgers quarterback who entered the game ever looked comfortable. Then, again, it helps to have an A.J. Epenesa.

The star junior was credited with four total quarterback hurries and registered one sack. It was a great day for Epenesa after having a quiet (statistically) season opener.

His first QB hurry:

Iowa’s in its base 4-3 defense on 3rd and 3 right here, with Epenesa standing up on this play. He does yet another stunt, but this time he is circling around both defensive tackles and finding an open lane to the quarterback.

Scarlet Knight running back Raheem Blackshear is sort of in position to make a block here, but gets basically none of Epenesa as he charges past. The Iowa defensive end easily gets pressure on the quarterback, who throws the ball for a harmless incompletion.

I also really liked his third quarterback hurry as well:

Epenesa is doubled on the snap here, but slides out and finds a pass rush lane. More than anything this play happens because of his tremendous strength and speed.

It really is an unstoppable combination that shows just why he is probably going in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft.

With the defensive line and linebackers having great success with both its rushing defense and pass rush, it made it a pretty easy day all around. The constant pressure and lack of a running offense pushed the two Rutgers quarterbacks into bad decisions and turnovers followed.

Linebacker Djimon Colbert had the first of the day when he picked off a Carter McLane pass and returned it for six yards. Also of note: Epenesa was credited with a quarterback pressure on this play.

This throw is asking to be intercepted. With Epenesa in his face, he lets loose a late ball across the middle and Colbert comes up with the easy pick.

And, yes, it is another Epenesa stunt. The guy knows how to execute them to perfection and it is a lot of fun to see.

Late in the game cornerback Michael Ojemudia got in on the turnover party with an interception of his own. Linebacker Nick Niemann was assessed a penalty for a block in the back on this play, but obviously the turnover still stood.

A good pass rush turns into an overthrown football by Sitkowski. Iowa’s downfield coverage is pretty solid here and Ojemudia comes up with his second interception in as many games.

Not a bad return, outside the penalty. It is nice to see Iowa defensive players immediately going into a blocking mode upon return and a couple nice ones a thrown in each of those two turnovers.

Some other thoughts: Iowa only ran its ‘cash’ package once on Saturday and did not really seem to need very many extra defensive backs on the field ... Niemann was good in pass coverage and Jack Koerner was pretty solid at safety as Kaevon Merriweather sat out with injury ... Daviyon Nixon was really impressive as well and has earned some playing time, which is cool to see ... Noah Shannon also had a really nice strip and recovery.

Offensive snap counts

Quarterback: Nate Stanley (62), Spencer Petras (15)

Wide receiver: Brandon Smith (47), Nico Ragaini (44), Tyrone Tracy (37), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (24), Oliver Martin (23), Desmond Hutson (11)

Tight end: Nate Wieting (54), Shaun Beyer (23), Sam LaPorta (11), Drew Cook (7)

Running back: Mekhi Sargent (32), Toren Young (25), Tyler Goodson (21), Ivory Kelly-Martin (6)

Fullback: Brady Ross (16), Turner Pallissard (3), Monte Pottebaum (1)

Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays, though not pre-snap infractions

Offensive penalties

— WR Brandon Smith, one total, 0 yards (Personal foul off-setting); OT Tristan Wirfs, one total. -5 yards (false start)

Personnel packages

— 73 total plays — 3WR/TE/RB (32); 2WR/2TE/RB (16); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (9); WR/2TE/FB/RB (6); 2WR/TE/2RB (5); 3WR/FB/RB (4); 1 WR/2TE/2RB (1)

The star of the show on offense for the Hawkeyes in this game was pretty easily Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Despite getting just 24 snaps on offense, he hauled in four catches for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

It was really nice to see Smith-Marsette making plays throughout the afternoon and really getting himself into the offense. He got started early, as his first catch went for 58 yards and touchdown early in the first quarter.

Iowa is in a two wide receiver, two running back, one tight end set here. They did this several times throughout the afternoon and on this play, Smith-Marsette is put in motion.

As the ball is snapped, Smith-Marsette jets out and easily splits the defense. Both running backs are in the flat and the offensive line gives Nate Stanley more than enough time to throw.

He easily finds Smith-Marsette, who waltzes into the end zone. Great play and a spot-on throw. More of that, please.

I also really liked this 25-yard catch in the second quarter:

Again, he is sent in motion by Stanley and again he splits the defense for a nice grab. It is a little post route here and holds onto the ball despite he is very obviously going to get hit on his way down.

This was the second play on Iowa’s longest drive of the day — 97 yards — and eventually led to a touchdown that put the Hawkeyes up 14-0. They never looked back, despite the awful field position Rutgers punter Adam Korsak put them in throughout the day.

Smith-Marsette may have been the only wideout with a huge day statistically, but Tyrone Tracy did have several nice catches as well. He finished with three for 42 yards and a touchdown, his longest play going for 33 yards.

Tracy’s route-running here is sublime. The little jab inside and the beautiful plant foot and cut are nearly textbook for the in route. He grabs the ball in-stride and motors up the field, shaking defenders as he goes.

There’s a great cut just after he catches the ball as well as an awesome spin move towards the end. The yards after catch here are impressive and are exactly what you want to see out a young wide receiver.

He certainly could be a force sooner rather than later.

Speaking of forces, Tristan Wirfs was a beast in this game and is already well on the way to a terrific season. This play ended in an incompletion (Stanley probably should have thrown the ball sooner) but I thought Wirfs fended off a spin move here pretty well and manhandled the defender.

The pocket does not exactly develop here and Iowa’s overall pass blocking is one of the few offensive weaknesses at the moment. Having Alaric Jackson back in the near future will certainly help, but mostly it is just going to be a work-in-progress with the new starters.

That is not necessarily a big problem at the moment and building depth now will be more than beneficial in the long run. It just might make things shaky on occasion.

Back to Tristan Wirfs, though, the fact that he was out in front of this Tracy reverse is impressive enough.

Just a big guy making a defensive back’s life hell. He basically pushes him over with one big paw.

Off the top of my head, this is the first time in a while I have seen a true reverse out of Iowa and like the fact that Brian Ferentz is digging into his bag of tricks ahead of their trip to Ames.

Speaking of which, what do you make of this formation?

This is the middle of the third quarter and this whole series of plays was rather strange. Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin are both in at running back on this play, with Goodson tucked behind two tight ends and Kelly-Martin in the traditional tail back spot.

This play does not really go anywhere and Goodson cuts back inside, but it is interesting. Iowa lined up with two tight ends in that slot formation a bunch of times during this game and it was not something it did against Miami of Ohio.

That said, it was non-uncommon last year so perhaps there are some more tight end plays in the future. We shall see.

One player who will see their number called more? Goodson. The freshman had 10 carries for 53 yards, including this fantastic 19-yard run the play prior to the previous video.

This is a fantastic play. On the snap, four of the five offensive lineman step to their right to throw the defense off balance and get them to believe the run is going to the short side of the field. Goodson jabs to his right before taking the handoff and speeding off to his left.

Meanwhile, center Tyler Linderbaum has already pulled to the left and becomes the lead blocker. He absolutely pancakes one Rutgers defender down the field while tight ends Shaun Beyer and Nate Wieting also provide good run-blocking.

Goodson slides through the hole, making cuts all the way through. If not for a shoestring tackle, he might have taken the ball another 10 yards.

There is a reason he has seen serious time over the past couple weeks and I do not think it will be long before we have a ‘Tyler Goodson Game’. Looking forward to that one.

In all? A fairly solid game for the offense. Stanley did overthrow Brandon Smith on a play that would have been a touchdown, but that was his only real mistake on the day.

On the ground Iowa totaled 194 rushing yards but it felt at some points it was less than that. The many carries inside the Hawkeyes’ own 10 were probably at least to blame a little there.

Other notes: Nate Stanley was (physically) sacked for the first time this year, but Iowa did not give up a QB hurry ... Iowa spent a lot of time in its 3WR sets again and I think that is a trend that will stay ... the Hawkeyes definitely had more total tight end snaps this week, but the group recorded no catches on just two targets.