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The Rewatch: Iowa State

A strange, weird, befuddling game ends in a win for Iowa

Iowa v Iowa State
A tough road win? We will take it.
Photo by David Purdy/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.

Just by looking at the 18-17 final score of Iowa’s win over Iowa State last weekend, you would be correct to assume it was a weird game.

Outside of the delays and storms and the rain, it was just an altogether up-and-down contest that Iowa won through solid team play and just a little luck. Down a whole bunch of DBs, an OT and a host of other players, this was about as resilient of a Hawkeye win as I have seen over the past several years.

The victory makes it five straight in the series against the Cyclones, the longest run for one team since Iowa State won five in a row from 1998-2002. It also brought the all-time series to 45-22 in favor of ‘The Team Out East.’

Iowa’s offense did not have much in the way of fireworks on Saturday, but we will start with that side of the ball this week.

Offensive snap counts

Wide receiver: Ihmir Smith-Marsette (46), Brandon Smith (45), Nico Ragaini (39), Tyrone Tracy (35), Oliver Martin (2)

Tight end: Nate Wieting (59), Shaun Beyer (30), Sam LaPorta (4)

Running back: Mekhi Sargent (39), Ivory Kelly-Martin (15), Tyler Goodson (12), Toren Young (9)

Fullback: Brady Ross (30)

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

Personnel packages

— 72 total plays — 3WR/TE/RB (34); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (13); 1WR/2TE/FB/RB (9); 2WR/2TE/RB (4); 3TE/FB/RB (4); 4WR/RB (3); Victory formation (3); 2WR/1TE/2 RB (1); 3WR/2RB (1).

Offensive penalties

— OL Landan Paulsen, one, -5 yards total (false start); QB Nate Stanley, one, -16 yard sack (intentional grounding); Special teamer Barrington Wade, one, -5 yards total (false start); TEAM, one, -5 yards total (delay of game).

First and foremost: Iowa won this game in large part due to Nate Stanley. The senior quarterback converted eight of the Hawkeyes’ 10 third-down conversions — five with his arm, the other three with his legs.

All five Iowa scoring drives in this game involved at least one Nate Stanley third-down conversion.

Stanley was not the only reason Iowa won this football game, but the Hawkeyes do not walk out of Jack Trice Stadium with the CyHawk trophy if they do not have his numerous conversions. Many of them were very impressive, but none so much as this throw to Ihmir Smith-Marsette on 3rd and 22 in the third quarter.

Iowa is in its ‘11’ personnel package here (3WR/TE/RB) and this play comes out of the shotgun. Brian Ferentz’s three most trusted wideouts are in on this play — Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Nico Ragaini and Brandon Smith — with Smith-Marsette coming up with the ball.

The junior receiver runs a fly route that comes a little inside and Stanley threads the needle to deliver the ball right on target. It really is just an incredible throw.

I do not think it is hyperbole to say this was the single most important offensive play of the game for the Hawkeyes. Down by eight and deep in Cyclone territory, Iowa needed its quarterback to make a play and he delivered.

Throws like that are what separates good seasons from great ones.

Stanley had a bunch of other great balls on third down, including another to Smith-Marsette on the first drive of the game:

Iowa is again in ‘11’ and the wide receiver crew is the same as above, with Nate Wieting split out at tight end. Smith-Marsette runs a pretty good dig route here and Iowa State is in zone coverage.

The corner (Anthony Johnson) continues his assignment in the flat after bumping Smith-Marsette, but Cyclone linebacker Mike Rose is not quite fast enough to make a play on the ball or prevent the catch.

By the time he gets there with a vicious hit, Smith-Marsette has the ball well beyond the first-down marker. Just how Iowa drew it up.

A couple plays later on the same drive, Stanley finds Ragaini on a drag route.

The Hawkeyes actually whip out a four-wideout set here, throwing in Tyrone Tracy with the other recievers I’ve already mentioned. Iowa kept its wideout snaps pretty tight throughout the game and I think this about how Big Ten games will look at that position, though perhaps with a bit more Oliver Martin.

It is a big conversion and gets Iowa a little closer to field goal range, with Keith Duncan eventually getting points.

Stanley got the Hawkeyes a bit closer later in the drive, with a weapon he has started to exploit this year — his legs.

Iowa is, again, in one of its ‘11’ packages (Are you sensing a trend here? You should be sensing a trend here) with Wieting again split out with Ivory Kelly-Martin in the backfield next to him.

This is a designed run. Just watch the offensive lineman. After a second or so of pass blocking, guards Kyler Schott (64) and Landan Paulsen (68) rush up to block for Stanley, with Paulsen acting as a lead blocker.

Also notice Tristan Wirfs (74) on this play. There is a reason Iowa is running it in his direction. He does an excellent job selling the pass and holds off the defensive end just long enough for Stanley to escape through the hole.

I absolutely love this play and it is fairly obvious Iowa State was not expecting it.

Take away the four times Stanley has been sacked this year (including two intentional grounding penalties) and he has rushed 13 times for 83 yards and a touchdown. Want to know another stat? Of the seven times Stanley has rushed on third down, he has converted on five of them with three of those going for 10 or more yards.

His longest run of the day — and the season, so far — was this 14-yarder early in the fourth quarter:

11 personnel, once again with tight end (Shaun Beyer) split out. This does not seem to be a designed run, but after quickly scanning the field, Stanley knows the defense’s back is turned and sees green grass. He is far enough away from the defensive lineman that they will not be able to catch him and the secondary is too far downfield to react in time.

It is a fantastic decision by Stanley and helps set up Iowa’s only touchdown of the day, which was fittingly punched in by the signal caller himself.

Football coaches, analysts and TV personalities love to talk about ‘push’ and this is ‘push’ if there ever was a ‘push’.

Center Tyler Linderbaum becomes a snowplow in north-central Iowa during the winter on this play. He clears a path and Stanley goes right over the top of him, with Brady Ross pushing on his back.

It is about as quintessential of a quarterback sneaks as you could possibly have. Just a brilliantly blocked and executed play. Stanley rushed three times for 21 yards and a touchdown. I believe that is the most rushing yards by an Iowa quarterback on one drive since C.J. Beathard was taking snaps while donning the Black and Gold.

And speaking of Linderbaum, check out this other fantastic block he during a nine-yard Kelly-Martin run in the third quarter.

Iowa is in — you guessed it — the 11 personnel here, with the tight end (Wieting) on the left side of the line with Tristan Wirfs.

Stanley has the option to keep it here, but after one look at the defensive end he tucks the ball into his running backs belly. Credit Kelly-Martin here, he makes one guy miss, but the blocking is what opens up this play.

Landan Paulsen turns the other defensive end inside, giving Kelly-Martin just enough time to sneak around the edge. Wirfs goes after the linebacker and takes him completely out of the play. Schott pulls and helps Linderbaum with the defensive tackle, who is also taken out of the play.

Linderbaum then gets to the second level (the linebacker) and drives him nearly 10 yards down the field. Wieting and Smith-Marsette also have nice blocks as well.

Iowa only rushed for 112 net yards on 37 attempts and the running backs were not able to find creases as easily as they have in the previous two games. Credit Iowa State’s defense, they were just about as good as advertised.

The Hawkeyes were led by Mekhi Sargent, who finished with 13 carries for 58 yards. His longest was this 22-yarder:

Landan Paulsen, Shaun Beyer and Mark Kallenberger (71) are the guys that spring this play here, which is a fairly simple stretch run.

Sargent is able to use his speed to get into the second and third level and he turns the run into a nice gain. It is fantastic having so many running backs (knocks on every available piece of wood) and Brian Ferentz has done a pretty nice job getting all four guys snaps.

Sargent, though, is Iowa’s best all-around back and one thing I love about his is his physicality. I’ve raved about his pass-blocking skills before, but that also translates to his running style.

At 5-foot-9 you would not exactly point at him as a guy who grabs a lot of yards after contact, but that is exactly what he is able to do. There were a couple of examples of this during the game on Saturday and plays like this are exactly what I am talking about:

This very easily could have gone down as a three-yard run at best, but Sargent bulldozes his way for extra couple yards. Instead of 2nd and 7, it is now 2nd and 4 — a much better position to be in as it opens up your playbook a little bit.

Not everything went perfectly on offense against ISU, however, including this... shall we say interesting attempt at a two-point conversion.

After Iowa’s touchdown on this drive, Nate Stanley actually almost comes off the field before being told to go back in. The Hawkeyes are scrambling a bit ahead of this play and as one might predict, it does not go well.

Stanley rolls to his right and it sort of looks like he is expecting Ragaini to open up in the flat or Smith-Marsette in the back of the end zone. Tyrone Tracy is also running a drag while Sargent seems to go out on a route but then ends up blocking an Iowa State defender.

After evading some pressure, Stanley guns a ball across the middle (to Wieting, perhaps?) and it falls incomplete. Iowa has not had a successful two-point conversion since 2016.

Stanley also nearly threw a couple picks, including this poorly thrown ball to Ragaini:

Just a bad ball. Iowa really was lucky this was not intercepted by Iowa State.

Stanley was sacked twice, with one coming on an intentional grounding call. The other was on this third-down try, which I think is almost exactly — if not the same — play that Stanley overthrew T.J. Hockenson on during the Penn State game last season.

Several things go wrong here. It is 3rd and 1, with the Hawkeyes hoping the Cyclones will full expect a quarterback sneak, fullback dive or a handoff to the running back. There really are not many things you can do in this situation.

It is a play-action pass, but the corner and safety do not bite. Instead they both converge on Wieting, who does not escape without notice as Hockenson did. When Stanley snaps his head around to look for the play, Anthony Johnson — coming off a blitz — is right in his face.

An excellent defensive play call, Iowa State knew something like this was coming. Stanley has no chance to escape and the Cyclones get a stop deep in Iowa territory.

ISU would not cash in on the excellent field position, though, so in the grand scheme of things it was not the end of the world.

This almost was, though:

Why? This play goes to the short side of the field and while I do not particularly hate the call of a pass, why to the short side? Why put your player in a position where he has the chance to be pushed out of bounds?

While the next play ended the game in Iowa’s favor, the Hawkeyes ended up getting pushed 10 yards back after two penalties on the punt. It gave the Cyclones a bunch of extra time and they very well could have driven down the field to attempt a winning field goal.

Bad call. Bad bad bad call.

On to the defense.

Defensive snap counts

Defensive end: A.J. Epenesa (55), Chauncey Golston (53), Cedrick Lattimore (43), Daviyon Nixon (36), Austin Schulte (25), Amani Jones (6), Zach VanValkenberg (2)

Linebacker: Nick Niemann (55), Kristian Welch (55), Djimon Colbert (55)

Secondary: Jack Koerner (55), Geno Stone (55), Michael Ojemudia (55), D.J. Johnson (55)

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

Defensive penalties

— CB D.J. Johnson, one, -0 yards total (pass interference, off-setting)

With the defense riddled with injuries, it was something of a hodge-podge of players along the defensive line and in the secondary. With Matt Hankins, Julius Brents and Riley Moss all out, it was D.J. Johnson getting the start at corner.

Defensive tackle Brady Reiff was also a scratch, pushing Daviyon Nixon into the starting lineup and Austin Schulte picked up a few more snaps as well.

Overall, it was pretty good day for the defense outside two huge touchdowns by Iowa State. The first came four plays after the first rain delay.

This is always a hard play to defend, as with any trick play. Johnson gets sucked in and Deshaunte Jones launches a ball right on target to La’Michael Pettway.

Jack Koerner gets there too late and Iowa State scores the game’s first touchdown on a play that spans 51-yards.

The Cyclones also had the longest play of the day, a 73-yard touchdown from quarterback Brock Purdy to Tarique Milton on the second snap of the third quarter.

A deep route across the middle of the field, Milton finds plenty of space in the middle of the Iowa defense. He gets behind the coverage, catches Purdy’s ball in stride and there really is nothing the Hawkeyes could do at this point.

Instead of staying with Milton, Johnson goes the outside receiver. There is not any help behind him — Koerner is also with the outside wideout and Geno Stone just does not have enough time to get back across the field, despite recognizing the blown coverage about a half second before Milton comes down the with the ball.

But while Iowa State was able to score on these two plays, they were not able to get particularly close to the end zone on its other drives. And despite a couple mistakes, D.J. Johnson had a pretty good day overall in coverage.

In fact, he made one of the biggest plays of the game on 3rd and 13 late in the fourth quarter.

Oh, hey, the Raider package is back and that is not a look we have seen yet this year from the Hawkeyes.

Iowa sends five guys here, dropping A.J. Epenesa back into coverage. Purdy definitely gets some pressure here, but has enough time to fire off a ball to Milton, which Johnson then swipes away with his hand.

It is a great, great defensive play. Johnson is still a little raw (he actually had a pass interference call on the next snap) but flashes like that against solid competition is good to see.

Koerner, another young guy making just his second start, had a massively critical play on this series as well, one that ended the drive and helped Iowa to a win.

I think there is a little miscommunication here, as Deshaunte Jones is nowhere near the spot Purdy is throwing to.

Koerner makes the smart play and bats the ball down instead of trying to intercept it, giving the Hawkeyes better field position. It is pretty good coverage all around by Iowa, who is again in a Raider package look.

If you wanna talk about bend don’t break defense, the Hawkeyes performance against Iowa State was exactly that. The Cyclones actually out-gained Iowa 418-313 and averaged nearly 10 yards per play in this game.

But the Hawkeyes got the stops when they needed them the most. Take this play, for example:

Epenesa had a fairly quiet night against the Cyclones, tallying just one tackle and one quarterback hurry. Teams are going to game plan against him, we knew this.

Iowa State was able to do it pretty well, but Epenesa still found ways to be effective. That play is one of them and came at a critical moment.

The Cyclones had driven down the field and were in a position to score a go-ahead touchdown. But Epenesa fires off the line and gets around the tackle, forcing Purdy to throw an errant pass that had no shot to be caught.

He also forced Purdy out of the pocket on this play, though this time the quarterback tucked the ball and ran:

Epenesa blows through the double team and nearly grabs Purdy’s ankle before being pushed down by the tackle.

Chauncey Golston and Cedrick Lattimore also get off their blocks quickly and help push Purdy to the edge. D.J. Johnson then comes in and limits the third-down gain to just three yards, forcing the Cyclones to punt.

Iowa won the turnover battle as well, forcing a fumble in the second quarter that led to the Hawkeyes’ half-ended field goal attempt. Geno Stone was credited with the forced fumble and Koerner the recovery.

This was one of the plays which helped Iowa turn the game in their favor. Just an excellent hit from Stone and while the ball did skitter around a bit, the Hawkeyes were able to jump on it.

It was, overall, a pretty good game for the Iowa defense. The bye week will hopefully get a couple players healed up and give the group just a bit more depth.

But the fact that the defense is still looking at a close to elite level with a bunch of players injured and out is very encouraging. The depth should come in handy down the stretch of the season and building it only helps the future as well.

More than anything, a win is a win — especially over Iowa State. And this year, Iowa got yet another. Not too shabby.