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.
And just like that, we enter another season of Iowa football. For those of you clicking on The Rewatch for the first time, this is a weekly column that will run each Tuesday where I dissect a bit of a film while trying to figure out just what the heck the Hawkeyes were doing last week.
For those that have meandered down this rabbit hole with me before, thank you. I love putting this together each week and I truly hope you enjoy it as we move into a third season of this piece.
This year will be much the same as before, though BoilerHawk and I are cooking up a spinoff of this column later in the week for you analytic junkies. More on that later, though check back on Thursday...
Anyways, to business.
In case you live under a rock, Iowa beat Miami of Ohio 38-14 on Saturday night in the first Hawkeye opener to ever be played under the lights. The game was closer than the final score might have indicated as four second-half Iowa touchdowns helped salt the game away.
While it is hard to take too much stock in a game against a middling MAC school, there are some takeaways to be had. Pitter patter, let’s get at’er.
Offensive snap counts
Quarterback: Nate Stanley (71), Spencer Petras (2)
Wide receiver: Tyrone Tracy (51), Nico Ragaini (39), Brandon Smith (33), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (32), Oliver Martin (10), Desmond Hutson (2)
Tight end: Nate Wieting (59), Shaun Beyer (29), Sam LaPorta (5), Drew Cook (2)
Running back: Mekhi Sargent (39), Toren Young (22), Tyler Goodson (16), Ivory Kelly-Martin (1)
Fullback: Brady Ross (23), Turner Pallissard (2)
Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays, though not pre-snap infractions
— QB Nate Stanley, one, -15 yards total (intentional grounding); OC Brian Ferentz, one, -15 yards total (unsportsmanlike conduct); TE Shaun Beyer, one, -5 yards total (false start).
— 71 total offensive plays — 3WR/TE/RB (32); 1WR/2TE/FB/RB (12); 2WR/TE/FB/RB (12); 2WR/2TE/RB (7); 2WR/TE/2RB (4); 3TE/FB/RB (3); 3WR/2RB (1).
Over the offseason, I’m sure this question came up more than once among the Iowa coaching staff: just how the hell were the Hawkeyes going to replace the absurd amount of production of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson?
For now, at least, the answer is way, way more wide receivers and quite possibly running back Mekhi Sargent being more involved in the passing game. Iowa went with two or more wide receivers on 56 of 71 snaps and it does not seem like this will change any time soon.
Tyrone Tracy got a lot of run — more than I expected, honestly — at the wideout position and was a mainstay in the Hawkeyes three-wide receiver formations. He also got quite a few snaps in the one receiver sets, a place where Ihmir Smith-Marsette was nearly exclusively ‘the guy’ last season.
Tracy only had one catch, but it was a nice 22-yard gain.
I think the route Tracy is running here is a deep curl or comeback, but it is hard to tell due to the camera angle. Regardless, he finds plenty of space along the left sideline and grabs a few yards after the catch. Nice, easy throw by Stanley as well.
At 5-foot-11, Tracy is not the tallest wideout on the squad, but he definitely has a feel for Iowa’s offense and is a fairly decent blocker — hence the reason he was involved in a number of one wide receiver sets. If you can block at wide receiver in Iowa’s offense, you will play.
Moving on, Nico Ragaini had Iowa’s longest play of the game, a 45-yard catch, also in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes came out of halftime strong and scored on each of their first two drives. Ragaini’s catch here, which is a pretty good one considering Stanley under threw him, setup the touchdown that made it 24-7 in favor of Iowa.
Coming out of the slot, Ragaini takes five steps at an angle, before blowing straight past Miami defensive back Bart Baratti and up the hashmarks. Corralling the ball in-stride, he takes it all the way down to the RedHawk four-yard line before he is finally tackled.
While not every one of Nate Stanley’s passes were dimes, he had one of his most efficient days passing while at Iowa. The senior quarterback completed 21 of 30 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns.
During the game he passed C.J. Beathard for the eighth-most passing yards in team history (Stanley now has 5,603) and it was his ninth career game with three or more touchdown passes. He has 55 passing scores now, just one behind Ricky Stanzi for third-most all time at Iowa.
One of his best throws on the day was in fact a touchdown, this one to Brandon Smith in the middle of the second quarter.
Smith has developed nicely over the past few years and he has been a good target to have in the red zone. He just runs straight to the back left side of the end zone and makes a great leaping catch over RedHawk defensive back Allan Koikoi.
The defender never really had much of a chance here, as he was beat from the first step and Stanley’s ball placement made things pretty easy on Smith. Just a textbook grab, really.
Despite production from Ragaini, Tracy, Smith (three catches, 26 yards), Smith-Marsette (four catches, 35 yards), and tight end Shaun Beyer (three catches, 30 yards), Iowa’s leading receiver on Saturday was not exactly a typical pass catcher.
It was Mekhi Sargent, who led the team with four grabs for 65 yards. This was something Sargent flashed last year when he had 17 catches for 156 yards, but his game against Miami felt like something of a revelation.
His longest grab of the day was this 41-yard screen pass:
Just a good call at a good time. Iowa needed a bit of a spark at this point and Sargent helped give it them.
While Miami’s Josh Maize nearly got his paw on the ball, Sargent is able to secure the catch. That, though, is only a part of why this play is successful. Iowa offensive linemen Cody Ince (No. 73) and Tyler Linderbaum (No. 65) get excellent downfield blocks, as does Brandon Smith.
Sargent puts on the jets and nearly breaks it for a touchdown before he was pushed out at the nine-yard line. Smith would score his aforementioned touchdown on the very next play.
It was not, however, the most important grab Sargent had against the RedHawks.
The context is important here: After forcing a Brady Ross fumble, Miami torched Iowa’s defense with a 10 play, 60 yard drive to get within 10 points. The Hawkeyes are facing an important third down here, because if the RedHawks get the ball back with any sort of momentum... well, we all know Iowa’s history against teams they should beat.
Anyways, Miami sends five on this rush, with the blitzing linebacker (No. 49, Baratti) getting through before he is chipped by Sargent. The safety valve on this play, Stanley tosses the running back a quick dart as he is taking the hit.
The offensive line was not especially strong on this play and this could have ended in disaster. But it does not, thanks to Sargent being ready for the ball and making his way downfield for a fairly easy first down.
Iowa scores nine plays later and the game is effectively out of reach for the RedHawks.
Sargent was the Hawkeyes best offensive player on the field during this game and also tacked on 14 rushes for 91 yards. This was Iowa’s longest run of the day:
After a pretty good initial block by the offensive lineman, Sargent is able to squeeze past the middle linebacker after Landan Paulsen (No. 68) gets just enough to slow the defender down. Sargent then bursts through the second level pretty easily before being taken down by the corner.
This run is also a bit interesting because it came out of a shotgun formation — a place where the Hawkeyes were fairly effective on Saturday, which has not always been the case. In the first half Iowa rushed out of a gun formation nine times and totalled 75 yards on those carries.
Four came in the first half and went for 50 yards. One of those was a Nate Stanley keeper that went for 16 yards.
Iowa has ran this before, but Stanley has previously chosen to hand the ball off. Not this time, though, and it works pretty dang well to convert a third down.
I also really liked this third-down conversion. I am still not quite sure how he found this hole, but props to Shaun Beyer for a really good block to help spring the play. The rest of the right side of the line? Eh, not so much.
In all, a pretty good day for the Hawkeye offense after something of a slow start. Iowa punted just once and only had one turnover — it really is hard to ask for much more than that.
Iowa did use six (!!!) different offensive line combinations on Saturday and for the most part I thought they played pretty well. Hopefully Alaric Jackson’s injury is not serious, but if there is one place on the field I trust Kirk Ferentz and Co. to have some good depth, it is along the line.
The only real miscues on Saturday were the Brady Ross fumble and this... questionable decision from Nate Stanley.
Yeah that’s going to be intentional grounding every time there bud.
On to the defense.
Defensive snap counts
Defensive line: A.J. Epenesa (51), Chauncey Golston (51), Brady Reiff (40), Cedrick Lattimore (33), Daviyon Nixon (18), Austin Schulte (8), Noah Shannon (3), John Waggoner (3), Zach VanValkenberg (3), Amani Jones (3)
Linebacker: Kristian Welch (51), Djimon Colbert (49), Nick Niemann (42), Barrington Wade (5), Seth Benson (3), Dillon Doyle (3)
Defensive back: Michael Ojemudia (51), Kaevon Merriweather (51), Matt Hankins (51), Geno Stone (51), D.J. Johnson (7), Jack Koerner (3), Terry Roberts (3), Wes Dvorak (3), Devonte Young (3)
Note: Snap counts also include penalty-negated plays, though not pre-snap infractions
Defensive/Special teams penalties
— Matt Hankins, one, -6 yards total (pass interference); Terry Roberts, one, -10 yards total (holding)
Overall, it was a pretty good day for the defense. Iowa allowed just 245 yards (186 in the air, 59 on the ground) while allowing the RedHawks to convert on third down only four of 12 times.
Tackling left a little bit to be desired, but I am going to put that down as first-game things to workout. If that surfaces during this week’s game with Rutgers... then I am going to get a bit worried.
But for now, I’m not, and one thing I was really impressed with was Iowa’s pursuit angles.
Geno Stone is untouched here as he finds a lane and beelines towards Miami running back Jaylon Bester.
Perhaps even more impressive here is Nick Niemann’s ability to shrug off his blocker and get in on the tackle as well. This play really hinges on the inside wide receivers’ ability to hold a block long enough for the running back to scoot outside and that does not happen here.
Another solid angle was here, very early in the game as Djimon Colbert and Cedrick Lattimore get the RedHawks’ Davion Johnson down for a short gain.
The only real qualm I have here is that Colbert should have finished this tackle. Missed tackles cost games and while there were plenty of Iowa defenders here to clean up the mess, that will not always be the case.
Let’s nip that in the bud early on this season, eh?
But I’m sorta being nitpicky to Colbert here and he honestly had a really nice game. His best play was easily this pass breakup on third down in the second quarter.
I have watched this probably 20 times and I still do not know how he managed to get his arm up and across. Just a really impressive play in front of the Iowa and bench and I love the reactions behind them.
Colbert also had one of two Iowa tackles for loss on the day.
A.J. Epenesa is doubled here, which, as an aside, happened a lot against Miami and is something I expect to continue to happen. He is just that good of a player, but Iowa will have to take advantage of that at some point.
The RedHawks did a good job on him overall, so credit to them on that.
But with AJE doubled, Colbert gets a free shot at the running back. Both the left tackle and left guard turn inside to keep the defensive end from doing anything and there is an open lane for Colbert as the slot back turns to the right to engage Chauncey Golston on the other end.
Iowa’s only other tackle for loss on the day was this truly awesome sack by Amani Jones. He is part of the Hawkeyes’ ‘Speed Rush Unit’ (disclaimer, totally borrowing this term from Marc Morehouse) that has Jones and AJE at defensive ends, with Golston and Nixon at tackle.
I love it dearly. More than anything, I am happy Amani Jones is getting a chance to play his senior season. You can see the pure joy at making this play and it honestly made makes me smile every time I watch it.
Untouched off the edge. Rack those sacks up this year big guy.
But, as with any game, not everything was perfect. Especially the lauded ‘Cash’ package that included D.J. Johnson. Iowa used it’s 4-2-5 (four lineman, two linebackers, five defensive backs) just 10 times on Saturday.
Johnson was only on for seven plays. He made a bad mistake here and only saw the field on more of a traditional nickel look later in the game and his time on the field was ultimately negated by two penalties on those plays.
Johnson bites on the fake toss and Luke Mayock makes a catch to get the ball down to the one yard line. Not pretty.
Those are the type of plays that absolutely have to be played better than that. Credit to Mayock — he was solid and had the RedHawks longest play of the day — but, still, in a game against a better opponent this could have been a killer.
Miami would score a play later after having two consecutive pre-snap penalties.
Perhaps Stone could have played this a little better, but Miami’s Jack Sorenson was a tough cover throughout the day and Brett Gabbert places this ball pretty dang well.
The RedHawk quarterback was solid in his college debut, finishing 17 of 27 for two touchdowns and a single interception. I fully expect him to be a force in the MAC for years to come. His second score of the day was a 20-yarder to Andrew Homer.
This was something you are probably more likely to see in backyard football as Gabbert is literally throwing off his back foot and sorta falling backwards, but it worked.
It brought the game to within 10 points early in the fourth quarter and things were looking a little bit dicey for a few minutes. Iowa was completely dismantled on this drive, giving up chunks of yardage every play.
This, however, was.
This sealed the deal and put a nice cap on the game for Michael Ojemudia who was pretty damn good throughout Saturday evening. I like where the majority of Iowa’s defensive backfield is right now and while we will obviously miss Amani Hooker, there are a lot of good things going for this group.
The rest of the defense, I think, has plenty of potential too. The next two weeks should tell us quite a bit.
Though, really, that goes for the whole team.