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The Rewatch: Purdue

Despite all of the yards, errors were too much to overcome for the Hawkeyes in the season opener

Iowa v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

“We’ll keep getting better. It’s an eight-game march, plus one. What counts is what we do moving forward.” - Kirk Ferentz

I know many are not going to like to hear that statement after waiting 10 months for between Iowa Hawkeye football games. The truth is, Iowa played like a team that had an abbreviated offseason and preseason. That isn’t an excuse. That is a truth. It is also a truth that Purdue dealt with the same scenario.

Iowa committed 10 penalties and 7 of those were on offense. I can live with the physical errors, but having 3 false starts and a mental error on a crackback block were rainfall on a campfire. The two lost fumbles were the full derecho. Despite those setbacks, Iowa still had a chance to pull out the road victory. Let’s start where Purdue took the lead late in the 4th quarter.

Just one more stop

Purdue went 3 for 3 on 3rd downs on their final drive. The last one was the game winner.

They came out in a shotgun formation with two tight ends flanking each side of the offensive line. Both receivers were to the field side with David Bell lined up on the inside. Iowa countered with Matt Hankins on the widest field receiver and safety Dane Belton lined up over Bell. He had linebacker Barrington Wade inside of him.

Purdue motioned running back Zander Horvath to the boundary taking Riley Moss with him. As this happens, Belton and fellow safety Jack Koerner slide back into a two high look. Wade goes from his inside leverage, to heads up over Bell. On the snap, Wade chucks Bell to his outside and settles into his field flat zone. Bell sneaks behind and to the inside in a wide open hole. Belton stayed inside to help Nick Niemann on the field tight end. On the opposite side, Koerner also stayed inside to help linebacker Jestin Jacobs on the boundary tight end. Both tight ends are doubled, and Wade is man up on Bell. Making it worse, he thinks he has zone help inside and lets Bell go. It is one thing to get beat physically, it is another to be beat mentally. We do not know if Wade should have stayed with Bell, or if Belton should have been over to help. Either way, there was massive miscommunication between two players getting their first starts at their respective positions.

We know Wade thinks he is in zone, because he does the EXACT same thing on his interception earlier in the game. He reroutes his man to the outside, and then settles into his zone.

Defensive Breakdown

The raw numbers might be discouraging, but Iowa’s defense held up pretty well on the day. On Purdue’s 12 possessions (ignoring the final possession of taking a knee), Iowa forced a 3-and-out 5 times. However, in the 4th quarter Purdue produced scoring drives of 14 and 12 plays. Based on Purdue’s sudden ability to run the ball with some effectiveness, I think stamina was a big part of that.

Daviyon Nixon really stood out on film. He played 71 of the 82 snaps and was a constant problem for the Purdue offense. He combined on a sack, had 2.5 TFLs, and 5 quarterback hurries. His explosiveness is really evident on his sack.

Iowa is in a cash look with Joe Evans set as a standup rusher next to Nixon. On the snap, Evans drops back into the boundary flat and Nixon retreats to a spy position after briefly engaging the lineman. How many DTs would be asked to spy a QB?

After retreating, he helps on a crossing route. Once the quarterback breaks the pocket, Nixon explodes upfield for the sack. His blend of size and quickness is rare and jumps off film on this play as he does a little of everything for the Hawkeye defense.

With Chauncey Golston being the lone returning starter on the defensive line, Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker chose to blitz Purdue more than normal in an effort to pressure the quarterback.

When it went well, Iowa was able to put Aidan O’Connell in difficult positions. Of the 20 pressures Iowa was able to generate, 15 of them came on plays where Iowa brought a linebacker or defensive back. To keep from putting too much strain on the defensive backs, Parker elected to drop a lineman for these zone blitzes.

On a 3rd and 6 deep in their own territory, Parker decided to dial up one of these zone blitzes. He brought both interior linebackers, Niemann and Wade, to the field side of the formation and dropped lineman Zach VanValkenburg to field side coverage to help with shallow crossing routes. Wade was able to overpower the running back and bring O’Connell down at his own 2 yard line.

Matt Hankins was also able to score an interception when Iowa brought Wade on another blitz. Here, late in the first half, Wade comes on a blitz up the middle of the field. This time, it was Golston who dropped to the boundary flat. Even though the blitz didn’t generate a pressure, Iowa was able to capitalize on an outstanding play by Hankins. The pass was just slightly under thrown and gave Hankins enough time to undercut the route. This is a textbook example of recovering after losing inside position by biting on a quick outside fake. He’s able to flip his hips back and gets his eyes back on the quarterback immediately. When it looked like Purdue might put up two half scores, the defense makes a huge play to give the offense one more chance at points before half.

The defense had it’s issues though as Purdue used a variety of zone busting concepts to beat the Iowa back seven. With 2nd and Goal, Purdue brings a trip formations to the field with standout David Bell closest to the lineman. The outside WRs stop short on comeback route and bring Riley Moss and Matt Hankins with them. Bell runs a corner route behind the defensive backs and outside of the roaming safety. Belton has inside leverage and has no chance to catch Bell as he breaks to the pylon. O’Connell floats it over the front of the zone and wide enough that Belton is not able to make a play on the ball. Iowa had 4 defenders to cover 3 receivers, but an excellent call and execution by Purdue leads to an easy opening score.

Offensive Breakdown

The Hawkeye offense did many of the things that typically lead to victories. The three running backs all looked good and combined for 177 yards on 31 carries (5.7 YPC). First year starter Spencer Petras looked nervous early, but rebounded to throw for 265 yards and no interceptions. Special teams was excellent with Keith Duncan going 2-2 on field goals and Tory Taylor averaging 44.2 yards per punt (maybe even more impressive is no punt return yardage).

Iowa was able to get quality runs out of a variety of run looks. Iowa was able to get nice runs out of a traditional stretch play where Goodson was able to cutback and take a lane opposite of the original play design.

Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz also mixed in gap schemes with effectiveness. Out of 21 personnel, Iowa looks to get a power look with Goodson following fullback Monte Pottebaum and pulling guard Kyler Schott. Those two do an excellent job leading the way and then Goodson is able to make the safety miss with his tight spin move.

One of my favorite calls was the counter to Mekhi Sargent that utilized the athleticism of center Tyler Linderbaum. The play ends with a fumble, but everything up to that point was perfect execution by the Hawkeye offense. The key to this is the everyone outside of Linderbaum on the line and the fullback all slant right. Petras reverse pivots and gives to Sargent to go back left with Linderbaum leading the way. Iowa gets an excellent block from Sam LaPorta to set an edge and allow Linderbaum to clear out the defensive back.

Short yardage adjustments

Iowa really struggled in short yardage situations the past two seasons. To counter this, we saw some nice adjustments from the offense.

My favorite change was utilizing jet motion near the goal line. By rushing a receiver across the formation at the snap, it holds the linebackers eyes for just a moment. This is enough time in short yardage situations to give the offense an advantage. In this situation, Nico Ragaini, the lone receiver in 22 personnel, jets across the formation. This motion essentially cancels any backside pursuit and lets Sargent waltz into the end zone. Cole Banwart and Coy Cronk combine on an excellent tandem block on the right side as well.

Not only did we get jet motion in a goal-to-go situation, but we had 3 cases where Iowa went (cleans off glasses to double check) WILDCAT. The first time, Iowa was backed deep into their own territory following a punt. They also used in inside Purdue’s 10 yard line, and were setup in a 3rd and short but a false start penalty wiped out the play. One thing to notice is that each time, there was a different formation. The first time Goodson was by himself in the backfield, once he was flanked by the fullback, and the negated play he had Sargent and Ihmir Smith-Marsette with him in the backfield (and no Petras on the field). This wrinkle is another way to try to create a numbers advantage in those important short yardage situations where putting the defense in a reactive state is so important.

Smith-Marsette also came in with two carries. The first was on a standard jet motion, and the second was a really well timed reverse back to the boundary. Following this carry Smith-Marsette reaches for his right hamstring and looked to be favoring his leg for much of the rest of the game.

Petras at the helm

Petras opened the game clearly a little over excited and struggled with accuracy early. After starting 1-6, he then hit 13 of his next 15 passes. The ball obviously comes out naturally and Petras shows elite arm talent. He looked much more comfortable on passes that were timing based where the ball is released once his back foot hits the ground on his step progression. When rolling out, Petras looked like he was aiming a little and forcing it a spot. This is not an unusual progression for a young quarterback.

He showed the touch is there on a simple swing pass to Goodson out of the backfield. Goodson is such a weapon out of the backfield and it was nice to see the offense target him multiple times. The inside linebacker was showing an A-gap blitz and has no chance to get back out to Goodson as he sprints out from the backfield. The ball location here is ideal and allowed Goodson to continue upfield without losing speed.

We see that touch again late when he hits LaPorta on a corner route. Once again it’s the timing routes where he shines at this point. He’s able to put pace on the ball, but also enough touch to get it over the corner and under the safety.

The two seam routes prior to the end of the first half were also highlight moments for Petras. He hit Ragaini and LaPorta on perfect passes during the two minute drill. You really get a feel for the aptitude Petras processes on these two throws. The ball comes out different with him than Iowa quarterbacks of the past. It reminds me quite a bit of C.J. Beathard, but it’s a little tighter and with more initial pop.

Early in the game, we got a glimpse of the pure power as he cuts one loose to Brandon Smith. Backed up inside their own 15, Iowa gets Smith on a deep route and he has a step on his coverage. The ball floats just a little deep and falls to the ground incomplete. Early in Nate Stanley’s career, he struggled with trajectory on those passes. Petras delivers perfect trajectory for a pass of this length and does it without any unnecessary windup. Iowa went 0-2 on those deep attempts, but they are really close and I expect we see Petras hit a few of those during the season.

With all of the good things mentioned, how in the world did Iowa lose this game? Well, 7 offensive penalties and two lost fumbles in Purdue territory kept the offense from scoring despite racking up 460 yards of offense. The ten total penalties were drive killers for the offense and drive extenders for the defense. While mistakes are part of the game, having three false start penalties along with a mental gaff of an illegal crackback block is very concerning. Details are a major focus of the program, and the mental sloppiness is uncharacteristic of Iowa football.

Iowa had one last chance to drive the length of the field for a game winning touchdown. On 3rd and 10, Brian Ferentz called a perfectly timed and gutsy screen pass to Tyler Goodson. He caught the Boilermakers in an attacking scheme as they had shifted George Karlaftis to the interior and he was causing issues attacking the gap between Alaric Jackson and Kyler Schott. The plan was to slip Goodson out to the side Karlaftis was rushing from. It all was well organized, but Schott got a little too deep in his fake pass set, and by the time he released to the flat, he was nearly 5 yards deep. As the ball floated to Goodson, he ran into Schott and his jump attempt to catch the ball was not enough. What could have been a huge gain, goes down as another incompletion.

With one shot left, Petras is forced to try to split the defense and is not able to connect with Ragaini in double coverage. You could argue that there was pass interference, there was, but you are not likely to get benefit from the refs when Ragaini was covered up by the other defenders.

With an 0-1 start to the season, the Hawkeyes will need to rebound quickly and fix the errors that plagued them at Purdue. The margin for error was small to start, and it has now shrunk to pinhead size in order for the Iowa players to reach all of their remaining goals.