“There is nothing bad about winning games...” - Kirk Ferentz
Coming out of another high profile win, there are mixed emotions coming from Iowa fans. Sure it was a great win, but can the defense sustain this? Is the run game broken? Why isn’t the offense scoring more? Should a backup linebacker be playing more?
I’m going to take this moment to enjoy what Kirk Ferentz said and focus on the good that comes from beating a Top 10 team in their own stadium. A game where Iowa crushed the spirit of a home crowd, quarterback, and coach. A game where upon conclusion I get a text message from my sister that read:
This defense isn’t bend-but-don’t-break. It is bend and then break them.
The Waiting Game
Iowa plays football in a way to minimize disasters at every turn. There are three separate units, but maybe no program in college football connects their offense, defense, and special teams more than Iowa. In the first quarter, Iowa ran 12 plays for 24 yards and had a bad snap on a field goal attempt keep them off the board; however, they were only down 3 thanks to winning the field position battle. Through the first quarter, Iowa was averaging starting at their own 38 and Iowa State at their own 15. There was pressure from all three phases that slowly crushed the Cyclones.
Following those drives, Iowa finished the 2nd quarter with consecutive touchdown drives of 49 and 71 yards. The progression of plays and play making on those two drives gave a glimpse of the offenses potential. I’m not saying this is what to expect at all times, but we can wish.....right??
Because it is a three unit process, this offensive success starts because the special teams unit forces Iowa State to begin a drive at their own 10. Iowa State attempts to attack early, but Brock Purdy is intercepted on a deep post by Matt Hankins.
The Perfect Play Progressions
With their second possession starting in ISU territory, Iowa opens with a safe and crips out to Jackson Ritter to pick up nine yards on first down. Iowa’s first four possessions all began with Tyler Goodson rushing attempts. Iowa breaks the mold here going with a safe and trusted route. Ritter is Iowa’s biggest wide receiver target who was working the boundary out. With an arm like Spencer Petras, this is not a route you are concerned about going the other direction.
A quick carry by Goodson picks up the first down, and Iowa goes back to the air finding Luke Lachey in gap in the zone for 17 yards. Petras quickly identifies his target and delivers a rope downfield. Iowa does a nice job of creating space to the field side by placing two of the receivers, Nico Ragaini and Charlie Jones, to the boundary. That leaves the entire field to Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Luke Lachey. At the snap, only two Iowa State defenders are on the left half of the field and Lachey finds room down the middle.
Iowa goes back to the ground with consecutive handoffs to Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin setting up third and two.
On third down, Iowa gets creative by starting with Petras in shotgun flanked by Monte Pottebaum. Both tight ends motion presnap from the boundary to the field with Iowa State countering by just sliding over their linebackers. Petras quickly gets to the line knowing he has a numbers advantage to throw a lateral out to Goodson. He’s able to outrace the defenders to the corner and pick up three yards for a big first down.
Iowa goes back to the formation with Pottebaum flanking Petras and Goodson in the slot. This time Sam LaPorta motions into the backfield as an H-back giving Iowa six blockers for the five Cyclones in the box. Pottebaum is able to get four yards downfield before a safety is able to come up and cut his legs out. The way Iowa has used Pottebaum these first two games has been very unique. He has lined up at fullback, H-back, tight end, and running back.
With Iowa inside the five, they go to one of my favorite short yardage actions pulling Tracy across the field in jet motion. In these short yardage situations, that additional read forced upon the defense can be the edge needed to pick up the yards-to-gain.
Britt and DeJong are able to get a double team on the defensive end with LaPorta sealing the outside linebacker to the boundary. Pottebaum does his thing and swallows the safety giving Goodson the crease to the end zone.
On the overhead replay, watch how Linderbaum is able to get his helmet to the outside of the defensive tackle who is lined up in the A-gap. His ability to get his head across the facemask and then work his feet outside of the defender is what makes him special. The middle linebacker gets caught in the wash as well because Linderbaum was able to secure the angle.
Let’s do it again
The following drive gets off to a poor start with a first down sack and then a short run by Kelly-Martin. On third down, Petras makes one of his best, and most important plays of the game. Iowa comes out in 11 personnel with Tracy be himself to the boundary. Ivory Kelly-Martin is next to Petras in the shot gun, also toward the boundary. On the field side, LaPorta, Jones, and Ragaini are split off the line of scrimmage.
Iowa runs one of their favorite calls, 4-verts to counter Iowa State’s zone look. Linebacker Jake Hummel blitzes from the boundary side and uses his quickness to jump inside of DeJong. With Kelly-Martin slipping out of the backfield on his route, Petras has no extra protection from the free rusher. Knowing the hit is coming, Petras stays in the pocket and fires a fastball to LaPorta for 21 yards through the heart of the Iowa State zone. This important drive survives an early scare.
Iowa gets a few nice runs from Kelly-Martin to push the ball into Iowa State territory. Kelly-Martin did a great job in this game of making one cut and getting downhill. Once he made his decision, he put his head down and challenged the defensive backs head-on. When he was in the game, it was clear Iowa State was keying more to Iowa’s passing game compared to when Goodson was in at running back. This allowed him to have a more success getting back to the line of scrimmage without a wall of defenders.
Iowa follows these carries up with a completion to Jones for 10 yards and then an incompletion on the following first down. Many times in these situations you will see Brian Ferentz call a run to try to get Iowa into a third and manageable, but here he dials up a shot play to Charlie Jones, who has become their top deep target in 2021.
Once again Iowa uses formational alignment to flood the Iowa State zone. They position Tracy and Ragaini out wide to the boundary and Goodson is also to that side in the backfield. Jones is the lone receiver split to the field with LaPorta inline. At the snap, only the the corner with Jones and one of the three safeties is positioned to the field side of the midline. Petras is reading the field safety and once he starts comes up to take LaPorta, Petras fires over the top to Jones on the post. The middle safety cannot get there in time to defend the perfect throw.
Iowa’s offensive coaches clearly expected this route combination and other shot plays to cause Iowa State troubles because they went to it multiple times. In the first quarter, Iowa State was called for a holding on a double move from Jones and then bailed out by a no-call on a post route from Tracy. The post to Tracy would likely have resulted in a touchdown without the jersey pull.
For the second straight week, Iowa consistently created push from the interior of the defensive line to force inaccurate throws from the quarterback. Iowa is creating these pressures from a variety of players and rush games. This contributed to Iowa deflecting 5 passes at the line of scrimmage and forcing multiple back foot throws. Here a ball across the middle sails high and is nearly picked off. Later in the game, the same route results in an interception for Seth Benson when the ball sailed through the receivers hands.
The push from the middle is also disrupting opposing run games. Lukas Van Ness continues to impress while playing defensive tackle. He pushes the center two yards into the backfield before discarding him in the opposite direction. He doesn’t make the tackle, but he forces Breece Hall off his line. Zach VanValkenburg also does a great job of avoiding staying blocked by popping up quickly from the cut block by the tight end to make the tackle.
With all of the interior pressure, Purdy was forced to make quick decisions to the perimeter. Joe Evans was able to deflect a ball a the line leading to Hankins’ second interception of the day.
Jacobs continues to shine
Prior to the game, Seth Wallace said to expect Iowa to play some 4-3 with Jestin Jacobs coming into the game to deal with Iowa State’s big tight ends. Jacobs is an unusual player in that his size screams interior linebacker but he moves like a safety. At 6’4” 236 pounds, Jacobs provides plenty of size to cover linebackers, while providing additional size at the point of attack in the run game. Jacobs uses his length really well in both coverage and run defense. Here, he gets his hands on the ball to break up a well thrown pass to Charlier Kolar on the perimeter forcing a punt.
With Iowa State backed up on their own six yard line, Jacobs is inserted for extra size as the offense went with two tight ends and an H-back. Tight end Chase Allen is not able to block Jacobs as he uses a long arm to keep the blocker off his body before showing off his athleticism and suddenness as he rips away the blocker and attacks the running back. He is able to get his hand on the ball again, this time forcing the fumble. His linebacking running mate Jack Campbell is right there to scoop-and-score to push Iowa’s lead to two scores.
Oh, and Jacobs is known to eat any play in front of him in the flat. This is one where the guy comes back to the huddle telling the quarterback to never do that again.
Despite the 2-0 start, we all know there are areas this team still needs to improve. This week, the play action game was not any better than Week 1. Before throwing to the short receiver, LaPorta, he could have waited just a bit longer as Lachey was clearing into the opening at the mid-level. This was one of the few times they caught Iowa State’s linebackers and safeties in over pursuit and should have been able to make a big play because of it.
Altogether, let’s enjoy the 2-0 start as Iowa enters their next two games against non-Power 5 schools in Kinnick Stadium. I have a few players I’m expecting to see make major strides over these next two week as Iowa preps for the meat of their Big Ten schedule.