“There were some up-and-down moments with that certainly, but especially in the third quarter we saw some growth and good things.” - Kirk Ferentz
The first half lead to nearly 70,000 fans in Kinnick Stadium and many others around the country holding their breath as a late turnover lead to a Colorado State touchdown and halftime lead. Iowa’s offense flashed big plays, ugly plays, and everything in-between during the first half. For the first time all season the defense looked vulnerable before locking the Rams down in the second half.
The new 6-for-6
Keagan Johnson has earned high praise from the Iowa coaching staff since arriving in Iowa City back in January. The true freshman from Bellevue, Nebraska made a major impact with his first two receptions both going for over 40 yards.
Facing 2nd and 10, Iowa lined up with two tight ends in a strong formation. Colorado State had been bringing all defenders toward the line of scrimmage all game in an effort to keep Iowa’s run game in check. Both of their safeties are set pre-snap within 10 yards of the ball. To strike big Iowa used a favorite call, 4-verts, and took advantage of Colorado State’s two safeties bringing too much attention to Sam LaPorta. Both safeties stayed inside with the talented tight end leaving Johnson 1-on-1 on the perimeter. The corner gave him a free release and Johnson, who Nico Ragaini mentioned as the fasted player on the team this week, raced past the defender. It was a perfect call, route, and pass to lead to the first touchdown of Johnson’s young career.
Later in the 2nd quarter, Iowa comes back to the same formation to isolate Johnson on the outside. Colorado State’s defense once again has everyone without 10 yards and the safeties were focused on LaPorta.
Knowing the speed and deep play ability of Keagan Johnson, Colorado State’s cornerback attempts to get a quick jam at the line of scrimmage. Johnson uses a quick jump cut to avoid the jam and get a clean inside release. As LaPorta crosses the field, the play side safety follows him toward the boundary leaving the middle of the field wide open for Johnson. Once the safety steps up, Petras is able to set his feet and deliver another perfect downfield pass.
Johnson wasn’t the only Hawkeye to benefit from Iowa’s downfield passing. For the second straight week, Spencer Petras found Nico Ragaini for a big play. Sounding like a broken record, both safeties once again take their focus to Sam LaPorta’s out route leaving the Ram’s defensive backs on an island outside.
Iowa’s outside receivers run a smash-corner concept with the outside receiver running a quick hitch route to keep this cornerback short leaving the deep wide side of the field uncovered. Ragaini smartly worked an outside release before making an incredible catch turning in both directions to track the ball.
After a first half of slow developing run plays and screens on 3rd downs or following big plays, Iowa got more aggressive in the second half. After gaining a first down following a defensive pass interference on a downfield throw to Ragaini, Brian Ferentz called his counter to the Rams defense aggressively attacking Iowa’s tunnel screen.
LaPorta starts by attacking the slot corner as if he is going to block. Right before blocking he slips upfield past all of the defenders who were racing toward Tyrone Tracy Jr. At this point, the entire stadium had time to stand up and cheer before Petras lofted the ball downfield for what is likely the easiest touchdown of his career.
Opposing defenses continue to push the limits putting 8 or more defenders into the box. While this is stressing Iowa’s run game and limiting the ability for the offensive line to generate a consistent push, it does open the door to some big plays.
Following another turnover created by the defense, Iowa again takes advantage of an aggressive defensive plan. With Tyler Goodson in motion sprinting to the boundary goes the field outside linebacker as well as the field safety. As Petras fakes the swing pass to Goodson, Tracy looped back toward Petras for the end around. Jackson Ritter plants his defender into the ground and from there it is a race to the end zone between Tracy and two defenders who are playing catchup from the start. The player who gets the closest to Tracy was the safety who began to shift with Goodson across the field pre-snap.
With Iowa utilizing two tight ends and a fullback, Colorado State loads 9 defenders into the box. Iowa positions LaPorta and Pottebaum inline to the field (wide side) and Lachey toward the boundary. Textbook blocking play side from Linderbaum, Ince, Richman, and Lachey opens a hole for Goodson. He’s aided by perfect backside cut blocks by Plumb and LaPorta. The blocking is so good that right guard Kyler Schott runs through as a lead blocker with no one to hit. Having so many defenders at the line leads to a big run for Goodson once he breaks through the initial line.
Iowa is going to need to continue to be patient with their run game knowing big plays are coming between all of the short runs due to the overloaded defensive boxes.
Special Teams Effort
Iowa’s special teams have done nearly everything right in 2021. From Tory Taylor to Terry Roberts to Caleb Shudak to Charlie Jones Iowa’s special teams players have made a name for themselves because of their excellence.
I want to add another name to that list for his effort on a big Charlie Jones punt return in the third quarter with the game tied 14-14. As Jones cuts all the way across the field from his own 20 yard line, Dallas Craddieth comes sprinting from nearly 30 yards away to provide a key block to spark Jones and set up Iowa in Rams’ territory.
Craddieth came to Iowa a highly regarded safety recruit, but is yet to crack the two deeps. While many in that situation have transferred attempting to find greener pastures, Craddieth has stayed at Iowa and become a staple on several Hawkeye special teams units. Not only did he sprint all the way across the field with Jones, but he smartly blocked while avoiding a crack back penalty or block in the back.
Can we please get a flag?!?!
The first half saw the Rams go 9-13 on 3rd down with several of those conversions be in long yardage situations. This was aided greatly by the Big Ten officiating crew swallowing their whistles while offensive lineman tugged and tackled Iowa’s defensive lineman on nearly every big play in the first half. I’m still tabulating who had more tackles between Jack Campbell and CSU’s offensive line. At this point, it is too close to call.
Speaking of Campbell, his 18 tackles jump off the page, but it was his work in coverage that stood out to me while rewatching. Campbell is known for his relentless effort and incredible straight line speed for a guy his size. During this game, he was a key factor in Iowa’s defense and their ability to limit big plays to Trey McBride and other Ram’s receivers crossing the field following play action.
Campbell does an excellent job tracking crossing routes and attaching himself to the inside hip. From there he utilizes his frame and long arms to break up the pass while avoiding the need to grab the outside hip and get a pass interference call.
Oh, and it is now three consecutive games with a fumble recovery. Campbell is absolutely everywhere during these games.
Return and be rewarded
Zach VanValkenburg was the one returning starter on the defensive line opting to take an additional year of eligibility due to the shortened 2020 season. While earning some All-B1G honors in 2020, VanValkenburg has continued to boost his draft stock with a strong 2021. He has been all over the field this year making plays behind the line of scrimmage. I bring all of this up because you would think this would lead the offensive play caller to want to account for him during the game, but CSU decided to leave him unblocked as a read defender twice.....it didn’t go well for them.
Short yardage stand
Following Iowa’s go ahead touchdown, Colorado State began their drive at midfield due to two penalties. After gaining 7 yards on first down, they were set up with 2nd and 3 looking to match Iowa’s touchdown with one of their own.
I’ve mentioned the push from the interior defensive line this season in pass situations, but the consistent push from the four defensive lineman has ruined opponent run games as well. The Rams are able to pick up two yards on second down setting up 3rd and short before this outstanding defensive stand to get the ball back. This game was the best to date for Iowa’s defensive tackle rotation of Noah Shannon, Logan Lee, Lukas VanNess, and Yahya Black. The two backups, VanNess and Black, performance stands out during this three play sequence.