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View From the Cheap Seats: Punting is Winning

A punter, a running back, and a Ca$h walk into Madison... 

NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin
Sebastian Castro and Yahyah Black team up to force a fumble resulting in a Wisconsin safety.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure how many of you read my “By The Numbers” piece last Friday, but at the end I posited that the only way Iowa was going to beat Wisconsin was by dragging them down into the mud and making the game a slopfest, and did it ever get sloppy. I didn’t expect us to bring the Bull back to Iowa City, and I’ve spent far too much time over the last day trying to find a single word that means “happy to be wrong” but even the Germans let me down, so I guess I will just have to enjoy my schadenfreude toward Wisconsin fans.

In the annals of Iowa football there are few games that truly engender the Ferentz way more than this game. Sure, there’s 6-4, last year’s offense free 7-6 win over FCS South Dakota State, 13-3 against ISU in 2018, or our 10-6 win over Wisconsin back in 2015. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the most “Iowa” wins of all time, because who other than Iowa could pull out a win, on the road, in a rivalry game when their QB finished with a QBR of 6 (not a typo), and what’s more is that the QBR is not even the most “Iowa” stat from this game. That belongs to this beauty:

10 punts, 50.6 yards per punt, long of 62, 6 downed inside the 20 (4 inside the 10) and 0 touchbacks

Tell me that that isn’t the most Iowa stat line of all time.

Thunder from Down Under

Yes, the school that embodies the “Punting is Winning” ethos won a game wherein their punter more than doubled the yardage output of the offense. Rick Neuheisel may have, somewhat humiliatingly, coined the phrase, but no team better exemplifies the axiom than Iowa, and Tory Taylor put on a clinic on Saturday (on his way to his second straight B1G S/T player of the week nod).

In case you weren’t aware, Tory is currently slightly ahead of the pace to set the all-time record for punt yards in a season (currently held by Johnny Hingel, who kicked for 4,138 yards for Michigan State in 1938). If he keeps kicking at his current pace, and with this offense there’s no reason to expect that he won’t, he may also collect the record for career punting average, though he will likely fall about 600 yards short of the all-time yards mark.

The Revolution

I wouldn’t say that Sebastian Castro is overlooked, at least certainly not by Iowa fans, but if he needed a coming out party, he had it on Saturday. 7 tackles, 2 TFLs, an uncredited FF (and a half-sack), 1 PD, and 1 INT. If you were not aware, Saturday was Sebastian’s 23rd birthday, and he decided to give Iowa fans some pretty nice gifts.

His first gift to Iowa fans was this beautiful TFL in the 2nd quarter:

His second gift saved, at least by my estimation, a Braelon Allen TD early in the 3rd:

His third gift was a forced fumble that led to a safety:

His fourth gift forced a fumble and effectively knocked Allen out of the game late in the 4th:

And for his final gift he sealed the win with a pick (that could have gone for six):

Sebastian Castro is a giver.

The Revelation

Injuries have led to something of a revolving door at the RB1 position this year. This week LeShon Williams had the hot hand to the tune of 174 yards on 25 carries (7 ypc) and an 82-yard, game winning, scamper (the rest was just gravy) in the 1st quarter.

On Saturday it became apparent quickly that KJ2’s downhill style was not going to get it done against this Wisconsin front 5 (or up to 8), but Williams’ shiftier style was just what the Doctor ordered. On the day Williams accounted for 73.4% of Iowa’s total offense, 87% of Iowa’s rushing yards, and accounted for 5 of Iowa’s 9 first downs. LW4 posted his second 100+ yard outing of the season and notched his second 50+ yard run while doing it. If the Oline can keep winning at the point of attack, I won’t be surprised if both KJ2 and LW4 both put up at least 1 more 100+ yard performance each over the last 5 games.

Bend Don’t Break

Iowa’s defense may not be elite like the Jack Campbell led unit of last year, they may not net as many INTs as the 2021 Doughboyz, and they may not score as many points as they have the last few years, but they are getting the job done in classic Iowa fashion. Going into the game Saturday Wisconsin had amassed 15 rushing touchdowns through 5 games, Iowa had allowed 1 all season. Iowa has still allowed just 1 rushing touchdown this season.

Sure, they gave up 343 yards of offense, but they also forced Wiscy to go 2 for 17 on 3rd down, limited them to 3.7 yards per carry, and 4.6 yards per pass. The defense allowed just one play of more than 20 yards, and forced 3 fumbles (only recovering 1), including this beautiful hit from Aaron Graves:

Through 7 weeks this defense has not allowed a single 100 yard rusher (Devin Mockobee got close but could only put up 89 yards) and they held Braelon Allen (the best RB they will face this year) to 87 yards on 18 carries, which is well under his 5.5 ypc average. They may not be as flashy as some of our recent defenses, but they are getting the job done better than almost any other defense in the country. Oh, and they make plays like this:

One other thing, this unit is getting it done while taking more snaps than almost any other defense in the country. Iowa is currently tied for 4th in YPP (4.28) allowed this season with UCLA. Iowa’s defense has played 532 snaps in 7 games (76.0 per game), UCLA’s has played 394 in 6 (65.67 per game). Only one other team in the top 10 for total defense has played 500 snaps, Notre Dame with 515 in 8 games (64.38 per game). Say what you will about this defense, but they are getting the job done in a truly terrible situation.

Three yards and a clump of mud

I’m not sure what else there is to say about the offense at this point. It’s historically bad. Yeah, the ground game was pretty good on Saturday, notching 200 yards against the Badgers for the first time in 15 years, but the passing game was as bad as it’s ever been, and losing Erick All for the season (We’ve all seen that injury before, we all know his season is over) is assured to make it worse. (Sidenote – it should be 100% illegal to go shoulder first into ANY player’s knee, especially a receiver that is defenseless. That kind of tackle ends careers, it is crazy that it is not even a penalized action. I don’t know what the defender’s intent was in the moment, but that play looked dirty AF to me).

The Oline looked better in the run game, most of the game, but allowed 9 TFLs and two sacks. Deacon Hill had another terrible day throwing the ball (and WR drops were not to blame this week) and made a couple of questionable throws into spaces with a lot of red jerseys. This, honestly, may have been the offensive play of the day:

Yeah, LeShon Williams scored the winning, and only, touchdown, but Mason Richman likely won the game when he stripped the ball out of Rodas Johnson’s mitts.

One last note on the offense, I applaud Brian Ferentz for running the ball 16 straight times to end the game. Deacon Hill did not throw a single pass in the final 18:51 of this game. Now, there were some bad play calls earlier in the game (the reverse to Ragaini was just atrocious), but when it came to crunch time, he did the sensible thing and put the game in the hands of the defense, and it worked.

Willful Ignorance

This last little bit here will be brief because I, generally, do not like to complain about officiating, but great googly moogly were the refs bad on Saturday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many no calls for holding in a single game in my life. When combined with one of the weakest roughing the passer calls in living memory, this is easily the worst officiated game I’ve seen this year. Hell, I saw Yahya Black held multiple times on a single play, by multiple players, more than once without a flag, and the only holding penalty they called on Wiscy was immaterial due to Graves’ forced fumble. I have a short message for B1G referees: BE BETTER.

This team still has myriad issues, but for now Iowa controls its own destiny. The final West Division crown is there for the taking and they are currently favored to win every game left on the schedule. On paper Rutgers is the toughest hurdle left, but this is the B1G West and let’s be honest, aside from Rutgers, every game left is a “rivalry” game in some measure (even if they’re not official). Northwestern has shown that they are not laying down this season, Illinois just knocked off Maryland, the Golden Fleck’s are capable, if ineffective, and the Nebraska game is always its own special brand of crazy. Iowa certainly can, and should, win every remaining game, but I have little confidence that they will.

As was the case Saturday, I will be very happy to be proved wrong.

As always, GO HAWKS!!!