Somehow, someway, Phil Parker’s Defense and LeVar Woods’ Special Teams seem to find a way to plug the holes in this Iowa team and get the win week in and week out and Saturday was no different. For a game that set the modern-day record for lowest O/U at kick (29.5 points), this one certainly delivered as promised.
Two of the worst offenses in the country got together in Chicago and did everything they could to solidify their respective reputations. Here’s a small sample of their combined futility:
- Northwestern had more penalty yards (71) than Iowa had passing yards (65)
- Iowa and Northwestern combined for 339 yards of total offense; 78 teams had at least 339 yards of total offense over the weekend.
- Combined they ran for 193 yards; 32 teams ran for at least 194 yards over the weekend.
- They passed for a combined 146 yards; 97 teams passed for at least 146 yards over the weekend
- The star of the game may, potentially, have been a hole in the turf
Iowa’s offense was so bad that its longest play from scrimmage (a 23-yard pass to Kaleb Brown - his first catch of the season), which set up the winning FG, was overshadowed by an 8-yard jet sweep merely due to the presence of Cooper DeJean on offense. There were no long runs (though both Jaz and LeShon were ankle tackles away), no great performances, and, aside from a well-run bootleg pss to Addison Ostrenga, there were not many positive takeaways other than the most important one, they got the W.
I could spend some time breaking down highlights and giving you opinions on what went right, or wrong, but honestly I don’t think it’s worth my time or yours, especially when this exists:
Iowa vs Northwestern but it’s a Silent Film pic.twitter.com/tmEGbSMyrY— Mr Matthew CFB (@MrMatthew_CFB) November 4, 2023
Honestly, if you watch just one series from this game on repeat, it should be this one:
Seriously, go back and re-watch Jay Higgins on 3rd down, it’s truly incredible. He shoots the gap and absolutely stuffs Porter at the half yard line to keep NW out of the endzone. This Iowa defense, through 9 games, has surrendered just 1 rushing touchdown (damn you “Crazy Legs” Mockobee!). Last year’s defense had given up 3 by this time in the season, and to think that we were worried about the Linebackers coming into the season.
I don’t have to tell any of you that this game was painful to watch, just not quite as painful as two weeks ago, because at the end of it all the Hawks left Wrigley at 7-2, once again in control of their own fate in the B1G West. Thanks to losses by Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin we’re back in the driver’s seat with 3 games left. That’s the B1G West, the only division that no team wants to win.
So where do we go from here?
If you haven’t read JPinIC’s piece from yesterday, you should. He lays out the possibilities for improvement far better than I can. While this offense is historically bad, it is not broken beyond repair and Deacon Hill can be successful if he’s put in the right situation. Every time I see Iowa come out in a shotgun with an empty set, I sigh, because I know that one of two things is incredibly likely to happen: Deac is either about to throw an incomplete pass (likely forced into double or triple coverage) or he’s going to be sacked. We all know by now that Deac is at his best when he doesn’t have too many options or too much time to think about where he’s going with the ball.
Iowa’s offensive identity isn’t going to change in the next three weeks (or likely three years), there’s no super-secret playbook that Brian has been keeping in his pocket for a special f-you on his way out the door, it is what it is: run first, control time of possession, acquire field position and score if/when you can. As it was, ever as it shall be under Kirk Ferentz. In the passing game Brian needs to focus on the plays that Deac can execute: short passes with quick developing routes that get the ball out of his hands and to the receiver in space. Slants, digs, curls, doesn’t matter, nothing more than 10 yards 99% of the time (I’m fine with the occasional shot play), because completing those passes and getting into favorable distances on 2nd and 3rd down help open up the run game, which is what they really want to do anyway.
Deacon Hill is completing just over 56% of throws in the middle 3/5 of the field within 10 yards, while he’s completing just 26.8% of throws longer than 10 yards. While 56% isn’t great, it’s a hell of a lot better than 27%. We’ve got athletes in Brown and Vines that can, and likely will, make plays and get YACs and even Ragaini has some moves, so maybe we should just let them do their thing. We all know Deac can throw the ball a long way, but maybe it’s time to put the cannon on the shelf and pull out the .22.
Iowa has had a hard time running the ball the last two weeks which has been disappointing, especially in the wake of stellar performances against Purdue (181 yards) and Wisconsin (200 yards). Saturday’s game was certainly better than the Minnesota game, but it was hardly great. Injuries along the OL are starting to pile up as well (Stephens likely done for the year, Feth in a sling post-NW, etc...), so it’s not going to be easy sledding the next 3 games, especially Saturday against a solid Rutgers unit that is giving up just 122.6 yards per game on the ground. Let’s be honest, if Brian can’t find a way to get something going in the passing game, Iowa will be facing cover zero with 8-9 men in the box on most of it’s snaps.
In both of Iowa’s last two games they saw defenses that were 100% selling out to stop the run. Minnesota was successful in that attempt, allowing Iowa to gain 11 total yards running the ball. NW’s defense isn’t anywhere near as good as Minnesota’s, and neither is as good as Rutgers’. If Rutgers’ defensive staff is paying attention (and I’m sure they are), they will make Deacon beat them through the air, so Brian is going to need to figure out how to keep Rutgers’ talented LB corps from crashing the line on EVERY snap. Rutgers is only allowing about a 57% completion rate, but giving up about 10 yards per completion, and this is where Brian needs to focus to open things up on the ground (where Rutgers is allowing just 3.7 yards per attempt)
Hopefully KJ2 will be ready to go and the three-headed monster can be back in full force Saturday, but if the passing game continues to limp along like it has, it may not make a difference.
There’s not a lot to nitpick here to be honest. Iowa heads into Saturday’s tilt with the Scarlet Knights with the #4 scoring defense (13.7 ppg), the #2 total defense (4.1 ypp) the #2 ranked defense according to ESPN’s SP+ rankings, and the 7th best stop rate in the country. More notably it’s accomplished this while seeing significantly more snaps per game than almost every other unit in the FBS. Just to highlight this, there are 9 teams whose defense averages more snaps than Iowa per game, Iowa’s defense is giving up 4.1 ypp (tied for 2nd in the country), only one other team (Jacksonville State, 20th in the country) that is averaging more than 70 snaps per game is allowing less than 5 YPP. The resiliency the defense has shown this season is nothing less than remarkable.
The one thing we’re not seeing from this defense, however, is turnovers. Iowa currently ranks 89th in turnovers per game (1.2) which is a not insignificant drop given what we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years. We expect the Iowa defense to force turnovers and create short fields for the offense, or points; the whole idea of “complementary football”, at least at Iowa, hinges on the defense’s ability to put the offense in an advantageous position. This season we’ve seen just 8 interceptions (1 returned for a TD) and 3, fumble recoveries. If Iowa is going to get to Indy, we could use an uptick in this production over the next 3 weeks. Given that Rutgers is averaging less than 1 TO per game, this will be a challenge. Gavin Wimsett has thrown 5 INTs on the year, 3 of which came against MSU, so opportunities should be there, the Doughboyz just need to take advantage of them and turn some PBUs into INTs.
Tory had an off day in Wrigley averaging just 39 ypk, but I’ll chalk that up to the venue. Drew was 1 for 2, but there certainly wasn’t any issue with distance, and the wind at Wrigley is unlike any other venue Iowa will play in (save a potential visit to Yankee Stadium if things go south the rest of the way). I don’t have any real concerns here (though I think Tory’s shot at breaking the single season punting yardage record is out the window). Either way, they will need to rebound as I’m guessing that we’ll see more FGs and Punts than INTs and TDs against Rutgers.
The final three weeks present a familiar challenge for the Iowa football team. Nearly every component of a successful season is still there for the taking, the question is whether or not they can do do just enough to get them across the finish line. Vegas had the opening line on this one at 28.5 (still setting records every week) and if I were a betting man, I’d be hammering the under.
As always, GO HAWKS!