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The View From The Cheap Seats: The Little Things

Iowa does what it needs to do to get out of Ames with a win...

Iowa v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

For the vast majority of my childhood I had this poster hanging on the wall of my bedroom:

Mark Reevers

[Editor’s Note: Leave it to the freaking Cyclones to line up offsides on a poster smh.]

I’m not sure if posters are a big deal anymore, I can only report that neither of my children (23 & 16) ever decorated their walls with much of anything. The younger one has some weird flags and other stuff, but when balanced with how posters helped define a 90’s kid’s identity, it seems the youngin’s have moved on.

To tell the truth, Iowa/Iowa State never felt like a big deal when I was a kid. During the Fry/Walden era it was an assumed win, just a tune-up on the way to the real season. The poster was more of a reminder of who really owned the state, and since I didn’t grow up around ISU fans and my parents didn’t seem to know any, it was just another game. I was more likely to be found outside playing football or basketball, enjoying what was left of an Iowa summer, than I was to be found inside watching Iowa curb stomp another hapless Iowa State squad. That all changed my freshman year of college.

1998 was a fateful year for Iowa football. Fry’s last season saw a lot of firsts for me, paramount among them was Iowa’s first loss to ISU in my living memory, and that it happened in Iowa City meant that the atmosphere on campus was, let’s say, interesting that day. It also meant that I went through my time at the UofI without ever being present at a victory over Iowa State (I believe I’ve covered my being an albatross around Iowa sports’ neck in a previous column).

Thankfully, this year’s return to Jack Trice turned out to be just what the Hawleyes needed after last year’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad loss in Kinnick. Yep, once again it’s a Hawkeye state and all is right with the world (for now).

The Game

¡El Assico! hasn’t been much fun for Iowa fans of late, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t much fun this year either. Sure, Sebastian Castro’s pick-six got my heart pumping, but this game was lackluster, with both defenses proving their national ranks are not based on reputation alone. Sure, it was Iowa’s 6th win out of the last 7, but other than the 2016 installment, I can’t remember being comfortable outside of the last 5 minutes in any of them, and the same was true on Saturday.

Don’t misunderstand me, Iowa controlled this game nearly start to finish. ISU’s first drive was enough to cause concern, but after Logan Lee swatted Chase Contreraz’s first FG attempt from the air, the defense settled in and locked ISU down for the next 40 minutes. Aside from Castro’s house call, the game really was decided on the margins.

Now get comfortable, because I’ve got a baker’s dozen clips to get through.

The Good

Let’s begin with this 3rd down stop in the first quarter:

From the snap it’s pretty evident that this run isn’t going anywhere. Cartevious Norton runs into a pile of cornfed humanity and has no choice but to try to bounce it anywhere else to make something out of this play. Coop and X make damn sure that he is unsuccessful. This play, to me, defines Cooper DeJean and that definition needs only two words: relentless pursuit.

Last week, in a similar situation (3rd down in our territory with Jaz in the backfield) Brian called a screen pass that was, quite literally, called out by the defense and stopped. On Saturday Brian managed to exploit the defensive expectation and made an exceptional play call (hard to believe, right?). The play action pass has long been the bread and butter of the Iowa offense and the payoff for the effectiveness of the zone-running scheme that has been, as yet, unsuccessful this season. I love this call, and really hope to see more play-action in the mix than we’ve seen thus far.

This next clip is a twofer, and I want you to pay really close attention to the difference between Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson in these two plays.

If you did as instructed, you noticed that KJ2 makes his first move (a slight stutter step) about 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That hesitation gives ISU just long enough to close the gap between Jones and DeJong and force the play back to the middle. On the following play Patterson, with zero hesitation, explodes through the hole created by Connor Colby and reinforced by a pulling DeJong and Erick All. I’m not saying KJ2 doesn’t get through that hole, but Patterson left no doubt that he would. He pauses just long enough to let DeJong/All get moving and then shoots the gap with zero hesitation. KJ2 gets stuffed, Jaz gets a TD.

Cooper DeJean was everywhere on Saturday, and while the earlier video shows off his relentlessness, this one shows off his football IQ. Starting from 7 yards deep Coop diagnoses this play and never hesitates, closing before the ball leaves Becht’s hand and turning this well executed shallow cross route into a big old nothingburger. If Coop hesitates, this is a 5-7 yard gain as Higgins is effectively taken out of the play by the slot receiver. Instead, he’s there as the pass is caught and takes Noel to the ground immediately. If you look up “lockdown cover corner” in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Cooper DeJean.

The next two clips are both of exemplary blitz pickups in pass pro by Jaziun Patterson. The first is textbook and gives Cade time to let Lachey clear his coverage and come open toward the boundary. If he misses this block, this play likely ends up incomplete (at best) or with Cade on the ground. The second is almost superhuman.

See what I mean? Superhuman. Jaziun Patterson, all 5’10” 204 lbs. of him, manages to simultaneously block Malik Verdon (6’4”, 225) and Tyler Onyedim (6’4”, 295) and give Cade a clean, ish, pocket and time to hit All for a 23 yard gain. No disrespect to Leshon Williams, but if Jazz isn’t RB2 going into next week, someone has not been paying attention.

Castro reads this perfectly and if that ball isn’t thrown high he’s joining Riley Moss, Josh Jackson, and Desmond King in the 2 pick six’s in a game club. Castro has really improved his route recognition this year and is starting to give me Bob Sanders (with a better targeting computer) vibes.

Jaz is all over these highlights, and I’m only coming back to this well to hammer home just how explosive he is on these runs up the gut. We saw this a little against USU, but against the Clones he looked like he was being shot out of a cannon. There is zero hesitation here, he gets the ball, gets north and south, and just barrels through the whole like a ball of butcher knives. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be standing in front of him when he’s got a head full of steam.

Joe Evans, Ames native, doing what we have seen so many Iowa lineman do over the years. He sees he’s not getting to Becht and (though I’m sure he would have loved nothing more than to turn one of his several knockdowns into a sack) gets his hands up and keeps Michael Parkes from even having the opportunity to pick up a yard on Coop (though let’s be honest, that play would likely have gone for a loss given DeJean’s positioning). Either way, Evans was turned up to 11 all game, and this is just one more example of Iowa doing the little things right.

The Bad

No one likes being negative (that’s a lie, we all love being negative, shared misery is a quintessential human experience), and I’m not going to talk about Cade overthrowing Anderson (his arm got hit as he threw, that’s a tough beat), or missing Hayden Large for that first down (Iowa was up, go for the dagger, can’t blame him for Lachey/Ostrenga running into each other). Nor am I going to hit you with a deluge of bad runs right up the gut that got stuffed for little or no gain - bad play calls aren’t “little things”, so I’m going to keep this pretty succinct.

The first clip here shows us that Nick Jackson has just not fully acclimatized to his role yet.

I’m not sure why Jackson decides to drop his man here and fall back to pickup Lee’s receiver (especially since Lee had help over the top from Schulte), but it leaves the check-down wide open in the middle of the zone and leads to an ISU first down. It might be lack of trust in the secondary, it might be that he made a bad assumption, regardless of the reason, it looks like he hasn’t fully grasped his role in the 4-2-5 zone scheme.

DeShaun Lee has played incredibly well in place of Jermari Harris and I will not be at all surprised if he manages to take the starting job for good, but this mistake hurt. It’s small, but he leaves his feet a second (maybe half a second) early which puts him out of position to make a play on this ball, and it gives ISU their only touchdown, and some hope.

Fortunately, Matt Campbell didn’t seem to think that there was any need for urgency and spent 7 minutes on that drive instead of going hurry up and trying to save some clock for his team. Fortunately for DeShaun, this TD didn’t end up making any real difference to the outcome, the next time it might.

The Ugly

I am generally against blaming officials for a game’s result and thankfully neither of the next two clips changed the result here, but man these were egregious no-calls. If I can see a DB grabbing a jersey and pulling a receiver down, it’s hard for me to imagine that none of the officials on the field could see it. I could not figure out where the back judge was on the obvious PI against Ragaini that led to Cade’s first INT of the year, but wow:

The second no call here is, slightly, more understandable. The line judge is behind the play and obviously cannot see the handful of jersey in Jontez Williams’ left hand, but it’s hard to believe that no other official did.

The officials didn’t call much in this game (2 penalties for a total of 24 yards, both on ISU), and I’m sure there were 50/50 calls that they let go. As a fan of football I can appreciate just letting the kids play, but when there are blatant fouls they should be calling them. Iowa was not flagged for at least 1 roughing the passer call that was pretty obvious, and they let a couple of 50/50 PIs on our secondary go as well, but both of the above calls should have been made.

Play that Polka!

All in all, this was a solid performance for the defense, and an improvement over last week for the offense. It didn’t feel like an improvement while I was watching it, but Iowa eclipsed the 100 yard mark on the ground and got their first defensive score of the year. The defense bent, but broke just once and did everything it was supposed to do to secure the win in the last 3 minutes. The commentators mentioned that since the 2014 regular season finale meltdown against Nebby, Iowa was 64-2 when they lead by more than 8 points during a game. Well, this one makes it 65 and puts Kirk into some rarified air, becoming just the 27th member of the 200 win club.

I’m not completely sold on this team yet, but I am beginning to feel like the pieces are starting to fall in place and that this could be a sneaky good Iowa team. They may not get everything together in time to walk out of Hapy Valley with a win, but if they hit their stride against MSU on 9/30, they could be nigh unstoppable in October and November.

I no longer live in Iowa, but it’s good to know that, for at least the next 12 months, it’s a HAWKEYE STATE!