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The View From the Cheap Seats: Missed Opportunities

Drops, stuffs, and other mistakes that show this team isn’t quite there yet.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Utah State at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first Iowa football game I attended in person was the 1990 season opener against Cincinnati. Our neighbors across the street were season ticket holders, but were unable to attend, so my dad bought them, and we were treated to a 63-10 drubbing of the hapless Bearcats. We left before the 4th quarter to beat the traffic, but I remember having a lot of fun that day watching Matt Rodgers, Danan Hughes, Tony Stewart, Nick Bell, and “Sweet” Lew Montgomery put a not great 1st quarter behind them and just dominate Cincy thoroughly.

If you want to relive that win in all its glory (including terrible sound and some thoroughly awful haircuts in the stands), it is available on YouTube, it is worth it just to watch Nick Bell run over people, and to see Rodgers (as well as Jim Hartlieb, Paul Burmeister, and Eric Slowik) running the option. Yes, the option, at Iowa.

Saturday’s game against Utah State started better than that game 33 years ago, but the result was not as satisfying. On that day in 1990 Iowa had 9 rushing touchdowns, in a single game. 9. Saturday Iowa managed to eke out 1. That game against Cincinnati saw 4 different QBs take snaps (Rodgers, Hartlieb, Burmeister, and Slowik). Saturday, we saw 2, which is what we were all expecting, but I think we all would have loved to see Marco Lainez get some garbage time snaps up 50 points.

What I noticed more than anything on Saturday, were the misses that need to be makes for this team to achieve its ultimate goal of a Western division championship and a spot in the B1G championship game. Missed blocks, WR drops, blown coverages, a dropped pick-six, and yes, some questionable play calling made this game a lot closer than it should have been.

1st Half

I think we can all agree that the 1st quarter went about as well as it could, right? Passing touchdowns on the first two drives, with some solid runs mixed in (KJ2’s 21-yard scamper, a great screen to Jaz, and a fairly good jet sweep from Kaden Wetjen), but there were a couple of misses that show us this team is not in sync quite yet.

In the grand scheme of things, this incompletion did not mean much, Nico doesn’t get there and Cade overthrows him. My question for this play call is why is Nico running this route? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some RAG-uh-ee-nee, but no one is going to convince me he’s our best option for a Go route. Why isn’t Seth Anderson or Kaleb Brown (or even Kaden Wetjen, who may be the fastest player on the team) running that route? If Nico is there and makes the catch, he’s tackled immediately, with Seth or Kalen there’s likely to be some separation and that’s another long TD.

Another questionable play call here. 4th and 1 and Brian goes with Leshon Williams (as opposed to KJ2) up the gut, with Erick All as the lead blocker. No Hayden Large? No qb sneak (which likely stems from a desire to keep Cade out of piles, but hey why not bring in Deacon Hill and have him just push the pile forward?). Either way, this play felt like it resulted in a loss of confidence, especially for the OLine, and the offense looked lackluster for the next 2 quarters starting with this turnover on downs.

This one hurt, an interception waved off for a silly penalty. Max Llewellyn has the potential to be a beast on this defense, but the hard count fooled him, and it cost the Doughboyz a turnover. There weren’t a ton of defensive miscues while the 1’s were on the field, but this is one Max would like to have back. On the plus side, this is outstanding coverage by DeShaun Lee, who played incredibly well in place of Jermari Harris.

After Nico missed a tough over the shoulder catch and a dumb USU penalty allowed this drive to continue, Leshon Williams (after a nice run and a not so nice run on the preceding downs) drops a ball that he needs to catch. I’m still not sure why Williams (and not KJ2) was called on for the run preceding this, but if Williams wants to see his snap count increase, this is the kind of play he has to make. A TD here puts Iowa up by 3 touchdowns going into halftime, they can’t let these kinds of gift TDs turn into FGs going forward.

2nd Half

So, when the opposing team’s safety LITERALLY calls the play before the snap, we may need to be taking a really hard look at tendencies. Jaz had no chance on this play, and that is due to Brian using him almost exclusively to run THIS PLAY. If USU knows it’s coming, ISU knows it’s coming, and PSU, and everyone else. Maybe someone should be exploiting the defenses expectation here and going somewhere else with the ball.

Again, I ask, why is Nico running the Go route here? Is Kaleb Brown being punished for the weird double move he used in the 3rd quarter? Is Seth Anderson not a better option? Just seems strange to be using Nico for these routes, as he’s probably the 4th or 5th fastest receiver in the room. I know Brian isn’t used to having receivers that can get separation, but this seems like a shot play that is vastly improved with anyone else running that route. I know it’s garbage time, but points are points, so why not increase your odds at scoring?

The other big miss for me was Coop dropping an all but guaranteed pick six off a deflection. I couldn’t find video of that play and it’s not so much a point for criticism as it is a “damn, that could have been six”. That play stood out because of how often the tip-drill has resulted in defensive points over the last 4-5 seasons, so to see that one hit the turf hurt.

Now, in all fairness, some of these misses are to be expected. This was Cade’s first game in more than a year, and the offense hasn’t completely gelled (especially on the line) and I’m hoping that the rotation we saw was some final fiddling around to get the core group set. I was expecting them to look better against a Mountain West team that was pretty bad last year, but I’m optimistic that the issues we saw Saturday can be addressed this week.

One other note, before I move on. On balance, the defense was very good. Maybe not 2022 good, but very good. If you ignore the ~85 yards given up in garbage time (which included a USU touchdown and 2 pt conversion), the total defense numbers were <3.85 ypp. That is an incredibly good number, and I’m confident that the defense will improve as the season goes on. Jackson will get more comfortable, the line will get better, and the secondary seems poised to have a great year in terms of turnover production.

Happy Hate Week!

Iowa opened as a 4.5 point favorite in Ames this weekend, and while I was only able to catch a little bit of ISU trouncing, what looks to be, a pretty bad UNI team, I think I’m comfortable with that line. Personally I hope it narrows (what can I say, I like it when the Hawks feel disrespected). There’s nothing scarier for me than articles with headlines like “Is Iowa the dark horse to win the B1G?” I want teams to be overconfident when they play us, because Kirk Ferentz’s teams always seem to play better as the underdog.

El Assico should be interesting this year, especially in the wake of the DCI gambling investigation and the suspension of roughly half of the ISU starting offense. I’m confident that Iowa can put the Cy-Hawk trophy back where it belongs, especially if they can get the running game going.

What I do want to highlight is an excellent article from Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register from a few weeks back about Jack Trice. I’m certainly no ISU fan, but I do think as football fans we should all know more about who Jack Trice was, how significant it is that Iowa State named their stadium for him and, specifically that they refuse to change the name for any reason. More people should know his story, as well as the stories of Ozzey Simmons, Duke Slater, and all the other trailblazing players from that era. So do yourself a favor, find 5 minutes, and learn more about the life, and death, of Jack Trice.

Enjoy Hate Week and GO HAWKS!