For a while, things were different. For a while, the Iowa offense looked not just competent, but dangerous. For a while, the Iowa defense was actually able to shut down Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois offense. For a while.
Unfortunately, "for a while" is not the entire game and ultimately things weren't different enough in this game for Iowa to get a different result than the result that we saw again and again and again last year. Iowa lost for a seventh straight time because:
- the offense stagnated -- again. Iowa put up 24 points in the first half (albeit just 17 from the offense; Christian Kirksey scored the other seven on a fumble returned for a touchdown), but just 3 points in the second half. Iowa got, by my count, just five first downs and 124 yards of offense (not counting the tomfoolery at the end of the game). They turned the ball over twice on a pair of Rudock interceptions (the first was somewhat unlucky but the second was a woefully telegraphed throw read perfectly by the NIU safety). They also got murdered on time of possession in the second half, which was mainly bad because Iowa's failure to maintain possession prevented them from doing the one thing the offense was doing pretty well against NIU on a consistent basis: controlling the line of scrimmage and using their superior size and depth to wear down NIU's defense. Hard to do that when the offense can't stay on the field.
- the defense gave up big plays in the passing game -- again. Jordan Lynch had TD passes of 40, 21, and 33 yards. There were coverage breakdowns aplenty in Iowa's secondary. Obviously, the secondary is still being put in bad positions by the defensive line's inability to generate a pass rush (although at times that seemed deliberate today, to play contain and prevent Lynch from beating Iowa with big plays on the ground; unfortunately, this year's Lynch is a much, much better passer than the one Iowa played in Chicago a year ago), but there were still too many confused looks and late reactions among Iowa's defensive backs. Safety play, to put it mildly, is not a strength for this team. If the return of Phil Parker to defensive backs coaching was supposed to be a panacea to what ails them, it's not working yet.
- the special teams had critical breakdowns -- again. Well, mainly just one critical breakdown -- Yet Another Fucking Fake Punt. There was also a shanked punt from Kornbrath that led to NIU's first touchdown, but Kornbrath also had several good punts, the coverage was generally very good -- Jordan Cotton was excellent as the gunner on punt coverage -- and Iowa got a few good returns out of Cotton and KMM. (Although Cotton also made a few ill-advised decisions to return kicks rather than take a knee in the endzone.) But that fake punt. That goddamn fake punt. On one hand, I genuinely do want to tip my hand to NIU's players and coaches there -- it was a well-designed play that was run beautifully. Kudos. On the other hand, seeing Iowa fall prey to a play like that again -- AGAIN! -- is maddening in the extreme. Given the down, distance, and the set-up of that punt, it seemed like something squirrelly might be in store on that punt -- yep. Fuck. So much for an NFL special teams coach fixing everything that ails this unit.
So NIU scored the first 10 points of the game and the last 10 points of the game and the end result is the same story we saw again and again last year: Iowa loses another close game. I think there were some positive things to take away from this game -- Rudock played very well at times, the running game looked like a definite strength at times, Powell does indeed have breathtaking, game-changing speed, the offense does seem genuinely different and certain things about it really worked, there were some good individual efforts on defense and a few interesting tactical wrinkles there (blitzing that was actually effective, for instance) -- but it's too hard to focus on those things at the moment. Iowa lost -- again. In another goddamn close game -- again. On a late field goal -- again. For now, this new chapter of Iowa football is looking all too similar to the brutal last chapter of Iowa football.
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REMINDER: Here's your venting thread. Try to keep the venting in there, please.
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We're also going to try something new this year: Community Player Ratings. One of my favorite blogs elsewhere on SBN is We Ain't Got No History, a blog about the Chelsea soccer club. They've used the Community Player Ratings feature for a while now and I wanted to incorporate it in our coverage at BHGP as well. How's it work? Easy: just rank the performance of the players listed below on a scale of 1-10.
Now an idea like this works more easily for soccer than it does college football, since the maximum number of players that can play in a soccer game is 14 -- the 11 starters and 3 substitutes. Obviously, many more players can (and do) play in a football game. (I'm also thinking about using this feature for college basketball, where I think it will work MUCH BETTER.) So we're not going to rank every single player on the Iowa team that played yesterday. For one thing, that would take way too long. For another thing, not many of us are qualified (or able) to analyze individual players along the offensive and defensive lines. So I've singled out some of the more prominent individual players for this feature, and lumped the rest into position groups. I've also included a trio of coaches: Ferentz, Davis, and Parker. After a few days, I'll compile the results and report them; ideally, that report will look something like this.
Needless to say, I'm definitely looking for feedback on this feature. Do you like it? Dislike it? Would you prefer fewer players to rank? More players to rank? Seriously: any feedback you have is welcome here.