So that happened. Iowa won a football game again, its first since knocking off Michigan State last October. That's good. Losing an 8th-straight game, especially to a team as limited as Missouri State, would have been absolutely disastrous. And that didn't happen. We are certainly happy that Iowa won again.
But... that was not an especially convincing win, particularly against a team picked to finish 8th in the Missouri Valley Conference. (#MoValleyMoProblems) Iowa led just 7-0 in the first half and it was a one-score game (21-14 Iowa) early in the fourth quarter after Jake Rudock threw a pick-six. I was hoping not to have to sweat at any point in the fourth quarter of this game. Fortunately, Iowa responded with one of its best drives of the game at that point, kickstarted by a 35-yard kick return by Jordan Cotton (finally flashing some of his 2012 form) and grinding its way down the field behind the legs of Mark Weisman (4 carries, 19 yards) and Damon Bullock (2 carries, 17 yards) and ending with a Jake Rudock TD scamper to push the lead back to two scores, where it stayed for the rest of the game.
Much like last week, Iowa racked up a lot of yards on offense -- 489, to be exact. Weisman (30 carries, 180 yards) led a ground attack that racked up 296 yards, while Rudock added 193 yards on 19/28 passing. But Iowa again struggled to turn those yards into points, thanks to untimely penalties, and a failure to convert scoring opportunities (Iowa got stoned on 4th and 1 near the MSU end zone and Mike Meyer missed a 33-yard field goal). Rudock had an up-and-down day: he showed good wheels on several plays (including the two touchdown runs) and made several good throws (the best of which was probably the downfield strike to TE George Kittle), but he ate a costly sack near goal line on one drive and failed to see the MSU defender dropping into coverage on the pick-six. He wasn't helped by several dropped passes by Iowa receivers in the first half, either.
The Iowa defense also had an up and down day. They struggled early with some more hideous breakdowns in the secondary, saved only by some overthrown passes by Missouri State QB Kierra Harris and some drops by Harris' receivers. But they settled down after that, forcing Missouri State into a series of three-and-outs. Things broke down in the second half as Missouri State was able to put together a few solid drives (including one that ended in a TD on, again, a busted coverage by Iowa). Getting pressure on the passer was hit-or-miss again today (with a lot of misses) and Iowa's blitzes started to look a little stale at times, but the run defense was mostly stout.
Other quick thoughts:
carriesyards for Weisman is nice... but 30 carries is not. Unfortunately, Iowa's inability to salt the game away earlier is a direct explanation for that heavy workload.
- Four running backs did get carries today, with Bullock getting 10 (for 40 yards), Jordan Canzeri getting 3 (for 13 yards), and true freshman LeShun Daniels got 6 (for 30 yards).
- Daniels was one of three true freshmen to play today, alongside CB Desmond King (who got the start and was the defensive back who got toasted on the MSU TD pass; he also recovered a fumble in the first half, so it wasn't all bad news for him) and WR Matt VandeBerg (2 catches, 17 yards).
- VandeBerg was one of 10 different Iowa players that caught the ball today, led tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey and wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, all of whom had three catches. Don Shumpert would have joined that group if he could catch the ball consistently (to be fair, it was nice to see him make a few catches in the second half... seeing the ball bounce off his hands in the first half was painful).
- Tight ends played a much bigger role in Iowa's offense this week than last week; in addition to the six catches from The Polish Hat and Duzey, Kittle added another reception (for 47 yards, Iowa's longest play of the day), and tight ends were also targeted on several other plays.
- Damond Powell had an extremely quiet day (1 carry, 2 yards; 0 receptions), but it was encouraging to see Iowa trying to get him the ball in different situations: they ran him on a jet sweep and was targeted on a screen pass as well. It's gratifying to see Iowa trying to get him the ball in different ways.
- Iowa's offense took on more of an old-school flavor in the second half, with a lot of two-tight end sets and less shotgun. It was effective, though, since it helped get Weisman and the running game unstuck and led to Iowa finally adding more touchdowns to the lonely one that they scored in the first half. Despite the old-school formations, though, we still got the new-school no huddle most of the time and the pace remained quicker than normal for Iowa.
- Anthony Hitchens is kind of an all-or-nothing player sometimes: lots of really good plays, but also a fair number of really terrible plays. Today, he logged tackles on three straight plays at the end of the first half that shut down the MSU running game, then had a stupid late hit penalty in the second half. Of course, he followed that up with a great pass break-up on the very next play. This is on the heels of last week, where he again had several great tackles, but was burned on one of NIU's TD passes. Still, his presence is obviously a big positive for Iowa's defense on the whole.
- Tanner Miller had an interception! That was good. Getting caught out of position on a big MSU pass play earlier in the half was not so good. But Iowa won, so let's focus on the good. WOO INTERCEPTION!
- Iowa punted the ball on the Missouri State side of the field several times today. Sigh.