The first time I wrote “Four Factor Friday” was back on my old blog at the start of the 2012 season coinciding with Greg Davis’s first game as Iowa’s OC. Back then I was cautiously optimistic about the situation. I did write, “If I learned anything from Googling Greg Davis, it’s that he likes to throw the ball horizontally.” But also predicted Iowa to score 31 points in that game against Northern Illinois. The horizontal O thing turned about to be completely true, but Iowa only score 18 points in that game.
Since then, week after week I’ve struggled to not just write all four factors as “play better on offense.” Every week I'm cautiously optimistic that this will be the week that the offense is able to put something together. And this week is no different. Sure there have been a game or two that the defense and special teams could have played better and changed an L to a W. But it is almost always on the offense. So while I'm not going to just write "play better on offense," I'm still going to focus on it.
I think the offense has two options if it wants to improve at all. One is to do what it did last year, and start moving more and more towards a system that looked like what KOK ran while he was here. The other is to start moving in more of a zone read heavy, spread look, like what they ran when C.J. Beathard had his one series at the helm.
I'd be fine with either (though am hoping for the latter). The common thread that these two styles share though, is a reliance on play action to open up the passing attack. Despite running the ball heavily into a stacked box, Iowa only used play action a couple of times last week.
Pitt's defense has been very good the first 3 weeks. They are 10th in pass efficiency defense with 5 INTs and equally good against the run, 9th in the nation giving up just 77 yards per game. So Iowa's offense is going to have a big task in front of it and is going to have to loosen up Pitt's D...and play action will be one way to do that.
Better pass protection
Jake Rudock looked completely rattled the second half last week, especially after his interception. Sometimes he was feeling phantom pressure, but other times the O-line was getting beat. Rudock was sacked 4 times. If Iowa is going to take shots down field, like everyone is wanting, then Rudock is going to need to have time and feel comfortable sitting in the pocket to let those plays develop.
On track on first and second down
Last week, when Iowa was able to get into third and short, Mark Weisman was able to pound the ball ahead for first downs. Iowa was 5 of 6 on third and less than 5, and ran the ball all 6 times on those plays. Third and 5+ was a different story...converting just 2 of 10. Rudock was able to scramble for 1 first down and checked down to Buloock to get anouther. Other than that, it was a lot of failure.
So the Hawkeyes need to figure out way to keep on track on first and second down to put Rudock in position to convert on third downs. A good start would be to stop running Damon Bullock on a stretch play to the left right into a bunch of defenders that know exactly what is coming on first down. (Though first down play calling wasn't *that* bad last week. There was a good mix of run and pass. The biggest problem was all the sacks on first down.) Second down play calling needs to improve as well. Oh Iowa's 21 second down plays, 16 were run plays. The 6 times Iowa was in 2nd and 5 or 6, the Hawks ran a stretch to the left. Every single time.
As I wrote above, Iowa needs to pick a direction. Stop trying to blend two systems that are immiscible. This is the last week before the B1G season starts. So pick one and figure it out.
Before the season started, I thought this would be one of those years where every week I'd predict an Iowa win, but how things change so quickly. Pitt's defense won't be as good as the stats suggest, but will be plenty strong enough to keep Iowa at bay. I do think we'll see a healthier dose of Jordan Canzeri and the run game will look a little better, but that won't be enough. Iowa fails again to score over 20 points and though the defense plays well, but let's Pitt's very good rushing attack (averaging 344 yards per game) leak through a few times.Final Score: Iowa 13 - Pitt 24