A 10-point halftime deficit looked almost impossible to overcome. The defense couldn’t stop James Conner and get Pitt off the field. As a result, Pitt held the ball for over 12 minutes in the second quarter and 18 minutes in the first half, and the Iowa offense had just four possessions in that half. So Iowa pretty much needed to play a perfect second half to have any chance -- and they did.
It was Kirk Ferentz football: a game of details and execution. It was all the small things and they all came together.
It really started up front on both sides of the ball. The defensive line finally started to get some push and was able to put Pitt into some must-pass situations. The offensive line, with the help of the tight ends and John Kenny (converted linebacker to fullback, who was a heck of a lead blocker for Mark Weisman), also started generating some holes for the running backs.
And the kicking was good. Marshall Koehn coverted a 52-yard field goal and sent every kickoff deep into the endzone for touchbacks. Iowa was also perfect in the red zone. On fourth downs, the offensive line got a good push and Iowa was able to convert each one. Blitzing was effective and though Iowa didn’t get to the QB every time (just one sack by Drew Ott) there were four QB hurries. The makeshift secondary (which played seven different DBs) was very good and Greg Mabin, playing on an injured ankle, was key in stopping Pitt on their final drive.
It was all good in the second half.
Both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard threw it deep a couple of times, all off of play action. Rudock’s first was placed right on target to Damond Powell, who maybe should have tried to catch it with just one hand. Then Rudock targeted Matt Vandeberg, who made a great catch over the top of the defender. Beathard had an equally good pass to Powell that eventually led to a Weisman TD. He also tried to find Tevaun Smith (who was tackled while the ball was still in the air) and threw a deep ball to Vandeberg that ended up being his only incomplete pass.
Just taking these shots forced the Pitt defense to back off a little bit. The safeties backed up a step. There was a quick pass to Powell (which was ruled a lateral) on a play where he had over a 10-yard cushion on the snap; he was able to quickly get up the field for 14 yards. It also started to open up the run game. Iowa was able to play multiple TEs and a fullback and still have a deep threat and still open good holes for Weisman, who took advantage.
Better Pass Protection
Yeah, that wasn’t a problem. The offensive line didn’t give up a sack and though Pitt was credited with four QB hurries, there was only really one time where pressure caused a bad pass (a third down throw in the second quarter where Rudock forced it over the middle).
On Track on First and Second Down
On Iowa’s three scoring drives in the second half, they had third downs of 3, 2, 9 (from which Iowa ran the ball and settled for a field goal), 7, 4, and 2 yards to go. On a couple of those Iowa fell just short of converting the third downs (with the aid of some questionable spots by the referees), but the fourth downs were short enough that Iowa was able to power ahead and get the first down without much problem. Greg Davis mixed up the play calling a little bit on first and second down, but the big deal was really the improved running game.
The direction has been set…the Iowa offense is moving in the KOK direction. It happened last year, though not until somewhere in the middle of B1G play. It had to happen after the disaster last week. There were shots down the field! There was play action! There was more tight end involvement.
The passing game was less Kevonte Martin-Manley as a short yardage possession receiver, and more throwing the ball past the sticks. Most of the short throws were still off of play action on first or second down and of the 5-6 yard variety instead of 2-3 yards. It was also much less passing overall: Rudock and Beathard combined for 18 attempts (compared to 35 rushes).
Long live the QB controversy. You can put me on the side where I think people are giving Beathard a little too much credit for the comeback…mostly because I think those people are discounting all the little things that Iowa did right as a team (and on defense) in the second half. Everything was better.
But I am totally on board with Beathard being the starter. He came in and he was impressive. He was much better in the decision making department than he was in his relief appearances last year and he didn’t just chuck it deep every play. And if Rudock is banged up at all, then give him the next two weeks off with Purdue and the bye week on tap.
It was the Purdue game last year that really re-awakened Iowa’s offense last year for the final couple of games. And that could happen again. The Pitt game was a step in the right direction. In the Purdue game we could finally see the rushing attack come together and the playmakers at receiver become more involved. Let’s keep moving the offense in the right direction.