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IOWA 17, BALL STATE 13: WHAT JUST HAPPENED

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No, seriously -- what was that?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Did that game make any sense?  Like, even an iota of sense?

Think about this: the Iowa offense racked up 455 yards, including a career-best 322 yards passing from Jake Rudock.  And yet the prevailing sense for most of the game -- and even now, after a come-from-behind win at the death, that sense still lingers -- is that the offense was poor today and that Rudock didn't play well.  To be sure, even with 455 yards, it's easy to point out the flaws in the offense -- 17 points would be a good place to start.  Iowa moved the ball on the Cardinals fairly well for much of the game, but until the end of the fourth quarter, things went to shit near the end zone.

Damond Powell nearly put Iowa on the board in the first quarter with a spectacular 38-yard touchdown catch... only he didn't quite catch the ball (or at least maintain possession).  After that, Iowa's struggles to score manifested themselves in the form of missed field goals.  Marshall Koehn missed field goals from 35 and 37 yards; his replacement, Mick Ellis, missed a field goal from 29 yards.  Field goal kicking was, to put it mildly, an absolute horror show.

Those missed field goals loomed large all afternoon, especially as the game turned to the fourth quarter and Iowa continued to trail Ball State.  But a funny thing happened deep in the fourth: the Iowa offense got on a roll -- and this time that roll didn't stop until it hit the end zone.  First, Rudock capped off a 10-play, 69-yard drive with a 12-yard TD pass to Derrick Willies.  That drive took 2:58 off the clock -- fairly speedy by Iowa standards, but perilously time-consuming in a game where Iowa needed two scores to tie or win.  Ball State got the ball back with 2:52 to go... and promptly punted three plays later, having drained just 30 seconds off the clock.  (We'll get back to the source of that three-and-out in a minute.)

So Iowa got the ball back with 2:23 to go, down 13-10 and with two field goal kickers that no one in Kinnick Stadium had even the slightest bit of faith in.  So what happened?

Iowa_final_td_drive_medium
(click to embiggen)

That happened.  Rudock went 4/4 for 43 yards (and, of course, the game-winning touchdown to Jake Duzey) and tossed in 6 yards rushing.  With the game on the line, that's not too shabby.

Look, I get it.  Rudock certainly isn't perfect -- he struggles mightily with his touch on deep balls, he sometimes struggles to see open receivers downfield, and his passes often make his receivers make acrobatic catches to pull them in.  He has his issues.  And I'm intrigued by Beathard, too.  (I'm certainly intrigued to know why he played one series in the first quarter -- a series where he went 2/3 for 20 yards and threw that aforementioned beautiful 38-yard almost-TD to Powell (the best throw of the day by either quarterback) -- and then resumed headset duty for the duration of the game.)  But I was impressed by Rudock's performance in the fourth quarter.  This was a game that wasn't going well for him, a game that was setting up to open him to a firestorm of criticism, and he did what we needed him to do: he led Iowa to a win.  He made key passes when they mattered.  I don't know what the answer is to Iowa's QB situation.  But I know this game didn't make it any easier to sort out.

And, finally: game balls to the Iowa defense.  All of 'em, really, but especially the defensive line.  The signature moment for that group came on the second-to-last play of the game, when Drew Ott steamrolled his blocker and crashed into Ball State QB Ozzie Mann, picking up the sack AND forcing a fumble... which was recovered by Ott's fellow lineman, Carl Davis.  Game, set, match.  But the Iowa defense played well all day.  Ball State's lone touchdown came on a fumble recovery returned for a score.  Ball State amassed just 219 yards all game; on 66 plays, that works out to a miserly 3.3 yards a play.  If Jake Rudock had failed to find some magic in his arm late in the fourth quarter and Iowa had gone to suffer another September meltdown against a MAC opponent, well, the fault sure as hell wouldn't have been with the defense.  They stymied Ball State's offense pretty regularly all game long.

So yeah.  That game.  What he hell.

(Please try to keep it civil in the comments.)