I led off last week’s review with "Iowa Kirk Ferentzed its way" to a close win. Little did I know that five days later, Iowa would play a game an even more Kirk Ferentz-y than the first. We’ve seen it time after time: Iowa is in control of a game but the offense fails to capitalize on defensive stop, and mistakes keep the opponent in the game for way too long.
And so, with a little over 12 minutes left in the game, when Ball State on 3rd and 9 threw an off target pass that was well-defended and tipped into the air only to fall right into a Cardinal receivers hands for a 15-yard gain…my brother, who doesn’t say much during games, turned to me and said "ball game." And I thought it was, too. Game over. Pack your bags. There was no way an offense that had just mustered 3 points in the prior 50 minutes, was going to score twice in the last 10. And then when Iowa punted with just over 7 minutes left, the game was definitely, definitely over. How could you possibly punt with 7 minutes left down by 10?
Of course from there the defense forced two 3-and-outs, Jake Rudock took over, and Iowa won. Just like Kirk Ferentz planned it.
The Obvious One - Big Plays
Well I don’t think we complain about not taking shots down the field. Iowa threw it deep a lot and just missed every time. C.J. Beathard’s pass to Damond Powell was a slight bobble away from a long TD. Rudock missed Matt VandeBerg by inches on a couple of long balls. There were a few others in there as Iowa pretty much chucked it deep on every first down in the 4th quarter. And while those didn’t lead to completed passes, the strategy worked. Ball State’s coach mentioned after the game that in the fourth quarter they were staying in a deep zone so they didn’t give up a quick long score. That opened up the underneath check downs and Rudock, you know it, took advantage of those. Damon Bullock had a few short catches that helped keep third downs manageable. And Jake Duzey’s game-winning touchdown was a check down as the rest of the receivers took the coverage deep into the end zone.
Big plays weren’t completely absent from the offense, though. Jordan Canzeri was a bright spot. He took a short wheel route for 50 yards and provided a spark to the offense in the 3rd quarter with a couple of decent runs including a 17-yarder that set up a brutally missed 29-yard field goal.
And the defense definitely passed the test after failing last week. They only gave up one play over 20 yards, a 26-yard pass in the third quarter that set up Ball State’s only score that wasn’t the result of a Jonathan Parker fumble (though it was aided by a running into the kicker penalty and a pass interference penalty). Iowa’s coverage was a lot better. The corners played a lot of press coverage that allowed the safeties to help in run support and in coverage with the linebackers. If Iowa is able to shut down receivers on the outside with man, then the defense should come together pretty nicely.
There were a few times that the defense struggled to bring down Jahwan Edwards. To his credit, he's a big, talented back. He was by far the leading rusher on the day with 81 yards. But other than those few missed tackles here and there, the Iowa defense was stout. The defensive line had another dominating effort this week. Last week it was Louis Trinca-Pasat with the big day, this week it was Drew Ott. Ott led the day in tackles with 13, tackles for loss with 2.5, and added a sack and a forced fumbled that ended the game. Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis were also dominant, with 8 tackles and a couple tackles for loss apiece.
Clean up the Kicking
Oh no. There’s not much to say here. Besides kickoffs, the kicking game is a big, huge, ugly problem. I don’t even know. Hey, at least Iowa moved up from 107th to 100th in the nation in net punting.
Put Them Away
So much for the comfortable second half I was hoping for. Iowa’s biggest problem remains the inability to finish drives. It has been a problem since Greg Davis rolled into town. On Saturday, the Hawks had over 180 passing yards in the first half and just 3 points to show for it. Yeah, a good chunk of empty drives lands on the kickers…but the offense needs to turn those drives into 7 points.
Iowa was 3 of 6 in the red zone (now 7 of 12 on the year – not good), scoring those 2 late touchdowns. Having 10+ play drives end in missed field goals is just brutal. Iowa is playing into exactly what Norm Parker made opposing offense play into…and Iowa’s offense is the one that is breaking. The red zone was a big problem last year and though the coaches and players said they worked on it during the off-season, we haven’t seen improvement yet. Greg Davis better figure it out quick, as these types of performances in the red zone are quickly going to lead to losses instead of narrow wins.
Kirk Ferentz mentioned in his post-game presser that they need to find an identity on offense. I've been screaming as such since 2012. But it is true more than ever now. The run game has been almost non-existent. If ever there was a week to get it going, this would be it. Last year against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes were able to pound the ball and pound it some more. Mark Weisman finished with 145 yards and the team went for over 200 yards on the ground. This year, the Cyclones have given up over 200 rushing yards in both of their first two games. They are 118th in the country in rush defense and giving up 6.28 yards per carry. If Iowa can't run against that, then we're going to see Rudock throwing the ball 50 times a game a whole lot more.