I’ll admit it, I’ve been spending most of the week looking ahead to the Wisconsin game. I did spend a little bit of time Wednesday night watching part of North Texas’ game against SMU. They run a pretty standard looking run-first spread attack on offense and an aggressive 4-3 defense. They have actually had some success running the ball, but have such a poor defense that they’ve been forced to throw the ball a lot to try to stay in games. Against SMU the game was actually really close and the Mean Green had the lead at one point in the 3rd quarter, but that was largely a result of SMU having a handful of boneheaded plays…mostly fumbles. SMU put the ball on the turf four times and lost three of them. Then North Texas had its own fumble problems against Rice, losing two. They also threw a pick and Rice capitalized with 17 points off turnovers. So yeah, things have not been going well for the Mean Green.
It’s a Trap!
This game falls in the classic trap game spot. Iowa is coming off a crazy high and is probably lying when they say they're not looking forward to the start of B1G play at Wisconsin. And maybe if this was a few years ago, we’d have a reason to be worried. But I’m feeling pretty good about this one.
North Texas is not a good team. The advanced stats (S&P+ rankings) have them dead last in FBS. Statistically the Mean Green are in or near the bottom of nearly every meaningful category except for red zone defense. They are 0-2 with losses to SMU and Rice, giving up over 500 yards per game. They are only averaging 18.5 points per game on offense. Their QB has barely completed 50% of his throws and has more INTs than TDs.
So Iowa shouldn’t need to do much more than execute its base offense and defense and try to come out of this game healthy and with some extra reps for the backups.
Own the Ball
North Texas is near the bottom of so many stats, but they are dead last in time of possession. Now, TOP isn’t a huge indication of success all the time. Some teams, like Baylor, have very small TOP figures because they play at a high tempo and are extremely explosive. But North Texas has the ball so little because their offense and defense are bad. Surprisingly, they are converting 48.3% of their 3rd downs (just behind Iowa’s 48.8%)... but they have let opponents convert 62% of their third down opportunities!! That is far and away the worst in the country. The next worst defense (Texas) is letting teams convert just 56% of the time.
So I expect Iowa to chew up the clock by establishing a strong running game and sustaining long drives. That's the formula Iowa wants to employ. It worked well and overpowered Illinois State. It took until the 4th quarter to show its effectiveness, but it also worked against Iowa State. It didn't quite work against Pitt, since they were a significant upgrade of defense from either of Iowa's previous opponents, and with LeShun Daniels limited Greg Davis opted to lean on C.J. Beathard’s arm a little bit more. But I expect this week for the Iowa offense to return to form and pound the ball and wear down North Texas.
Work Out the Kinks
I’ve written about penalties a couple times already this season and maybe they haven’t been as big of a deal as I’ve made them out to be. Iowa is averaging just over 5 penalties for about 50 yards per game. That’s actually not all that bad.
There are other things that Iowa still needs a little work cleaning up, though. Against Pitt, there was a series of two plays on offense that I want to point out. Following a holding penalty (which was a bad call), Greg Davis dialed up a screen to Vandeberg. Jacob Hillyer dove at the corner’s legs but didn’t quite take him out and his guy made a shoestring tackle. If that tackle doesn’t get made, Jordan Walsh had gotten down the field and was destroying the safety. It would have been clear sailing to the endzone. The next play, same sort of deal. Iowa had a perfectly called screen to the side where Pitt was blitzing. Tevaun Smith ran his guy down the field a bit, but instead of hitting a good block, he just kind of gave up and let the defender force Canzeri out of bounds. If Smith makes a block there, again, that’s probably a touchdown.
Those two plays ended up being fine as Iowa scored just three plays later anyway to go up 7 with just over 6 minutes left in the game. But those little things are keeping Iowa’s offense from being even better and more explosive. I think this offense has some real potential this year, and this is the perfect week to get those little things worked out.
A Few More Looks
Last year it was the jet sweep -- Iowa broke out that look early in the year against Ball State…and it was kind of disastrous. I think it was the first one they ran, and the hand-off didn’t go well. Jonathan Parker fumbled it and a defensive lineman scooped and scored. But it turned into a much better play later in the season. Iowa broke it out again against Purdue, as a fake, and had a few good rushes up the middle. Throughout the year it evolved into a full package. The sweep itself worked wonders against Indiana. There were even some passes out of it. Is there anything like that in the offensive playbook for 2015?
PSD went over the two fake end-around deals in his Vine post. I think we’ll see that again. On the first one, I think had they given it to VandeBerg he might have scored. I expect some play-action out of that look sometime in the future, too.
The thing I really like about that play is that it was a new look in the red zone. Iowa also used a new look in the opener with a shotgun trips look. When the defense covered the three wide receivers, Iowa went with the numbers and ran a QB draw for a touchdown. When they had the numbers outside, it was a quick bubble screen, also for a touchdown. That’s smart stuff.
There is also the fake field goals…and I look for Koehn to throw out of that sometime. The rugby punt…and I look for Koehn to run out of that play at some point. The flea flicker is still a thing. What else can Iowa get on film to make opponents think?
This is a game Iowa will win in the trenches. I think Dan McCarney will unleash the hounds early to try to stop the run and while it may work for a little while, the Hawkeyes will continually chip away and wear down the Mean Green defense until they are overwhelmed. I think this is the game we see Derrick Mitchell get some touches. And it wouldn’t surprise me if he or Akrum Wadley end up as the game’s leading rusher.
The defense will again shut down the run game and North Texas QB, Andrew McNulty, won’t have enough to really put up much of a threat. Iowa wins comfortably and the backups get three or four series.
Final Score: Iowa 31 - North Texas 13
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