These “gimme” games are a lot more fun when they happen at the very start of the season. Starved for football, even the ugliest of victories look sexy with your “Football is back, baby!” googles on. Short of a loss, any struggle can be dismissed as the team “figuring it out.”
After a couple of big-time wins over ranked teams, though? Anything less than a first-half blowout feels like a massive failure. Every mistake seems like hard proof that your team sucks and previous wins were fluky fool’s gold. So with Kent State and Colorado State on the docket these two weeks, blowouts would be nice, but I tried to manage my expectations by just wanting these games to show some juice from the offense and to add another number to the win column while looking moderately respectable. While it felt kind of gross, there was “some” juice from the offense, at least in the symbolic logic sense of the word, and there is a three where the two used to be in the win column after Iowa covered the spread, so let’s just nod our heads and move on.
With Iowa getting the ball first, it looked like T-Good was going to light some M-80s to start a scoring party. On a nice constraint counter play, Tyler Goodson ran loose on the right side of the line, throwing a Kent State defender in the dryer and pressing “spin” before getting tripped up after a gain of 15. Instead, Iowa netted another first down before stalling out like a Geo Metro and punting the ball away.
Terry Roberts drew a penalty when he aimlessly wandered into the punt returner, otherwise spoiling a perfect punt by Tory Taylor that was recovered on the one-yard line. Kent State took the bonus yards and promptly went three-and-out and punted from their own 33-yard line. Iowa got the ball at their own 38-yard line and went three-and-get-the-fuck out, losing six yards before another punt. Despite this pitiful possession by the offense, so wonderous is Taylor’s punting that Kent State would start their next possession on their own 8-yard line, the dueling three-and-outs costing the Golden Flashes twenty yards of field position.
This all worked out pretty nicely for Iowa when on 3rd-and-3 Kent State’s center flung the ball over Dustin Crum’s head into the endzone. Crum ran back, scooped up the ball and desperately tried to force his way out of the endzone, but by then a swarm of Hawkeyes had enveloped him and made this impossible. With the Hawkeyes two points richer, it also gave Charlie Jones another crack at a return, and he found a seam in Kent State’s free kick coverage and sliced his way to Iowa’s 45-yard-line.
A couple of plays set Iowa up with a third down at Kent State’s 46. Iowa only needed one yard, and it sure looked like Brain Ferentz was going to let Monte Pottebaum bull his way to first down yardage. Iowa’s line blocked a zone run to the right. Every Golden Flash defender crashed to their left, but all of them were deceived. Tyler Goodson snuck out to left, away from all the hustle and bustle of the blocking. Petras faked the handoff to Pottebaum and flung the ball Goodson’s way. By the time Kent State knew they were being punked, Goodson made it outside the defense and sprinted down the left sideline for an easy-peasy looking 46-yard touchdown.
Iowa looked set to roll, but Kent State responded on the next drive…in a flash. It only took them five plays and a minute and half of game time to go 75 yards for the score, but almost all of that came on two plays. The first was a 2nd-and-10 on their own 25-yard line. Riley Moss, apparently drooling at all of Kent State’s eye-candy in the backfield, let his man, Keshunn Abram, run right past him for a very easy 48-yard completion. A couple of plays later, Abram would get one-on-one coverage again, this time against Dane Belton. Belton was on his hip pocket, but Abram had inside position on his post-route and hauled in a contested catch in the end zone to spoil Iowa’s good vibes.
Iowa’s very next drive went nine plays and 53 yards before Ivory-Kelly Martin fumbled the ball away just outside the red zone. The IKM fumbles are officially a thing, and it goes without saying that Kirk despises them, and when your offense can ill-afford any mistakes that meant Ferentz would banish IKM into the Phantom Zone after IKM’s third fumble of the season in the second quarter. With IKM fumbling on roughly 10% of his touches, I give it even odds on whether we see IKM or a clone of Sam Brownlee in Iowa’s backfield first.
Iowa’s defense spent a couple more drives stifling Kent State’s offense, while Iowa’s offense spent another drive stifling my sanity before Iowa got the ball at their own five-yard line and give us the crème de la crème of Iowa’s “It’s nasty but it works” offense.
Totaling 20 plays, none of them explosive, the drive was an exercise in patience, like watching a slinky slowing creep down Jell-O-covered stairs. The early parts of the drive were heavy on Goodson, but this was mostly Petras nibbling underneath the defense, happily gobbling up checkdowns and short routes, but it was third downs where Petras deserves props. He seemingly found the receiver that would get him just enough yardage for a conversion four separate times, culminating in a dart to LaPorta for a touchdown from five yards out. Aesthetically, the drive was a hideous eyesore, but it was a masterclass in execution and closing out the half by zapping eight minutes of game time from the clock in a touchdown drive is a beautiful result.
The 16-7 lead was okay, but a long way from comfortable. With better than a puncher’s chance, Kent State came out of the gate with a bunch of jabs. Their first drive of the second half died on a fourth-and-8 from Iowa’s side of the field. Their second drive (after a three-and-out by Iowa was murdered by an overturn of a perfectly legal Tyrone Tracy catch down the field) scared the bejesus out of me.
The chunk passes were annoying in the first half, but those felt like mistakes by Iowa’s defense. This was the first drive where Kent State seemingly imposed their will. Their frenetic pace and RPO shenanigans kept Iowa’s defense on their heels, enabling Kent State to run the ball effectively for the first time all game and creating space for easy throws to open receivers. After 14 plays and 75 yards, Kent State was on the Iowa 1-yard line and on the verge of scoring and raising our heart rates to dangerous levels.
With Kent State running the ball to the left, Jestin Jacobs and Jack Campbell combined forces to tackle Bryan Bradford at the half-yard line. Trying to reach for the end zone but also enduring the horror of two demons draped over him and siphoning off his soul, Bradford just kind of flung the ball over his head into the end zone, like a bride throwing a bouquet. Riley Moss was the lucky lady who caught the beautiful bouncing ball. Moss gave some thought about tucking the ball under his arm and running, but instead decided he was happy enough with Iowa dodging a bullet and downed the ball for a touchback.
As it seemingly is every time, the turnover was like a defibrillator to the heart of Iowa’s offense. It was mostly the same un-sexy, plodding-but-effective enough offense as before, with Iowa working to Kent State’s side of the field in tiny portions. But on 3rd-and-9 on Kent State’s side of the field Brian called a stretch zone run out of the shotgun set. It was blocked better than a good piece of legislation by Congress and Goodson followed a crease to daylight down the left sideline for another explosive running touchdown and just enough of a lead to breathe easy.
From here, the defense decided Kent State done moving the ball for the day. Over the next four drives, Kent State gained nine yards total. Everybody on the defense was great, but this was the defensive line’s show. They wreaked havoc and decimated anything that Kent State tried to do, finishing the game with 7 (!) sacks and 10 TFL (!). It was a pants-stiffeningly good showing from this unit, which started the season as a question mark but is now two or three exclamation points.
With the defense choking the life out of Kent State’s belief in itself, Iowa’s offense spent the fourth quarter just kind of fucking around. There were a lot of short passes, the profoundly dumb fake punt after a delay-of-game penalty, and the most promising development, a play-action deep bomb to Ragaini for 48-yards which lead to Goodson’s third rushing touchdown of the game, but none of this happened in a game that felt even a little bit in doubt.
Truth be told, I’m kind of baffled by this offense, but I’m mostly in an “all’s well that ends well” kind of head space and glad this game is over. We got some creativity and explosion from the running game, and we got something from the passing game. I’ve got my insulin shot ready for one more cupcake next week before the real season starts.
*Even keeping in mind the competition, this was the best showing of the year for the offensive line. There were at least occasional holes in the running game and Petras was sacked zero times and had loads of time in the pocket to contemplate his existence.
*What Petras and Iowa did with that time was kind of dubious, though. Petras was somewhere between fine and good today, but this passing game is vexing. I would love to hear from someone with more time and expertise about what the Hell is going on. It definitely wasn’t the O-line today, but almost every pass looks like it is being thrown against an All-Madden defense. Every pass is strained and laborious. There just are almost no throws to wide open dudes anywhere in this offense. Is Petras just bypassing his progressions to find the checkdowns? Are zero people getting open? Is Brian Ferentz doing this on purpose? On the plus side, if this is on purpose, you need a super-high completion percentage to justify this approach, and Petras 69% is right on the money shot.
*The defense is still stellar. Keshunn Abram is definitely a dude. He was responsible for roughly half of Kent State’s 260 offensive yards. The one sore spot is how much they lined Abram against Riley Moss. It was a scab that Kent State picked repeatedly. While it might fester later in the year, I would wager it is more likely to heal into a sexy scar.
*I am looking forward to Tory Taylor perfecting the coffin corner kick. Taylor missed the absolute best punt that is humanly possible by about two inches in this game. When he hits it, he is single-handedly going to ruin entire possessions for opposing teams.
*More getting the ball to Goodson in space, please.