Eliminate the negative plays
Iowa’s two big drive killers this year have been sacks and penalties. They've both been brutal. Penalties on the offensive line have taken away 2 TDs. They’ve taken away first downs. And most often they’ve just put the offense in a tough spot.
The sacks have been a combination of multiple problems. Protection has not been great, receivers have been struggling to get open, and Beathard has been holding on to the ball too long and has been hesitant to run. Sum those things up and it has led to 14 sacks.
Of those three, I think the wide receiver separation is the least of the concerns. It has been kind of overblown in my mind. In re-watching the games it is not as terrible as it feels like people are making it out to be. I’ve seen open receivers and open windows for Beathard to throw. And there are plenty of times that Beathard could put a ball out there that would at least give the WR a chance at making a play. We’ve seen quarterbacks do it against Iowa, and opposing wide receivers make those play. So my concern is more with the offensive line (and the protections getting called) and with Beathard.
Beathard got sacked a lot last year too, especially at the end of the year. And even after the offensive tackles got blown up time and time again, the coaching staff was slow to adjust by using max protection or using the running back to help chip the defensive ends. And this year that haven’t made that adjustment yet at all. As a result, Ifreadi Odenigbo goes off with 4 sacks in a game. When Croston is not getting it done, the coaches have to give him some help.
And Beathard…I don’t know what is up with him. Are we all mis-remembering last year, blinded by the 12-0? It feels like he is much more tentative and conservative this year and that the big plays that got Iowa out of a jam are few and far between. I think it is valid to question whether he has been coached to play this way or if his history of injuries has had an effect.
The good news is that there is time this season to turn it around. A little bit more aggressiveness by Beathard and a little more help in protection could go a long way. While it is super freaking frustrating to hear that it is just small execution problems that have led to this 3-2 start, on the offense I think it really is just that.
Continue redzone success
Iowa has been fantastic in the redzone this year. On offense they are averaging 6.17 points per trip inside the 20 (15 TD, 2 FGs on 18 trips). And on defense, are giving up just 4.27. It’s a large reason Iowa won the first two games so handily and managed to sneak by Rutgers.
It’ll be especially important again tomorrow as it looks likely that Minnesota will put up a lot of yards on the ground. The Gophers average over 220 yards rushing per game and are coming off a performance against Penn State where they had two different 100-yard rushers. Iowa’s defense has, uh, not been very good against the run. So watch out. But if Iowa’s redzone defense can step up and force field goals (something they didn’t do well enough last weekend), then we could have another game where Iowa is out gained, but has a chance to win.
Minnesota has also settled for quite a few field goals. Against PSU last week, they kicked four and had three against Indiana State. Their kicker, Emmit Carpenter, is good, though. He is 9/9 on the year with five makes from 40+ yards.
Offensively, Iowa just needs to get out of its own way and clean up the little things as mentioned above. And then they need to finish their drives when they get a chance. And the Gophers will likely let them…they have given up 10 touchdowns on 12 redzone trips.
Get King in the endzone
If the offense isn’t going to do it, then maybe special teams will. There have been so many times this year that Desmond King is one slip, one block, one cutback, one missed tackle away from breaking a return for a touchdown. Against NW last week, it seemed like every time he touched the ball he had a chance. We’ve had this feeling for a year and a half now that he is going to house one any time now. And now is the time for it.
I loved what they did with McCarron in the return game too. The return they did where McCarron sneaked back there to field the punt while King ran to the other side of the field was brilliant. That one play had more misdirection than the offense has shown the entire season.
Win the fourth quarter
Iowa has been outscored 30-24 in the fourth quarter. At first I thought maybe that had something to do with letting off the gas against Miami and Iowa State, but nope…the past three games Iowa has been outscored 23-14. It is a marked difference from last year when Iowa outscored its opponents 131-91 in the fourth quarter. 2015 Iowa had that killer instinct. Whenever an opponent got within a score, the offense responded. In the past three weeks here is how the drives have gone for Iowa following an opponent scoring a touchdown in the second half:
- 10 plays, 70 yards, TD
- 3 plays, -10 yards
- 3 plays, -16 yards
- 3 plays, 0 yards
- 3 plays, 0 yards
- 9 plays, 75 yards, TD
So Iowa’s responses have been book-ended here by 2 good drives, with the four in the middle all three-and-outs without a positive yard to be seen. Those have been the killers. The bad drive against NDSU gave the Bison plenty of time and good field position to score the winning field goal. Against Northwestern, it allowed the Wildcats to go on a game-clinching 21-0 run.
And Minnesota has been at its strongest in the fourth quarter. They are outscoring their opponents 40-17 in that quarter. Against Penn State, they trailed going into the fourth and forced overtime. Similarly, in week one against Oregon State, the Gophers trailed heading into the fourth, but came out on top.
I think this is the game where the offense starts to get its groove back and is able to turn this into a shootout similar to last year’s game. Beathard bounces back and looks more aggressive and it’s Wadley’s turn to have a big game against the Gophers. However, the defense again doesn’t get enough stops and the game is close into the fourth quarter. Ultimately it isn’t Iowa’s year and Minnesota scores late to win.
Final Score: Minnesota 37 - Iowa 35