Maybe all four factors should just be "Cover Allen Lazard."
Don’t get too cute
I was surprised and as excited as anyone that Desmond King announced to the media on Tuesday that Iowa’s game plan for Iowa State was to have him shadow Allen Lazard. That is a major break from tendency for the Iowa defense. It has been brought up over and over again throughout the KF era that the Hawkeyes cornerbacks play a side of the field rather than play match-ups or play the boundary versus the field. So this is all very New Kirk and everything. But there is no need to get too cute here.
Iowa ran its base defense almost exclusively in the opener. And while they gave up a lot of yards and maybe more points than made some fans comfortable, the RedHawks were never any real threat. Now Greg Mabin covering Lazard scares the hell out of me, but Iowa State’s offense as a whole is not potent enough for Iowa to change what it does. A major contributing factor to the success of the defense under Parker and Parker has been its stability and strong identity. Iowa does what it does, and it does it really well.
The Hawkeyes shouldn’t and probably can’t afford to line up in their base the entire game against the Cyclones. Though Joel Lanning hasn’t proven yet that he can win a game with his arm and has been prone to turning the ball over, I think mixing up coverages and getting pressure will be critical. But Iowa State’s offensive line is likely the worst Iowa will face all year, so they might not need to be too creative in the pass rush. And the Cyclones do have some legitimate threats at receiver. If Iowa is trying something it isn’t comfortable with and blows a coverage, then ISU has the tools there to take advantage.
Bend-don’t-break might be the perfect strategy for this game as well. Iowa State had a horrendous time trying to sustain drive against UNI. The only had two drives all game (of their 15 total drives) with more than five plays; a 6-play drive which ended in a punt from UNI’s 35 yard line (lol, even KF wouldn’t punt from there any more) and an 8-play TD drive. Other than that it was a bunch of 3-and-outs and their two other scoring drives, which were two and three-play drives that featured long TD passes. So, don’t give up those long passes, and Iowa State doesn’t score.
And maybe we are all making a bigger deal out of this than we should. King could just be running his mouth and throwing this out there to get the Cyclone staff overthinking things. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a little bit more movement from King, but Iowa still defaulting to its left/right corners and its cover-6 defense on the majority of snaps.
Attack the edge
Iowa’s offensive strategy in the past against smaller/weaker teams like Miami (OH) was to play the game in a phone booth. They would line up in an I-formation with 22 personnel and just pound the ball up the middle running inside zone after inside zone. It’s a strategy that has worked over the years. The defense gets worn down, and Iowa eventually builds their lead by the end of the game. That’s not what we saw last week though. Greg Davis and New Kirk (and really, probably Brian Ferentz) had a game plan to attack Miami in space. They used their best skill players and got them the ball in places where they could make plays. They relentlessly attacked the outside with slip screens and ran the toss sweep with great success. It wasn’t until the RedHawk defense was tired of chasing LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley and Matt VandeBerg around that the Hawkeyes went heavy and just pounded the ball to seal the game.
That should be a recipe for success this Saturday as well. UNI had a lot of success against Iowa State running QB Aaron Bailey on the outside. Iowa should be able to take advantages of some match-ups even more than UNI was able to against the Cyclones. It will interesting to see how Iowa State uses its different defensive personnel packages. Their base is a 4-2-5, which you would think would be a good match against Iowa’s base 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). (Side note: I didn’t think I’d see the day under Ferentz when well over half of Iowa’s plays would have 3 receivers on the field, but here we are.)
Having a fifth defensive back to cover the third receiver probably plays right into Iowa’s hands. Iowa will run against a six-man box all day. And the receivers proved, especially Jerminic Smith, that they are extremely capable blockers against defensive backs. Though walking a linebacker out to cover VandeBerg in the slot should also be a match-up that Iowa would like to see. So either way, Iowa should have some match ups to exploit.
Continued Kicking Success
The kicking game might have been the biggest question mark of the off season. And for two brand new faces, Keith Duncan and Ron Coluzzi, the first game couldn’t have gone any better. Duncan was a perfect 7 for 7 kicking it through the uprights. While his most challenging kick was a 22-yarder, going 6/6 on PATs isn’t a given….just look at last year. Iowa State also missed a PAT in their opener. Coluzzi averaged 42 yards a punt (and didn’t allow a return) and boomed a 50-yarder. He also knocked 7 of 8 kickoffs for touchbacks.
If Coluzzi can continue to get great hang time on his punts and consistently kick it into the endzone on kickoffs, then that will really limit any chance to getting burned on a return. The Cyclones send back Lazard for punt returns as another way to get the ball in his hands. He didn’t do much last against UNI, but he was really effective in that role last year, as he averaged nearly 20 yards per return on 11 returns. So if Coluzzi can force Lazard to just fair catch the ball, that will be better than giving him a chance to return one. Or, ya know, just never need to punt.
Take the leash off of Beathard
C.J. Beathard had a quiet-ish day against Miami. His numbers were great, especially in the first half. And he was incredibly accurate. He completed 10 of his first 11 passes and finished the day 13/20 for 192 yards and a TD. At least 3 of 4 of those incomplete passes probably should have been caught. There was really only one ball, that he threw way too low and into the ground on a screen to VandeBerg, that was a bad throw. But he really wasn’t asked to do much, either. Most of his passing yards came after the catch on all of those quick screens. He did take a couple of shots down the field and threw both on the money (the flea flicker and the play-action bomb to Vandeberg that was broken up). So let’s see some more of that. Play-action was barely used week 1, but if Iowa gets a run game going and ISU has to commit more guys to stop it, then let Beathard take some shots.
Additionally, it looked Beathard was coached not to run last week. There weren’t any designed QB runs and he either threw the ball away or checked down on the few plays where he probably could have taken off. I think most everyone remembers his 40+ yard run from the 1-yard line that really sparked Iowa’s offense in last year’s game. But he also had some other really great plays in that game with his arm and his legs. Let Beathard go and run this offense and see what he’s got in store for us his senior season. I think it could be pretty special.
Iowa played against a lot of first year or interim coaches last year. And I think the paradigm has shifted when preparing for Iowa. No longer are they the easiest team to scout. The offense has evolved a little bit, but the defensive scheme remains the same. However, Iowa, by being one of the last holdouts to update schemes, they are the different team. I don't think any other team on Iowa State's schedule runs anything close to what Iowa does. In the Big 12, they mainly see different varieties of the spread offense and defenses built to stop the spread. So Iowa should have an advantage there. And really they should have an advantage everywhere on the field. If Iowa limits its mistakes, then it wins. Plain and simple.
Last year's game against Iowa State was one of the only games all regular season where Iowa trailed in the second half. I don't think that will be the case tomorrow. After keeping Beathard mostly in a game manager role Week 1, I think he is used more heavily and to great effect. The run game will come, but I think they'll hold off until the second half when they are ready to bleed some clock to really get it going. The defense will bend some, and give up a big pass or two, but it won't break often. They will continue their success creating turnovers from the opening game, and pick off Lanning at least once. In the end, the margin might not be huge, but Hawkeye fans will feel comfortable in the second half.
Final Score: Iowa 37 - Iowa State 24