Four Factor Friday: Iowa vs Northwestern

By Eric Ponto on September 30, 2016 at 3:25 pm
Iowa going to keep Northwestern from diving into the endzone like this.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
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The Wadley - Daniels Balance

The play calling with Wadley in the game versus Daniels in the game is getting a little too predictable. While Wadley has shredded Northwestern during his career, Greg Davis is going to have to keep the defense honest when he is in the game. With Daniels they pretty much just run inside/outside zones, and then when they go to a heavy personnel formation they will run power looks (especially at the end of games). With Wadley, however, they stray away from KF’s bread-and-butter and focus more on trying to get him to the outside and in space using counter plays and tosses.

We saw in Week One against Miami (OH) when they accidentally left Daniels in but called a Wadley play (the toss sweep) that Daniels is capable of working in space as well. And just this last week, Wadley scored on a pin-and-pull outside zone run. But what wasn’t as effective were Wadley’s “other” type plays. Rutgers was disciplined and didn’t fall for the counter, they recognized the toss sweep (which Iowa telegraphs either by formation or motion), and Wadley, while he had a good day, wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped he might be against a bad defense.

So this week I want Iowa to continue mixing up its playcalling, but don’t do it so much based on the running back in the game. Yes, the guys are different type of backs, but not so different that they need completely different packages. This should be especially effective against a Northwestern defense that has been really poor at stopping the run.

Take advantage of the bad NW offensive line

I’m not sure if Northwestern’s line is Iowa State-bad, but it is still bad. While Northwestern has a good backfield with their RB Justin Jackson and QB Clayton Thorson, their offense hasn’t been able to get anything going thanks to the offensive line play. Iowa hasn’t exactly been looking great up front against the run or getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Against Rutgers, Phil Parker employed a more aggressive defense after staying mainly in the base defense for non-conference games. The safeties were crashing down at the snap. They played more cover 1 and even cover 0. And the Raider package was used much more consistently on passing downs. While the defense gave up yards, their aggressiveness paid off. They got key stops with their backs against the wall and forced a turnover that led to the game-winning score by Wadley.

Parker needs to keep that up and really attack NW’s bad offensive line.

Force Field Goals

For years Northwestern has dinked and dunked its way down the field against Iowa defenses. While they may not have the offensive line to do that consistently this year, when they are on the move it’ll be important for Iowa to hold the Wildcats to field goal attempts. And let me highlight the word “attempts” because for NW this year, no FG, no matter how short, is a given. They have really struggled this year with placekicking. Their starter, Jack Mitchell, is just 1-4 on field goals this year and has missed an extra point. They’ve reach kicker controversy levels now as the backup is now listed as an “or” with Mitchell on the depth chart. Either way, it’s a big win for the Iowa defense if Northwestern is settling for field goal attempts.

Side note here, it’d also be nice to see Keith Duncan have a real field goal attempt sooner rather than later. Maybe in the first half in this game. I mean, I’d rather get touchdowns, but you know…

The extra blocker

With Matt VandeBerg injured, Northwestern’s not-so-great run defense, and Iowa’s success last year running the ball, expect Iowa to come out using heavier personnel and look to hand it off at a higher rate. The 11 personnel (three wide receivers, a tight end, and a running back) has been Iowa’s base personnel. They had been using it around half of the time (against ISU they used it 60% of the time) but that number shrank last week against Rutgers. Peter Pekar, the second TE, and Brady Ross, the fullback, were used a whole lot more and the 3-wide look when down to just 40% of the snaps. I would expect that trend to continue and that even fewer plays will feature three receivers.

So Pekar and Ross (and Drake Kulick, the other fullback) will need to step up their games. They have all been okay, but while re-watching the game I noticed a few times that the play was blown up because Pekar didn’t hold his block long enough and other plays where the fullback didn’t quite get that devastating lead block to spring the running back.

They might just be called upon in the passing game, too. Iowa’s going to have to throw it out of heavier personnel formation more often (they only threw it on five out of the 23 plays that a fullback was in versus Rutgers). Pekar has yet to catch a pass and I can’t even recall him being targeted. Ross did haul in a grab last week in a rare Iowa fullback touch.

So these are the guys I’m watching tomorrow. Their blocking will be the difference between another okay rushing performance (like last week) and a great rushing performance (like the NW game last year).

Prediction

Iowa had a hangover game last week. I think a lot of us thought that they’d come out looking hungry and angry. But the reality was far from it. This is homecoming, though, back in Kinnick, against a “real” B1G school, and I think Iowa will look a lot sharper. I think the Northwestern offense will still be able to move the ball, similar to what Rutgers did against Iowa. They’ll find some space between the 20s and but don’t have the line to be effective in scoring range. On offense, Iowa will fo much more run-heavy and I think with a good mix of run plays they will be able to move the ball. I would expect maybe a few more “exotics” from Davis this week running the ball. Maybe another reverse or a flea-flicker, or perhaps the resurgence of the jet sweep that has died with Jonathan Parker's absence. Beathard will have a much better day being asked to do less… likely some play-action and some shorter throws on first down. It might look a little more like the horizontal offense, but that should be okay this week.

Final Score: Iowa 27 - Northwestern 14
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