Four Factor Friday: Iowa at Penn State

By Eric Ponto on November 4, 2016 at 4:19 pm
Iowa will try to shut down PSU's offense.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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Use Wadley and Daniels wisely

The big talking point coming out of the bye week from the coordinators' presser was the idea that Wadley and Daniels could see the field at the same time. Wadley confirmed that he has been lining up in the slot some in practice on Tuesday. We’ve heard about this sort of deal in the past. Iowa very, very briefly toyed with the idea of Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock taking snaps together. That quickly died however as both of them (especially Weisman) already had a large load.

But the idea of Wadley in the slot is pretty intriguing. He has been the offense’s most dynamic playmaker and attempts to get him free in space to the outside from out of the backfield have been diminishing as teams have quickly clued onto his special package of run plays. Defenses see Daniels in and key on inside and to a lesser extent outside zones. With Wadley in the game they are running more pin-and-pull plays both with a hand-off and with a pitch. He also runs some counter-type plays. He will more rarely run inside zones (even though those have been really effective, partially because they are not expected).

So at the very least a new look with Wadley in the slot will not give the defense an easy key this week. And hopefully Iowa can expand the role so that it is an unpredictable look for the rest of the season. If he’s coming in just to run jet sweeps from the slot (which I do think would be a very good play call) a la Jonathan Parker, then they will quickly lose their effectiveness. Or if he just runs some bubble/slip screens (which could again be a good play call and that he could be more dynamic running it than Riley McCarron or Ronald Nash) that could quickly get predictable. So if they use him in the slot hopefully they will actually give him other normal slot receiver routes as well and that his role could grow into something more.

At the very least though, Wadley-in-the-slot could be the effective decoy that we’ve all been hoping Desmond King could be on offense. Maybe they just run a jet sweep once with Wadley, but still use that motion just to keep the defense honest while they are running up the gut with Daniels. Whatever this turns into, hopefully it can help provide a spark in the run game against a Penn State defense that looks somewhat susceptible to the run.

Move Beathard

Beathard taking a normal 7-step drop and trying to find receivers down the field is not working. The receivers aren’t open, the protection (which has been better, on the whole) starts to collapse, and Beathard goes down or throws it away. We haven’t seen that magic from Beathard where he scrambles and makes a ridiculous play in a long, long time. In a few games this year he has been unleashed and able to run and extend plays. But for the most part he’s been sitting in the pocket.

The waggle, an Iowa staple under KF, hasn’t been used a lot. Any sort of play action, for that matter, hasn’t been used a lot. He hasn’t been put in position to make plays and is instead relying on receivers trying to get open before the pocket collapses. And the receivers aren’t getting open. Blame talent all you want, but it is more of a scheme thing. We’ve seen this same issue since Greg Davis arrived and especially during his first year. The wide receivers just aren’t confident in running their decision routes. They are moving too slow and spending too much energy thinking about what they need to do. You see on the routes that they aren’t making decisiona, like the screens, that they are fast enough and can make guys miss. So let’s simplify, move Beathard out of the pocket, have the receivers run simpler combo routes on that one side of the field and allow Iowa to have some success through the air.

Stop Saquon Barkley

I don’t usually focus too much on a single opposing team’s player unless they are really good….and Barkley is really good and has started taking off in the last month or so. In his last three efforts he’s had two games over 200 yards on the ground and on the season he’s averaging six yards per carry. He also has 10 touchdowns to his name this year.

Penn State’s offense line has really come together as of late and their offense has greatly benefited. They put up 62 points on lowly Purdue last week. Really the only team to shut PSU’s offense down was Michigan and they’ve shut down everybody’s offense.

Iowa can’t only focus on Barkley, though, because if they do, Trace McSoley, the quarterback, can put up some yards on the ground as well. He carried it 19 times in a win over Ohio State and 18 times the week before. So the linebackers are going to have to be really disciplined and make sound tackles when PSU spreads it out and run a bunch of zone-reads.

Avoid the burst of points

Penn State has won a lot of its games this year by keeping it close, then exploding for a huge quarter. Most notably against Ohio State they were down 21-7 entering the fourth quarter, but then had a long Barkley run followed by a long pass that set up a touchdown, then OSU went three-and-out and PSU had a long punt return that set them up for a quick field goal, and then on the next drive they blocked a field goal and took it to the house to win. 17 points scored just like that and they knocked off the then-#2 team.

There was a similar story in the Minnesota game where they were trailing at half, but then came out in the third quarter, had an 80-yard touchdown pass, on the next drive had another long pass that set up a field goal, and then on the next drive had a 50+ yard pass that set up a touchdown. And just like that the game was tied and they eventually won in overtime.

Even last week against Purdue, the game was close for a long time. It was actually tied at half time. I was thinking, okay, maybe Iowa will have a chance against Penn State if Purdue can hang around… and then Penn State quickly put up 24 points in the 3rd quarter to put the game out of reach and then added 21 more in the fourth just for show.

So Iowa can’t afford to let a burst like that happen. If they give up one big play, then okay…just respond on offense. But if they give up a big play, then another one of the next drive, and then throw a pick right after that, then there will be no recovering.

Prediction

Penn State has hit 30 points in five games this year and their offense seems like it is going in the right direction. Iowa’s defense has also improved as the year has gone on, though, and has only allowed 30 points twice, against Northwestern and then against Purdue (though that one comes with a big asterisk). I think Iowa can limit Penn State to finish in the 20-point range rather than 30, but will the Hawkeye offense be able to keep up?

I think Iowa will come out better with a good plan out of the bye week. The offense will move the ball okay early, but then as the game wears on they won’t be able to keep up. Once Penn State gets a lead and Iowa has to pass more, the offense won’t be able to sustain success and ultimately will fall short.

Final Score: Iowa 17, Penn State 24

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