Iowa Spring Game: Six Things We Learned

By RossWB on April 25, 2017 at 8:44 pm
Go Jake Go
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So, yes, this is a bit late.  Apologies for that.  Better late than never, right? 

Iowa held their Spring Game on Friday evening and for the first time in many (many) years, it was actually more of a game and less of an open practice/scrimmage. That was kind of fun. Thanks to the wacky scoring system, the gold team (defense) beat the black team (offense), 63-47, but to paraphrase Who's Line Is it Anyway: the score's made up and the points don't matter. 

The main takeaway from the game was that the new-look offense, um, struggled.  Like, a lot. Per Marc Morehouse's stats, Tyler Wiegers completed 12 of 23 passes for 99 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Nathan Stanley completed 6 of 17 passes for 13 yards, an interception, and a touchdown. The offense scored two touchdowns all night and one of those was set up by a short field after an interception return by the defense.  There weren't a lot of feel-good moments for the offense, especially in the passing game.  

Then again, this also isn't all that surprising. The defense is almost always ahead of the offense during the spring and after practicing with them day-in and day-out, they likely have a pretty good idea about what to expect the offense to do.  The offense was also being led by a new coordinator and had new faces at QB coach, WR coach, and OL coach (in fact, every position coach on offense is new or has new responsibilities, except for Woods with the tight ends). They were also breaking in two quarterbacks without much game experience, as well as several running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends without much game experience. So some struggles likely should have been expected. 

Things should be a little bit better by fall -- the players should be a little bit more familiar with the offensive schemes and terminology and there will be some more experience in the mix when Matt VandeBerg and (hopefully) Jerminic Smith return. But Iowa's likely going to be short on skill position experience no matter what this fall; hopefully the new guys learn quickly. 

Akrum, J Jackson returned punts

Wiegers worked with 1s, Stanley with 2s? 

1 off vs 1 def, 2 off vs 2 def?

Toks

TDs
1) Stanley to Devonte Young short pass; set up by Gervase INT
2) Toren Young 10 yd TD run?

A few more thoughts... 

1) There is no clear leader in the quarterback race. 

Based on what we've seen from the performances in this game and back at the open practice in Des Moines a few weeks ago, Ferentz really hasn't been blowing smoke when he's said that Wiegers and Stanley have been very even this year. He's right: there doesn't seem to be much of a gap between either guy right now. The bad news is that neither guy looks all that good, either. Both guys struggled with accuracy, timing, and overthrows on Friday night and both struggled at times to read defenses and see opponents in the passing lanes. It definitely seems like this race is going to continue for a while; hopefully the performances of each improve by September.

2) Hello, Jake Gervase.

A few players stood out in Friday's game, but the headliner was definitely Jake Gervase, who replaced the injured Brandon Snyder at FS and had a brilliant performance, picking off Wiegers and Stanley three times and returning one of the interceptions all the way for a touchdown. 

At least one of his trio of interceptions seemed to be the result of miscommunication between the quarterback and the receiver, but hey: three picks is three picks and Gervase showed off some good hands and good instincts for the ball in the defensive center field. The Spring Game is just one data point, but it's hard to argue that he's not the clear frontrunner to replace Snyder as Iowa's starting free safety this fall. And, hey, him rocking #30 brings back all kinds of (good) memories of Brett Greenwood patrolling the secondary for Iowa.

3) Toren it up.

As fully expected (and desired), Akrum Wadley saw almost no action on Friday night. I saw him fair catch a punt and I think that was the extent of his involvement. And, again, that's just fine -- we know what Wadley can do and we certainly don't need him to get injured during the damn spring game. In his absence, Toks Akinribade and Toren Young got most of the carries. Akinribade carried eight times for 22 yards, while Young carried 23 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Young ran with the second-team offense in the first half and the first-team offense in the second half and he had success in both halves. He looked the part of an Iowa running back like LeShun Daniels or Albert Young: he's a solidly-built back that's effective at making one cut and getting downfield. He read his blocks well and did a good job of moving forward and picking up yards. He's not a burner and certainly doesn't have the big play ability of a guy like Wadley, but he looks like a potentially effective counterpoint to Wadley in the Iowa running game. Akinribade continues to struggle to find a rhythm in the Iowa offense in his limited opportunities. 

Meanwhile, Akrum didn't run on Friday night, but he did have some things to say: 

Dream big, Akrum!

4) Get ready for a lot of tight end action.

Iowa was all about the heavy looks on Friday night. 

And Iowa wasn't afraid to use the tight ends in those formations, either. Nine of Iowa's 18 receptions in the game came from tight ends, led by TJ Hockenson's four catches for 14 yards. Shaun Beyer had two catches for 11 yards, Noah Fant had two grabs for 25 yards, and Jon Wisnieski had one catch for 16 yards (maybe Iowa's biggest pass play of the game). Hockenson and Fant worked with Iowa's first-team offense and looked promising -- in addition to their pass-catching ability, they also got after it in run-blocking as well and made some key blocks. Beyer and Wisnieski worked with the second-team offense and Drew Cook and Nate Vejvoda subbed in at tight end late. Two other tight ends -- Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting -- did not play. Iowa has an army of tight ends at their disposal this fall and it looks like we should expect to see them on the field and involved in the offense a lot. 

Of course, one reason that we saw so much tight end action on Friday night is because the wide receiver pickings were a bit slim. That should change this fall as VandeBerg and (hopefully) Smith return and if one or more of the incoming recruits can make an early impact (please oh please), although this is still going to be an offense that relies heavily on tight ends. Adrian Falconer, Devonte Young, and Nick Easley worked with the first-team offense; Falconer had one catch for seven yards and Young had one catch for two yards (although it was a touchdown). Surprisingly, Easley, who was our heavy favorite for the Jay Scheel/Dapper Donny Nordmann Spring Game Superstar Award and the recipient of a lot of praise from the coaches all spring, did not have any catches in this game. Dominique Daffney, Connor Keane, and Ronald Nash worked with the second-team offense; they combined for five catches for 29 yards on the evening. 

5) Iowa is bursting with defensive ends.

The Iowa offense is drowning in tight ends and the Iowa defense is drowning in defensive ends. We've come a long way from a few years ago when Iowa was forced to play an undersized and inexperienced guys like Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson heavy minutes. On Friday night, Iowa got good play from their two most experienced options, Hesse and Anthony Nelson, and also got some strong performances from two newbies, as Chad Leistikow pointed out

The first sack of the night went to redshirt freshman defensive end Brandon Simon (6-1, 240), who on his first snap spun past No. 2 left tackle Alaric Jackson to tag Stanley. Simon was a disruptive force.

Also causing commotion was redshirt freshman Chauncey Golston (6-5, 255). He single-handedly created a three-and-out while working with the second-team defense. On first-and-10, he overpowered right tackle Lucas LeGrand to stuff Young for no gain. On second-and-10, he crashed inside to help stop Young for a 2-yard gain. And on third-and-8, he shoved LeGrand backward so that Stanley had to rush a 6-yard completion to Beyer.

Matt Nelson didn't even play on Friday night (he's nursing a foot injury), but is expected back for this summer, when the defensive end crew will be joined by 5* super-recruit A.J. Epenesa. That is a whole lot of exciting options to have at defensive end. 

Given the surplus of talent at defensive end and Iowa's need for impact players at defensive tackle, it wouldn't come as any sort of a surprise of some of Iowa's current ends moved inside. Cedrick Lattimore did some good things as one of Iowa's first team defensive tackles, though, and getting Nathan Bazata back (also out injured this spring) will help the situation at defensive tackle. Brady Reiff did not play Friday night, but got a lot of rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring. Iowa's defensive line depth could -- could -- be pretty salty this fall.

6) The rest of the defense looked solid, too. 

There weren't a lot of surprises in Iowa's defensive back-seven, but there was a lot of solid play. Jewell, Niemann, and Bower were the starters at linebacker, although Kristian Welch subbed in for Jewel at MLB on several plays and had an impact (he notched a sack) and Aaron Mends and Amani Jones saw some snaps for Bower at WLB. Josh Jackson and Manny Rugamaba were the starters at corner, with Michael Ojemudia seeing action in nickel packages. Gervase was the first team free safety, with Miles Taylor and Amani Hooker rotating (Taylor first half, Hooker second half) as first team strong safety. Rugamba and Jackson looked good blanketing Iowa's receivers (of course, on the flip side, it wasn't encouraging to see Iowa's receivers still struggling to get separation and get open) and Iowa's linebackers are a known (and very strong) commodity. The safety play on Friday night was generally pretty solid (Gervase was pretty much excellent, as noted above), although given their lack of experience, we'll need to see them in action more to feel really comfortable. Overall, though, this looks like it could have the makings of a typically stout Iowa defense. 

(If you're looking for first team/second team breakdowns and stats, Morehouse is your man.)

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