The Good: Red Zone Defense
When Rutgers started the game by running straight through Iowa’s defense, there was that “here we go again” feeling. On their opening possession, they marched from their own 25 to Iowa’s eight-yard line. On 3rd and 6, Nick Arcidiacono (they’re cousins) set an illegal pick and Rutgers was suddenly facing 3rd and 21 from Iowa’s 23-yard line. The defense buckled down and Parker Hesse came away with a 13-yard sack. Facing 4th and 34 from Iowa’s 36, Rutgers had to punt the ball away.
In the second quarter, Rutgers moved from their own 21 to Iowa’s three-yard line thanks to a 76 yard run after the catch by Janarion Grant. Unfortunately for Rutgers, the play would cost Grant his season, as Desmond King inadvertently stepped on his ankle. With the Scarlet Knights having 1st and goal at Iowa's three, the defense put up a stand reminiscent of Syracuse in 2007, stopping Rutgers on four straight rushing plays. The final one was the most impressive, as King slowed Chris Laviano up and Josey Jewell came in to finish the job:
Iowa eventually gave up a touchdown in the fourth quarter, when Laviano hit Andre Patton in the corner of the end zone from Iowa’s 14. Nickel Joshua Jackson had good coverage on Patton, so it isn’t anything worth harping over.
The final red zone stop came, arguably, with the game on the line. Midway through the fourth, Rutgers was down 14-7 and quickly moved from their own 25 to Iowa’s 25. The Hawkeye defense once again clamped down, forcing the Scarlet Knights to turn the ball over on downs after four straight rushing plays netted only eight yards.
Considering how the defense looked outside of the red zone, holding Rutgers to only one score on four opportunities is the definition of “bend and don’t break.”
Honorable Mention: Ron Coluzzi, #PUNTGOD.
The Bad: Pass Offense
There were multiple candidates for the Bad. Iowa’s lack of discipline, their apparent unpreparedness or the awful officiating were all honorable mention. Ultimately, I settled on pass offense because it was so frustrating to watch Greg Davis’s playcalling. Davis reminds me of a kid playing Madden that abandons the run after first down because he only gained 2-3 yards. Despite Rutgers being one of the worst rushing defense teams in the nation, allowing 178 yards per game, Davis attempted to test their pass defense, which was ranked 38th in the nation.
The result was C.J. Beathard finishing the day a mere 12-13 for 162 yards, with a measly 7.04 YPA and 13.5 YPC average. He was also sacked twice and had to carry the ball 10 times. Why? The fact that Iowa’s wide receivers only accounted for 53 yards of the total offense probably had something to do with it. While Beathard’s pass protection was better this game (better is a relative term), he still had to hold onto the ball for too long because his wide receivers got zero separation. When he couldn’t find an open receiver he was forced to run, thus the 10 rushing attempts.
There was a noticeable increase in play action and misdirection plays on Saturday, which was a stark contrast to the laughable gameplan against NDSU. That’s good. What’s bad is that Iowa abandoned the run when it was clearly their opponents glaring weakness and attempted to have C.J. Beathard beat Rutgers on his own. C.J. Beathard cannot beat an opponent single-handedly. His accuracy was questionable throughout the entire game and he doesn’t have the support on the outside for Iowa’s offense to be efficient. Iowa needs to find a deep threat to stretch the field. Fast.
PS: Is it me or does C.J. look a lot slower these days?
The Ugly: Run Defense
While the red zone defense was exceptional, the fact that the Iowa defense allowed Rutgers to run all over them is inexcusable. Iowa’s defense allowed 158 rushing yards to Miami (OH), 126 to ISU and 239 to North Dakota State. Against Rutgers, they gave up 232 yards, which was knocked down to 193 when factoring in the four sacks on Laviano. Their rush defense is now ranked 91st in the nation, averaging 174 yards per game. That’s not Iowa football.
And this wasn’t like years past where the Hawkeyes were getting beat on the outside edge. These teams are running right into the heart of Iowa’s defense. Straight up the gut. The tackles are getting swallowed whole and our linebackers frequently find themselves out of position. Josey Jewell is only one man. He can be blocked. Ben Niemann is not fast enough to be caught out of position. Nor is Bo Bower, who is batting about .50 points below the Mendoza Line for "being where he's actually supposed to be."
The solution? It may come in the form of scheme changes. Iowa used the raider frequently on Saturday and it confused the Rutgers offense. The Hawkeyes also successfully blitzed on a couple of occasions. Why? Because opponents are so taken aback by anything other than the 4-3 Cover 2 that they curl up and die when they see a wrinkle from the Hawkeye defense. More wrinkles please, Phil.