THE GOOD: IOWA IN THE CLUTCH
It’s always difficult to write about an unquantifiable metric such as an entire team being “clutch.” Can you really believe that in moments of extreme stress and anxiety, that a person somehow becomes athletically superior? Much more, can you believe that it could happen to an entire team? Science journalist Jeff Wise, the author of Extreme Fear, discussed being “clutch” in an article for Psychology Today. He noted that a clutch performance is essentially the opposite of choking and that “The difference seems to be the amount of training that the person has. Like gross motor skills, very well learned skills seem to thrive under intense pressure.”
Maybe then, when talking about a team being clutch, you’re talking about their training kicking in when it really matters and them outperforming their opponents? That’s what happened in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Iowa State game. Down 31-38 in the fourth quarter, Iowa had less than four minutes to stop Iowa State and score a touchdown to take the game to OT. It’s worth remembering that the drive prior, they’d given up a 74-yard touchdown to Hakeem Butler and really hadn’t bothered tackling David Montgomery all day.
But when it mattered, they did. On first down, when Montgomery attempted to cut to the outside on a handoff, Anthony Nelson brought him down for a short gain. On second down, Iowa State attempted to stretch Montgomery to the edge, an area that Iowa traditionally struggles to contain. But he was contained. On third and eight, Iowa stayed at home on an Iowa State screen pass and forced a punt. What a punt it was…
Iowa got the ball at their own 11 and had 2:54 to score a touchdown. Stanley hit VandeBerg. Wadley ran for eight yards. Stanley missed on a deep ball to VandeBerg (thankfully). Stanley hit Fant for a first down. Finally, Stanley hit Wadley on a dump off across the middle that resulted in an Iowa touchdown to tie the game. Stanley was given time to make every throw. The offensive line not only blocked well on passes but also gave Wadley decent running lanes. Finally, it was Wadley who decided to put the team on his back and who gave Iowa a chance at OT. He was clutch in that moment.
As Wise wrote, the opposite of clutch is choking. And man did Iowa State pick a time to choke. In the first overtime, the Cyclones faced a third and eight and Park threw a perfect pass to Hakeem Butler that would’ve given them a first down. The same Hakeem Butler who had caught five passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Butler dropped it. Iowa State settled for the field goal. That would end up costing them the game.
I think a number of Iowa fans are of the opinion that historically, the Hawkeyes don’t bode well in close games under Kirk Ferentz. 2013 comes to mind. Then again, 2009 and 2015 also come to mind. I don’t really have all the data. Regardless, the Hawkeyes needed to perform well under stress for an extended period of time and they did. That’s why they won.
THE BAD: DISCIPLINE
A part of Iowa being clutch was that they didn’t make any mistakes to close out the game. That wasn’t indicative of how they played the remainder of the contest, as the Hawkeyes were penalized 10 times for 84 yards. I’m comfortable saying that you normally don’t win when you’re penalized for nearly 100 yards in a close game. Some of the penalties were so easy to avoid as well. Offsides? Illegal procedure?
Iowa, a team that prides itself on being fundamentally sound, also showed some truly awful tackling on Saturday. That huge David Montgomery run, where he scrambled across the entire football field for like 40 yards? He broke approximately 3,254,309 arm tackles on way to that massive gain. I think he broke a couple of arm tackles by the same defensive player on more than one occasion. That’s Rose Bowl bush league tackling, Iowa.
THE UGLY: THE DEFENSIVE BACKS
Seems like it was only last week that we were talking about how good our defensive backs looked.
Oh, it was last week? Oh.
Iowa’s defense got shredded for 347 yards through the air and gave up four passing touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came on defensive backs literally falling down on the football field. A third came on our safety getting absolutely destroyed by a double move and Hakeem Butler running wild. They were also responsible for three pass interference penalties.
This is saying nothing of the lazy tackling. Unfortunately, I’m gonna single out Jake Gervase, who did the number one worst thing a defensive player can do while tackling: putting your head down, looking at the ground and hoping your arms will finish the job. His arms did not finish the job on that long Montgomery run. And it wasn’t just him. Both safeties had rough days and our cornerbacks didn’t do themselves any favors.
In fairness, Iowa State’s wide receivers are pretty darn athletic -- and big. Butler is 6’6. Lazard is 6’5. Also, Iowa’s defensive line giving Jacob Park all day to throw isn’t acceptable. A green defensive backfield can only stem the tide for so long. In conclusion, the Iowa State game should teach us a lesson: if Iowa can’t get pressure on the quarterback, someone is going to get open.