The Good: Bend Don’t Break (Again)
It’s getting repetitive at this point. Iowa’s first defensive series was bad, primarily due to Michigan State abusing Manny Rugamba’s replacement at cornerback, Michael Ojemudia. A reminder that Ojemudia is a redshirt sophomore with no starting experience. He was lined up against Felton Davis III, a 6’4 junior that has been waiting patiently for three years to break out.
Now, you have to ask yourself, why wouldn’t Iowa put Joshua Jackson on Davis? Why wouldn’t they have their best CB roam the field when he’s so clearly overmatched? That’s a good question. Maybe Parker and Ferentz don’t do that (and have almost never done that) because they expect the safeties to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, here’s what happens to Iowa’s safeties (focus on #19):
Brandon Snyder is supposedly going to be back this week and I don’t care if he has a leg like Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump, he needs to play strong safety. I don’t care if Iowa has to give Geno Stone a shot because Taylor never (never ever ever) seems to be in position.
Michigan State’s second touchdown of the game was all but a gimme. They started from Iowa’s 31-yard line thanks to a pitiful 36-yard punt by Colten Rastetter and an 11-yard return by Laress Nelson. Iowa scored their next possession and the field position game began.
Just like Penn State, the Spartans were blessed with excellent field position on nearly every drive. Their average starting position was their 39-yard line. Iowa’s was their own 22. That’s a massive difference.
How? Well, multiple factors. First off, Colten Rastetter is a not good punter that only averages 39.7 yards per punt. Iowa was pinned in their own end zone multiple times and because they were totally incompetent on offense, they needed Rastetter to bail them out. He never did. Second off, despite being a very good cornerback, Joshua Jackson is a not good punt returner that either fair catches the ball too often or lets it roll at literally the most inopportune time possible.
That being said, Michigan State made it past Iowa’s 40-yard line seven times and they only walked away with 17 points. Secondary aside, this defense is damn impressive.
PS: If there’s one complaint about the defense, it’s their blitzing. I know they rarely do it but when they actually do blitz, they run right into the defenders. What is with that? Are they aware you should attempt to avoid the offensive lineman?
The Bad: Discipline (Again)
Here we go again. Except for this time it’s a bit different because Iowa’s sloppiness cost them a chance at winning the football game. I don’t think that happened with Penn State.
Where do we begin? The seven penalties for 47 yards is bad enough. But hey, penalties happen.
It’s the turnovers and the drops that killed Iowa. The Hawkeyes stormed out of halftime, driving from their own 31 to the Michigan State five-yard line. Nathan Stanley made some magic happen by escaping a sack and then did something unbelievable:
Nate Stanley ... interception? Michigan State ball. pic.twitter.com/gxiyd9BDFX— On Iowa (@GazetteOnIowa) September 30, 2017
Short of a pick six or a scoop and score, that was the worst possible scenario for Iowa. In a game that featured so few offensive drives by the Hawkeyes, they couldn’t afford to walk away from one without any points. Nate Stanley is a hell of a football player. The overthrows are starting to get frustrating but for a true sophomore, he's impressive. But dammit, quit fumbling the football. Stanley has now lost three fumbles this season. This time it cost Iowa points and a chance (at most) to tie the football game.
On Iowa’s second drive of the third quarter, they were once again moving the ball. They’d driven it to the Michigan State 38 yard-line before Brandon Smith fumbled, attempting to break a tackle on a screen. And no, I'm not going to hear any argument that Smith shouldn't be in the game. He was brought in to make plays. You can only make plays if you play. Did he screw up? Yes, big time. But "he shouldn't have been in the game in that situation" is a shitty argument and it's not like it was the final drive of the fourth quarter.
Nevertheless, an Iowa drive that was moving stalled and once again, they walked away with zero points. What if Stanley didn’t fumble and they kicked a field goal? What if that second drive resulted in a touchdown?
On the penultimate Iowa drive of the game, they’re at their own 12-yard line and facing a 3rd and 5. Stanley passes the ball to Easley on a crossing route a couple short of the line to gain. There are defenders but Easley has the speed to at least get around the edge and get the first down. Instead, he drops it.
The Ugly: The Whole Damn Offense
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m crazy. Call me crazy: I don’t think Akrum Wadley should be running first out of the zone blocking scheme. I think Toren Young should. Akrum Wadley ran 17 times for 30 yards against Michigan State. That’s an average of 1.8 YPC. His best run came on this draw play:
Every other play was basically out of a zone-blocking scheme, as is Iowa’s bread and butter. Years prior, Akrum Wadley was the change of pace back to guys like Canzeri and Daniels. Now he’s the feature back. Well, here are your stats on Akrum Wadley as a feature back:
Do you think that’s a coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s not like Iowa’s offense scheme has changed dramatically under Brian Ferentz. We’ve tried three different offensive coordinators since 2000 and you might notice some consistency in how conservative they are. You probably assumed that by starting Wadley you’d get the same results you got when he was co-starter last season. You thought wrong. He was the opposite of LeShun Daniels. He was the speed and quickness to LeShun Daniels’s power. That’s the type of thing that kept defenses honest. With Wadley being the workhorse, there is no change of pace. Maybe it’s time to allow Toren Young to be that change of pace and let him come out of the gate as your zone blocking back?
If you think I’m advocating for Young to start or split carries, I’m not. I’m just saying Iowa needs more than a no-dimensional running attack.
With Iowa’s running game non-existent, they relied on Nathan Stanley to win the game for them. He did not do that. But it’s not all his fault. I’m thinking the Hawkeyes miss Ike Boettger more than they’re willing to let on. Stanley was sacked three times on Saturday and hurried EIGHT (8!!!) times. In contrast, Michigan State’s quarterback was hurried once. His offensive line simply needs to step up and give him more time to throw. He isn’t holding the ball for too long. He just isn’t getting the appropriate time to throw the ball.
Could Brian Ferentz use more misdirection? Yes. Play action was working on Saturday. It will probably work every Saturday because defenses expect Iowa to run. Those swing passes are a good idea. Screen passes are too. Iowa has the plays in the playbook to beat overly aggressive teams, they just need to call them more often.
Finally, what on earth is with our audible packages? Every audible is either a run left or a run right. Brian has to give Stanley more plays to work with or if he has, Nate needs to actually use them. An audible to a run in the opposite direction hasn’t worked since [ERROR NOT FOUND]. Iowa hasn’t audibled to a pass since Rick Stanzi was on the team.
I joke but seriously…has Iowa audibled to a pass since 2010?