The Good: The Other Guys
We reacted with utter horror when we saw this Tweet from Gary Dolphin:
Josey Jewell and Brandon Snyder not playing today. Niemann to middle, Gervase at safety.— Gary Dolphin (@GaryDolphin) October 21, 2017
See, the primary reason Northwestern has historically given Iowa fits is due to Mick McCall’s offense spreading out Iowa’s base 4-3 defense (historically, every spread team gives Iowa fits). This often matches up more athletic slot receivers or running backs against our linebackers, who typically struggle in pass protection. If Iowa was going to beat Northwestern and going to slow down Justin Jackson, they needed Josey Jewell. If for nothing else other than his ability to be the defensive field captain.
Or maybe they needed Brandon Snyder. The sophomore safety is one of Iowa’s better defensive backs, if not the most important due to how he commands the defensive backfield. Miles Taylor did not play well in Snyder’s absence. Amani Hooker has been playing well but he’s only had limited starts and isn’t ready to take control of the defensive backs. So it came down to Jake Gervase, who had disappeared from the depth chart following a string of missed tackles and poor performances.
Gervase responded with his best game of the season. Yes, I realize that’s a low bar. Yes, I realize that he only recorded six total tackles. Yes, there was that Justin Jackson play that we’ll talk about later. But in the end, Gervase didn’t make any mistakes, tackled well and didn’t give up the big play. That’s the best thing we can ask for from a backup and much-maligned safety.
As for Josey Jewell missing the game, Ben Niemann took his place and we got our first glimpse at Kevin Ward at outside linebacker. He did fine. You might recall that Ward spent the entirety of his career at safety before this season. So for him to be used at OLB in the Northwestern game actually made sense. He recorded seven total tackles and played a pretty good game.
And sure, there was the 21-yard run by Thorson on 3rd and 15 that set up the Northwestern touchdown in the third quarter. And there was the Justin Jackson reception in overtime that set up their game-winning touchdown. I’d like to think that things would be different if Josey Jewell or Brandon Snyder were in the game. But I doubt it. Because Jewell and Snyder had nothing to do with the offense scoring 10 points. You’re not going to win a lot of road games in the Big Ten by only scoring 10 points.
The Bad: Discipline
I’ve been saying it all year: Iowa needs to shore up their mistakes and become a more disciplined football team or it’s going to cost them games. So here we are. Iowa was penalized six times for 50 yards and turned the ball over via a comical Nate Stanley interception. Nationally, Iowa isn’t terribly penalized, ranking 36th out of 129 teams in penalties per game. But that doesn’t account for situational mistakes. Iowa was facing 4th and 1 at the Northwestern 26 in the fourth quarter. A touchdown would likely seal the game. What does Iowa do? They commit a false start due to pre-snap motion and are required to kick a 48-yard field goal.
Question: Why use pre-snap motion on a 4th and 1? Everyone knows it’s either going to be a quarterback sneak or a power run. There’s no misdirection required.
While we’re talking about discipline, I think I’ll take a second to talk about Iowa’s punt return game. Discipline can mean a lot of things, including making smarter decisions. Joshua Jackson is not making smart decisions. He is having a stellar year at cornerback and is personally, my surprise player of the year on defense. But he is a bee ehh dee, BAD punt returner. He’s not even going the Micah Hyde thing where he’s fair catching every single ball. Now he’s letting balls go over his head and allowing the opponent to down them inside the 10. Bill C says that Iowa’s averaging starting field position is the 32. On the aggregate, that might be accurate. But I’m willing to bet that Iowa has started the most drives inside the 10 in the nation due to punt return mistakes.
The Ugly: Brian Ferentz
It’s not even worth picking on individual players any longer. Did Nate Stanley have some sort of miscommunication with his WR and throw a laughable interception? Yes. Did Noah Fant drop the ball on 4th down in overtime that cost Iowa an opportunity to keep the drive alive and to tie the game? Yes. Did Nick Easley have butterfingers? Yes. A lot of individual mistakes were made by Iowa players on Saturday.
However, I’m not going to assign blame to every player because I don’t believe they’re being put in a position to succeed. Akrum Wadley is not a good between the tackles runner. Toren Young is better. There, I said it. Akrum Wadley is one of the most electric players in space in the entire country. How many attempts were there by Iowa to get Akrum Wadley into space? How many screen passes were called? Or wheel routes? Or just a dump-off or two?
If running it up the middle isn’t working why do you keep running it up the middle? What’s with the pass, run, pass, punt offense? What’s with the “we can only score 10 points on the road” offense? 76 yards in the entire second half? Are you shitting me? “BUT BRIAN COACHED FOR BILL BELICHICK”. OK? So did Charlie Weis. With how this offense is performing, it looks like Brian Ferentz learned everything he knows from Marty Mornhinweg. This is bad. Like, worse than The Cobbler starring Adam Sandler.
Iowa is now ranked 103rd in total offense, 124th in red zone offense and 81st in scoring offense out of 129 teams. I’m sure there have been worse offenses in Iowa Football Under Kirk Ferentz History but there’s no question that this is top five. We were sort of led to believe that with his pedigree, Brian was to be the next big thing. Instead, he looks like Mike Shula.
If I have one hot take it’s that Iowa will be a totally different football team this week. They’ll come out excited in a rivalry game and their offense will click. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win comfortably. Why? Because if there’s one constant, it’s that Ferentz & Co. know how to rebound. They are about as reactionary as can be.
What we should be concerned about is how Iowa looks after the Minnesota game. Because usually, after Iowa goes out and tries something new to great success, they fall right back into their old habits and disappoint us.