The Good: Defensive Line
Last week it was the defensive end. Now, we’re giving it to the entire defensive line. Let’s start with this brilliant sack by Matt Nelson which features a wonderful swim move and a SPLAT of Kyle Kempt:
Fast forward to the 4th quarter. Down 13-3, Iowa State desperately needs something from backup quarterback Zeb Noland. A.J. Epenesa pulls a Mutombo:
Memo to @HawkeyeFootball opponents:
When @ajepenesa24 comes after the QB, he's looking for much more than just the sack.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) September 9, 2018
That’s two strip sacks in as many weeks for Epenesa, who has absolutely terrorized both quarterbacks he has faced. On the day he had five tackles, two sacks, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. The line in its entirety amassed 14 tackles, three TFL, three sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. They were also responsible for keeping David Montgomery in check, as Iowa’s penetration at the line of scrimmage forced the Dark Horse Heisman Contender to hesitate and gave the rest of the defense an opportunity to swarm the running back. On the day he only finished with 44 yards on 17 carries, a measly 2.6 YPC.
To close last week’s Good, I said “There are a lot of questions at linebacker so it’s a luxury having such talent and depth at defensive end, a position that could very well win Iowa a game or two this season.” At this point I’m comfortable saying it’s a luxury having such talent and depth on the entire defensive line, a position that has won Iowa a game or two this season. End will always get more recognition, but guys like Lattimore, Bazata, Reiff and Matt Nelson (at tackle) are doing trenchwork that is allowing big things to happen on the outside.
RE: Epenesa. He will be better than Matt Roth and Adrian Clayborn. Book it.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Smith, Djimon Colbert, Matt Hankins, Michael Ojemudia, that 45-minute I-O-W-A chant.
The Bad: Skill Position Players That Aren’t Brandon Smith, Toren Young or Mekhi Sargent
Something occurred to me late in the game: Nate Stanley has been bad this year. This isn’t just talking about his completion percentage, which, by the way, is down from 55.8 to 52.9. I readily admit there have been drops. There were two “official” drops this game, bringing the season total to five. It’s not his completion percentage, it’s been his absolute inability to hit a receiver in stride for the first two games of the season. This isn’t even talking so much about his deep ball or his problems with throws across the middle. This is more referring to him throwing it at his receiver’s feet on every single sideline comeback route.
And the deep balls? Yikes. There was a play (I don’t remember when) when Stanley had probably 10-15 yards of open room to run and pick up a first down. Instead, he scrambled outside the pocket and directed his wide receiver to go deep…promptly leading him to overthrow the ball by five yards. Stanley's aversion to running makes sense as he's a junior quarterback under Kirk Ferentz, but it also stymies Iowa's offense.
No, Stanley isn’t being given a lot to work with on the outside. He had a great connection with Smith-Marsette, but ISM had another drop earlier in the game. Nick Easley is not a #1 or #2 wide receiver, he’s a slot guy. The best offensive play of the day was Stanley hitting Smith on the fade, which, credit to Stanley, was a brilliant pass and credit to Smith, was a great over the shoulder catch:
Brandon Smith pic.twitter.com/kDCb14jcwh
— Lucas Lee (@LucasLeeIowa) September 8, 2018
It’s fine if Brian wants to continue to try to run the passing offense through the tight ends. He can try to do that. But as we saw on Saturday, if an opposing team loads the box and crowds the middle of the field, it makes getting the ball to your tight end much more difficult. Stanley needs to be better. His wide receivers need to be better. Maybe the connection between Stanley and Smith is the confidence that Brandon needs to get things going. I hope so.
Honorable Mention: Spencer Tillman's atrocious color commentary and Matt Campbell refusing to say Iowa in the post-game interview.
The Ugly: First Down Play-Calling
This was so unbelievable that I actually had to go through and tabulate it. Excluding the final drive to kill the clock and the 2-yard touchdown run, here are Iowa's tallied first down plays:
- Of the 20 first down plays, 14 were runs.
- Of those runs, 10 were for four yards or less.
- On average, Iowa rushed for 3.6 YPC on first down.
- Overall, Iowa averaged 3.65 yards on first down.
For a team that has such a thin margin of error when it comes to offense, 3.65 yards on first down is not going to cut it. Quite honestly, the only reason it is 3.65 yards is that Iowa started to wear down the Cyclones in the second half. It was almost impressive that Iowa continued to run into an 8-man box, with zero effectiveness. Matt Campbell dared Iowa to throw and the only reason Iowa actually scored a touchdown was because Stanley connected with Smith on a beautiful pass.
You probably don’t believe me, but Iowa State could be one of the better defenses Iowa will see all year. That being said, Iowa will see better defenses this year. Scoring three points in the first half of a game will not cut it in conference play because Iowa’s offense is not built to come from behind. The Hawkeyes offense has been, well, bad, and Brian Ferentz’s unoriginal play-calling is primarily to blame. For example: If everyone knows you’re going to run on first down, considering not running on first down. We’re in year two of the Brian Ferentz Project and things don’t look much different from year one. One has to think that if his last name wasn’t Ferentz, there might be a bit more criticism levied his way. Regardless, he might consider opening the playbook up.
LOL who am I kidding? This is a Kirk Ferentz era offensive coordinator we’re talking about here. Three yards and a cloud of punt, baby. Forever and ever.