THE GOOD, BAD & UGLY 2018: MINNESOTA

By Mike Jones on October 8, 2018 at 12:00 pm
© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

© Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

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The Good: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

I’ve been admittedly skeptical of Iowa’s offense this season because, y’know, I’ve been writing about Ken O’Keefe, Greg Davis and Brian Ferentz for 10+ years. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize that the stats don’t lie:

  Passing YPG Rushing YPG Total Offense 3rd Down %
2017 189.8 139.2 329.1 34.4
2018 243.4 155.4 398.8 46.2

Stats are up across the board, especially in the passing game, where Iowa is averaging more than 50 yards per game in 2018. Against the Gophers, Nate Stanley went 23/39 for 314 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His 314 yards were, by my count, the second biggest offensive output of his career. This was in large part due to the solid play of his wide receivers and tight ends. Ihmir Smith-Marsette led all receivers with 78 yards, including a 60 yard touchdown where Minnesota apparently decided not to cover him:

Easley, Fant and Hockenson added to the touchdown totals and hey, Hockenson even rushed for one on Iowa’s bonkers trick play.

Brandon Smith didn’t score a touchdown but he did make one of the best catches I’ve ever seen an Iowa player make:

This is encouraging. Smith has pulled in two or more balls the past three games and is averaging 14.6 yards per reception. He’s starting to look like the player the coaches hyped up heading into the year and if Iowa can start to rely on him as a #1 wide receiver, he has the size and skill set to take a load of pressure off of the tight ends. The offense makes their fair share of mistakes, which we’ll talk about, but through two games they’ve looked far more consistent and impressive in conference play than at any point in 2017…outside of the Ohio State beating. 

The Bad: Turnovers

This game could’ve easily been a rout, had Iowa not gifted Minnesota 14 points thanks to a couple of turnovers deep in their own territory. The first is so incomprehensible that I actually need to post a video of it because it’s worth seeing:

I don’t…I mean… what? The score is 28-10 and there’s a minute left in the half. The Hawkeyes could do a lot of things. They could play conservative and bleed the clock or they could be aggressive. They went aggressive, which isn’t a bad idea, unless your quarterback decides to throw the ball directly to a defender. And when I say directly to a defender I mean directly to a defender. I have no idea what Stanley was thinking on that play and it set up an easy Gopher touchdown. 

The second turnover was thanks to Alaric Jackson, who needed to be about 100x better on this play-action call:

These turnovers kept the game a lot closer than it had to be, as Minnesota only scored what I’d label 17 “legitimate” points on the day. Turnovers arguably cost Iowa the Wisconsin game and gave Hawkeye fans undeserved heartburn for most of Saturday afternoon. Usually, losing two turnovers deep in your own territory would spell doom for a team. Fortunately, Minnesota outpaced Iowa in the turnover department, coughing up the ball times. 

The Ugly: The Thinning Ranks

Iowa entered the Minnesota game without Nick Niemann, Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia. That’s a starting linebacker and both starting cornerbacks. Minnesota attempted to capitalize on the Hawkeyes starting two true freshmen at cornerback, usually by chucking the ball up in the air against Riley Moss. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, Riley Moss picked it off. As did Julius Brents.  The Hawkeyes were fortunate that opposite their freshmen cornerbacks was a freshman quarterback.

Elsewhere, Noah Fant probably suffered a concussion on a ridiculous end around. Jack Hockaday suffered some sort of knee injury that had him on crutches. His replacement, Amani Jones, was called for targeting late in the game and will miss the first half against Indiana. At the very least, Iowa will likely enter the Indiana game with a third string middle linebacker and backup outside linebacker. At least.

Typically, teams are healthier after BYE weeks. That wasn’t the case this past week. Iowa didn’t just enter the game banged up, they ended it even more banged up. We anxiously await Ferentz's midweek press conference and hope to get some good news on the injury front.

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