The Good: The Defense
Typically, I’m reluctant to point at an entire unit and label them good, bad, or ugly as it seems lazy or overly broad. However, exceptions have to be made for Iowa’s defense after this game as they pitched a shutout against a Big Ten foe, something that would be even more impressive if Illinois wasn’t in the conference. Here are a few notable stats for the Rutgers offense:
- First downs: 5
- 3rd down efficiency: 2/14 (14%)
- Total yards: 125
- Passing yards: 41
- Yards per pass: 1.6
- Interceptions: 2
- Fumbles lost: 1
Some individual Rutgers stats include McLane Carter going 5/15 for 22 yards, 1 interception, and 1 sack. He had a quarterback rating of 5.8. Last week he went 21/31 for 340 yards and 2 touchdowns against UMass (though it was telling that he threw three interceptions). His replacement, Arthur Sitkowski, went 4/19 for 19 yards and 1 interception and had a quarterback rating of 7.8.
None of that is good. In fact, it is very bad.
On the flipside, A.J. Epenesa stood out as Iowa’s most disruptive player, as he looked like a reincarnated Reggie White on the field. At the end of the day, he only had one sack, but he had a team leading (and absurd) 4 quarterback hurries. He spent most of his day lounging in the Rutgers backfield playing pinochle or making quarterbacks say “oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap”:
Edge rusher A.J. Epenesa of Iowa is a stud. #Vikings will probably be picking too low next April to get him. Asst GM George Paton was scheduled to scout this Hawkeyes-Rutgers game. pic.twitter.com/82SRmAPv8g— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) September 7, 2019
Actually, credit to the Rutgers quarterbacks for staying mobile and getting rid of the ball the majority of the time. Despite the eight hurries Iowa generated, Epenesa’s sack was the Iowa defense's only sack of the day.
Iowa’s defensive backs combined for two interceptions and one pass breakup. Michael Ojemudia’s interception came on a likely miscommunication between the quarterback and wide receiver:
Kristian Welch was Iowa’s leading tackler with 8, also had a 0.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Noah Shannon forced a fumble AND recovered it, while Djimon Colbert was all around disruptive, notching 5 total tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. When it was announced that Kaevon Meriweather was going to miss the game, there was slight concern that Rutgers might capitalize on Iowa’s lack of depth at safety. No worries, walk-on Jack Koerner played just fine and didn’t even really need to do much, as Iowa’s defensive line let loose the dogs of war on the Rutgers quarterback(s) all game.
Again, can’t say enough about this defense as a whole.
The Bad: End of Half Clock Management
Over the past 4-5 seasons Kirk Ferentz has broken a lot of old habits. Overall, he’s been more aggressive. He goes for it on 4th down more often. He doesn’t punt as often deep in an opponent’s territory. His defense uses unique blitz schemes and different formations. His offense goes five wide quite frequently.
But some clock management woes continue. Lest you forget, Iowa got the ball back on the Rutgers 30-yard line with 2:58 left on the clock thanks to a Djimon Colbert interception. Only needing 30 yards in three minutes, the entire playbook was at their disposal. The issue was that Iowa, for some reason, was bleeding the clock like Rutgers was actually a threat if they got the ball back. After four straight rushing plays got the Hawkeyes to the Rutgers 5-yard line, Iowa sort of hung out for an extended period before hiking the ball.
Well, Rutgers played it smart and just decided to commit a pass interference penalty in the end zone because by that point there was only 5 seconds left on the clock and the Hawkeyes would have to risk coming away with zero points instead of taking the safe field goal. Taking your time is one thing. Being so foolish with the clock that it costs you the chance at four points because you’re treating your opponent like Chip Kelly’s Oregon is another thing entirely.
The Ugly: The Punt Return Team
Let us recognize that Rutgers punter Adam Rorsak is very good. Last season he was honorable mention All-Big Ten and set a school record with a 79-yard punt against Northwestern. Against Iowa, he looked like he should win the Ray Guy award. His stat line is nothing short of absurd: 10 punts, 476 yards, 7 inside the 20-yard line, 2 punts over 50 yards, and a long of 69 (nice). It comes as no surprise that he’s an Aussie and one time Australian rules football player. He has a hell of a leg.
That being said: What on earth was Nico Ragaini doing? On his very first return of the game he ran backward 8 yards and forced the Hawkeyes to begin their first offensive series from their own 3-yard line. Of his three fair catches, two were inside the 10-yard line. When he was supposed to fair catch the ball, he’d let it bounce, allowing Rutgers to down the ball inside the 20. By my count, the Scarlet Knights downed the ball inside the 15-yard line three different times.
It’s weird. Iowa has clearly improved their punting situation with Michael-Sleep Dalton. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken a step back in the early stages of the season at punt returns.