The Good, Bad & Ugly 2019: Iowa State

By Mike Jones on September 17, 2019 at 9:49 am
Wheelin and Dealin Nate Stanley
© Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Good: Keith Duncan, Michael Sleep-Dalton, Iowa on Third Down

Keith Duncan was a golden god Saturday afternoon/evening, making all four of his field goal attempts and deservedly winning Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors. He accounted for 12 of Iowa’s 18 points, with two of his field goals being 40+ yards. It should go without saying that Iowa doesn’t win the game without him and he stays a perfect 8/8 on the year. 

Michael Sleep-Dalton was also great, punting the ball five times for 236 yards, with a long of 51. Of those punts, one was a touchback and one was downed inside the 20. More importantly, though, is that Sleep-Dalton helped Iowa play the field position game. On Iowa’s second drive they were forced to punt from their own 19-yard line, but Sleep-Dalton flipped the field, booming it to the Iowa State 34-yard line. Later, he was forced to punt from his own end-zone and despite the lack of room to work with, he boomed it to the Iowa State 48-yard line. Iowa forced a Brock Purdy fumble on the ensuing drive. Ultimately, the Cyclones never managed to score after a Sleep-Dalton punt. That’s what you want out of your punting game.

Iowa was downright bad on third down against Rutgers, converting only 2/13 attempts, a pathetic 13%. They were far better in Ames, converting 10/19, an impressive 53%. The best, and most crucial conversion came on 3rd and 22 in the 3rd quarter, when Stanley threw a Aaron Rodgers-esque pass to Smith-Marsette:

With that conversion, Iowa was able to drive down the field and kick another field goal to make the game within reach at 14-9. However…

The Bad: Bad Habits on Offense

If having to even convert 19 third downs seems like a lot that's because it IS a lot of third down attempts. In contrast, Iowa State was only placed in a third down situation 9 times but still gained more first downs than Iowa, 20 to 18. That’s because Matt Campbell’s defense schemed against the Iowa offense to perfection. Now, Iowa’s opening drive was masterful, in my opinion. Brian Ferentz worked in a number of draws, play action and misdirection, even though the drive stalled at Iowa State 7-yard line. After that drive, though, Iowa’s offense reverted to some of its worst habits: 

  • Lining up in the I-formation and running into an 8-man box.
  • Lining up in the shotgun and passing, with rare exception, against a 3-man front.

In the simplest terms: When Iowa looked to be in a running formation, Iowa State stacked the box and when they looked to be passing, the Cyclones were in a defensive back-heavy scheme. The reason why the first drive worked so well was because of the use of misdirection. Iowa took advantage of the Cyclones preconceived notions of the Hawkeye offense. That’s why Nate Stanley running for 10 yards and a first down came as such a surprise. Brian shied away from such “trickeration” the remainder of the game, often placing the Hawkeyes in a third down situation, leading to those 19 attempts.

Not so fun fact: Iowa has attempted 46 third downs this season. That’s tied for the 8th most in the nation.

The Ugly: Clock Management (Again)

This makes two straight games where Iowa has bungled an end of half possession. Per ESPN, the final plays with under two minutes in the first half were:

  • 1st & 10 at ISU 35: (1:42 - 2nd) Toren Young run for no gain to the Iowa St 35
  • 2nd & 10 at ISU 35: (1:00 - 2nd) Nate Stanley pass complete to Nico Ragaini for 7 yds to the Iowa St 28
  • 3rd & 3 at ISU 28: (0:21 - 2nd) Nate Stanley pass complete to Nico Ragaini for 4 yds to the Iowa St 24 for a 1ST down
  • (0:21 - 2nd) Timeout IOWA, clock 00:21
  • 1st & 10 at ISU 24: (0:12 - 2nd) Nate Stanley pass complete to Brandon Smith for 2 yds to the Iowa St 22
  • (0:12 - 2nd) Timeout IOWA, clock 00:12
  • 2nd & 8 at ISU 22: (0:01 - 2nd) Nate Stanley pass complete to Ivory Kelly-Martin for no gain to the Iowa St 22
  • (0:01 - 2nd) Timeout IOWA, clock 00:01
  • 3rd & 8 at ISU 22: (0:00 - 2nd) Keith Duncan 40 yd FG GOOD

Why on Earth are you running it down from 1:42 to 1 minute to snap the ball? And then, running it down from a minute to 21 seconds? Iowa’s offense is not exactly what we call “fast-moving.” Maybe that’s why the Hawkeyes rank 6th in the nation in time of possession, holding the ball an average of 36:11 per game. It takes time for an Iowa offense to score a touchdown, so leaving none at the end of the half seems foolhardy. Bleeding the clock that dry prevented Iowa State from getting the ball back, but it also made it virtually impossible for Iowa to try and score a touchdown, which could have been costly in a game where points were at such a premium. 

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