The Good, The Bad & The Ugly 2020: Northwestern

By Mike Jones on November 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm
run the dang ball
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Good: Daviyon Nixon and Tory Taylor

Without exaggeration: Daviyon Nixon had one of the most impressive games by an Iowa defensive lineman I’ve ever seen. His stat line, which is impressive, doesn’t even tell the full story: 11 total tackles (six solo), three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The majority of those delightful plays can be seen here and you should pay attention to the second play, starting around the seven second mark:

That’s really the story of the season for Nixon. Despite being double teamed and held (which, by the way, he’s held all the time and no one does anything about it) he still bull rushes through the line and sacks the quarterback, forcing a fumble. Nixon has been the shining star of an otherwise disappointing defensive line and if he keeps it up, he’ll be getting major NFL Draft hype as a junior.

Iowa went from “Who is going to punt the ball” to “Iowa now has the best punter in the Big Ten.” No really. Statistically, Tory Taylor is averaging 46.1 yards per punt, which is the best in the Conference and eighth in the nation. Against Northwestern he only punted the ball four times but averaged 49 yards per punt, with a long of 58 and put three inside the 20. Thanks to Taylor’s excellence, Iowa is third in the nation in net punting, allowing -8 punt return yards! 

The Bad: Iowa’s Defense on Crucial Downs

One of the many reasons Iowa lost this football game was because they simply couldn’t get off the field when it mattered. Northwestern went 10 of 19 on third down (53%) and two of two on fourth down. Both of those fourth down conversions came on Northwestern touchdown drives and four of those third down conversations were from five yards or longer. Some of this was because Iowa’s defensive line couldn’t generate enough pressure (Daviyon Nixon is only one man) and other times it was the Hawkeyes just getting bullied at the line of scrimmage. Iowa’s defense doesn’t look like an Iowa defense this year and the stats don’t lie.

The Ugly: Whatever the Hell this Coaching Staff is Doing

What is this?

No seriously, what is this season?

I understand it’s weird. There is no tune-up game against a directional Michigan. But Purdue didn’t have a tune up, either. Nor did Northwestern. And yet, Purdue came out and did the same exact thing they’ve done year after year which is throw the ball to one extremely talented wide receiver a lot and dare Iowa to stop them. Iowa didn’t stop them. And yet, Northwestern did the same exact thing they’ve done for the past 15 years which is have a middling-yet-elusive enough quarterback dink and dunk just enough to allow a tailback that runs a 6.3 40-yard dash to establish some semblance of a ground game to frustrate the Iowa defense. Again, Iowa didn’t stop them.

These were replays of every recent Purdue loss and every Northwestern loss under Pat Fitzgerald. It was the same old song.

This isn’t 2006 or 2007. This isn’t 2012. Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent are probably the most impressive 1-2 punch Iowa has seen at tailback under Kirk Ferentz. The offensive line isn’t perfect but it certainly isn’t bad. And yet, despite Iowa’s depth at running back, Spencer Petras threw 50 passes against Northwestern. Petras actually carried the ball (5 attempts) more than Mekhi Sargent (4 attempts). Iowa’s 77 rushing yards is their lowest total since they ran for 70 against Penn State last October. To be clear: Northwestern’s 2020 defense is not Penn State’s 2019 defense.

I have no idea what this coaching staff is thinking but having a first-year sophomore quarterback throw 50 passes in a game is not a Good Idea. Especially when Petras has some serious Jake Christensen School of Throw Every Pass Really Hard tendencies. I don’t know if Petras is the answer or not. He clearly has an arm. He also clearly stares down wide receivers and threw one of the worst interceptions I’ve seen since Nate Stanley against Minnesota in 2018. 

Regardless, Iowa shouldn’t rely on Petras to be the whole of their offense and on Saturday that’s exactly what they did. The results were predictable: 26/50 (52%), 216 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. It’s okay, though, the man in charge knows that’s a problem:

Ah, I must’ve missed the part where Kirk Ferentz was tied to a chair on the sideline while Brian Ferentz twirled his evil mustache and decided to implement a really shitty version of the Air Raid offense. How shitty? Well, here’s the route tree on 3rd and 15:

Folks, that is not good. 

This offensive playbook is bad. This offense, overall, is bad. The play calling is bad. Phil Parker, who typically bails everyone out, has an okay defensive line (outside of Nixon) and his secondary is leaky. This team has a lot of individual talent but the coaches are not utilizing it well. This was really a “ah, just the same ol’ shit” game and that’s a shame because while this season is purportedly meaningless, you certainly want to send off guys like Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Alaric Jackson, Mekhi Sargent and Matt Hankins on a high note. Instead, we’re looking at an “ah, just the same ol’ shit” season and, well, that’s no fun at all.

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