At his Tuesday news conference, Kirk Ferentz talked about one of the next steps for progress for this year’s Iowa team.
“I think we’re practicing hard. I think we’re doing that. Last week, the effort was there and the guys were trying. It’s not that they weren’t trying. We just have to practice a little bit cleaner and then hopefully our execution will show up a little better on Saturdays.”
While Iowa has a two game winning streak after losing seven in a row, the Hawkeyes have hardly put Missouri State or Iowa State away on the scoreboard. They were statistically dominant through three quarters in both games but came away with meager point totals and margins of victory for how they were playing.
A coach might tell you style points don’t matter. A coach of a 4-8 football team from last year would certainly feel that way but Iowa is going to struggle again this year if they don’t ‘clean things up’ as Kirk Ferentz put it. Are they close to doing that?
Iowa’s receivers have dropped 10 passes through three games including four against Iowa State. The first drop came on third and long on Iowa’s first position after the defense shut down the Cyclones on their first possession. It was a perfect pass from Jake Rudock to Jacob Hillyer and would have gone for a 12 yard game. The line of scrimmage was the Iowa State 47, so we’re talking 1st and 10 at the Iowa State 35 yard line. Had Iowa not advanced the ball any further from there, they would have had a 52-yard field goal attempt. Then again, there is always the chance Kirk Ferentz could have called for a punt from that position, but work with me. That’s a blown opportunity, plain and simple.
On Iowa’s next series, they had moved the ball from their own 40 down to the ISU 26 where they had 1st and 10. On that play, Rudock was pressured but stepped up and threw a perfect pass to Tevaun Smith inside the Iowa State 10 yard line. Smith dropped the ball and two plays later, Rudock was sacked, fumbled the ball and Iowa State recovered. Chances are pretty good Iowa gets points on the board if Smith hangs on to that ball.
On Iowa’s last possession of the first half, following James Morris’ interception, CJ Fiedorowicz, he of the being upset because Rudock chose to run it in for a score against Missouri State and not throwing the ball to him, dropped a pass on 3rd and 5 standing on the ISU 14 yard line. Iowa settled for a field goal with :10 seconds left in the half as opposed to taking a shot or two at the endzone with what would have been 1st and 10 from around the 14. There were no guarantees that Iowa gets more yards here, but these are the types of things that must be cleaned up for Iowa.
On Iowa’s first possession of the second half and facing a 3rd and three from their own 28, Rudock found CJ once again and the senior tight end dropped the ball, forcing Iowa to punt.
Iowa has a quarterback with just three starts to his credit, which is also the number of games he’s played in his career. Rudock has handled himself well and looks more like an experienced underclassman than what he is, but Rudock can clean it up. Given the type of book he is, you expect it. But the offense is not good enough to deal with these drops.
Still, the Hawkeyes were able to overcome those mistakes last week and after 53 minutes or 87% of the game, Iowa was dominating the stat sheet and scoreboard. It was 27-7 Iowa after their 15-play, 73-yard drive that chewed up 7:44 of the clock. Iowa State’s drive began with 6:59 left in the game. Here were some stats at that point of the game aside from the 27-7 score that could have been 37-7 without much stretch of the imagination:
FIRST DOWNS: 21 to 7
TIME OF POSSESSION: 35:46 to 16:56
TOTAL YARDS: 359 to 179 (67 of ISU’s yards came from BJ Lowery missed tackle)
TOTAL PLAYS: 75 to 43
RUSHING YARDS: 200 to 32
I think Marc Morehouse of The Gazette used the line ‘this is a TKO’ in the second half of the game, and he was right. If it were a boxing match, it would have been on the verge of being called off. It was a dominant performance but that didn’t show up on the scoreboard.
After this point, Iowa State made some plays and Iowa made a few more mistakes. This is the type of game that coaches can get a lot of mileage out of; the film review will still show a lot to work on yet you got the win and the team is feeling better about itself.
This week’s opponent is a Western Michigan team who is 0-3 and lost to Nichols State two weeks ago. Yes, they looked salty against Northwestern last week but Iowa has no business losing to them. Iowa really needs to execute crisply in this game heading into the start of the Big Ten season next week at Minnesota. It’s the perfect tune up opportunity as WMU is a challenged team. They are 98th in total offense and 113rd in rushing defense. They are 17th in passing yards allowed but that has more to do with playing against Michigan State in week one, who was clueless at quarterback, and Northwestern last week who was able to run the ball at will and didn’t need to throw it.
Iowa won’t likely ‘need’ to throw it in this game, but they will want to in oder to iron out a few of the passing game wrinkles which are still plaguing them .
I think they’ll do it and head into the Big Ten season 3-1, riding a three game winning streak with two winnable games ahead of them to start Big Ten play.