The Morning After: Northern Illinois

The older I get, the more myopic I seem to be getting the day of wins and losses…or rather, I am less capable of removing all emotion from my writing and commentating. I freely admit this fact, which is why I do look forward to coming back and sitting down the morning after an Iowa football game and going over things again. I find that I will typically view things more evenly and perhaps more fairly than I did the day before. With that in mind, here it goes…

This was an Iowa series in the fourth quarter and somewhat epitomizes how I feel about the play calling late in the game.  I really don’t like criticizing play calling, because it’s the lowest level of over reaction one can possibly have and I’ve experienced it for years. Coaches lean ‘lack of execution’ first (the old ‘a play here or there’) where those of us on the outside tend to look at things like playcalling,  That said, I can’t shake the feeling that Iowa got way too cute in the second half yesterday.  

I also understand that I’ve been critical of the fact Iowa didn’t attack downfield last year or has seemed mostly unimaginative at times during the Ferentz era.  But airing it out late on 3rd and 1 and throwing deep outs in the flat with a quarterback playing in his first ever game when your worst case was getting to overtime seem quite worthy of mention.  The good news here is it looks like Iowa will have more option and be able to attack more this year than last as most everyone seemed on the same page with the offense.  We never, ever saw that last year.  On Saturday, receivers were running the routes they were supposed to run, Rudock looked in control of what Iowa wanted to do and there was a semblance of non-stink on offense.  That was nice, and it also makes the second have collapse and loss more painful.

The reason for that?  It sort of felt like Iowa had won something at halftime.  I hate writing that but that’s how I felt…the old Dan McCarney ‘we won the half’ feeling…because the offense was so horrific last year, there was a feeling of celebration because it seemed like those dark days were behind us.  Then the second half happened and you combine the lack of offense with losing the way Iowa lost?  That’s why you feel the way you do.

EXECUTION:  Let us not forget the reality of the lack of execution, too.  There was plenty of that in the second half and it would be unfair to not mention these items right alongside the questioning of some play calling:

-Don Shumpert pass drop on 3rd and 2 that would have been a 1st down (3Q)
-3rd & 1 at NIU 39, false start on QB sneak (3Q)
-3rd & 1 incomplete pass when Iowa had gained 6 & 3 yards on 1st with Weisman runs (3Q) (OK, this belongs in the critical of play calling section)
-3rd & 8 on Iowa 13, Bullock drops screen that would have been a 1st (4Q)

Iowa gained just over 150 yards in the second half and they were 1-6 on third downs. They gained just 50 yards in the third quarter. There were miscues, missed execution opportunities…still, even after going back through the play by play for this article, I come away feeling there was a bit too much horizontal passing game still in the mix and at questionable times. Does Greg Davis still need to be reminded that he doesn’t have a fleet of track stars playing receiver at Iowa?

TURNOVERS: Iowa committed three in this game. One on a Mark Weisman fumble at midfield, one on a Jake Rudock interception where his arm was hit as he threw it (in Iowa territory) and the interception late in the game near midfield. In each of those instances, NIU converted a field goal off of Iowa’s giveaways. There’s nine points right there. Iowa scored seven points off of NIU’s turnover, immediately.

By the way, I view fake punt attempts as turnovers. If you stop a fake punt, you get the ball at the spot of the stop, like a turnover. If you don’t stop the fake, it’s a lost possession as you were set to get the ball back. So Iowa had a fake punt executed on them that took the ball from the Iowa 46 down to the Iowa 9. This was also after Rudock’s interception where his arm was hit.

THE INVISIBLE (LOST) POINTS: Iowa could have scored two more touchdowns in this game had passes not been underthrown. Damon Powell had to wait on his 49 yard reception as the ball was slightly underthrown; that was a touchdown if it hit him in stride. The same for Jordan Cotton on the flea-flicker; it was a sure six had the ball been thrown in side. Late in the game on that fateful 3rd and 1 where Iowa went deep instead of running it, Rudock actually overthrew Powell on this play but Powell had slowed down during his route. Had he stayed in stride, it was another touchdown.

THE OPPONENT: This was a quality team. When you rank Iowa’s schedule this year, they would probably fall around 5th at best as difficulty of opponent. Ohio State is at the top, followed by Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin above them.

THE OFFENSE: I wrote after the game and earlier in this item that the offense showed promise. I think we think it looked a lot better than it was because of how poorly Iowa ended the season on offense and that was the stink bomb memory we had for the last nine months. Here is what Iowa did in the first half:

Screen shot 2013-09-01 at 6.41.00 AM

Iowa had 122 yards in the 1st quarter and 180 in the second quarter. That’s a 302 yard first half and that’s really good, not just in comparison to last year. But following up on execution here, this is where Iowa has to make that next step. They have to do better than just moving the ball between the 20’s.

Iowa ran 80 plays in this game, which is high for a Kirk Ferentz coached team. Iowa has averaged in the mid 60’s in plays per game during all of the Ferentz era. I am not going to sit here and say that more plays are good and fewer plays are bad because what you do with those plays matters more; Iowa had 16 real possessions in this game not counting the last one of the game that was for three seconds. In those 16 possessions, the offense was able to muster up 20 points. Let’s not crown ‘em just yet, but when you factor in those ‘lost points’ from missed plays that were there as well as the turnovers, combined with the foundation of what we saw on Saturday I do feel there is reason to be optimistic about this offense. It will get a lot better and more consistent. It will be better than last year’s offense by a wide margin and I think the defense did a decent job on Saturday, too. Damond Powell is a weapon and Iowa has to figure out how to use him once he gets up to speed with the program.

The day after always provides me will a clearer head than the night of which is filled with emotion. All is not lost because Iowa lost to a team with arguably the best quarterback it will face all season and one of the best offensive lines it will face all season. Iowa will have a great opportunity to work on some things this week and against a horrible opponent on Saturday before heading to Ames.

If the Hawks can win that game at Iowa State, I suspect that will salve over the wound of the NIU loss, at least for a little while. The Cyclones are licking their wounds right now having lost to Northern Iowa at home. They get a bye week in advance of the renewal of the Cy-Hawk Series while Iowa gets to play another game before it faces ISU. I am guessing both sides would say they like their scenario.

I don’t know about you, but after a night’s sleep and looking at everything again, I feel better about Iowa’s chances in Ames today than I have the entire off season.

  • hawkeyes2012

    And so it begins…the last season of the Ferentz era in Iowa City….Bobby Diaco on deck…

    • Dalton_IA

      I’m willing to watch how the rest of the season plays out before I completely throw dirt on Iowa or Ferentz. If Iowa does have a losing year, with the contract Kirk has, unless he gives the AD a discount, can we afford to buy him out, anyway?

  • Greg

    The loss is a tough way to start, but here are five reasons for optimism:

    1) We actually threw downfield sometimes. 12.2 yards/completion.
    2) A passing TD in the first game. How many games did it take last year for JVB to get his first.
    3) 7/17 on 3rd down is better than last season. Not awewsome but better. Fewer 3 and outs. Might have had a couple if not for a false start and the time they took a deep shot on 3rd and 1.
    4) 2TDs and a 1 FG in three red zone trips. That’s 20 pts when last year we’d probably had 9.
    5) 0 sacks.
    I think Rudock showed a lot yesterday. Not bad for first game. Too bad the INT came at the end. Never thought to myself that we should give the backups a series or 2.
    It’s a loss, but looking up after a 4-8 season.

  • savanus

    I don’t mind the shots down field. I think the timing of those plays are questionable. But we can’t have it both ways. If the Hawks ran that 3-1 and got stuffed us fans would have complained that the play calling is too predictable and of Powell catches the ball, it’s a genius play call. Jon you forgot to mention how our defensive backfield was out of position for all 3 if NIU’s TDs. Time will tell what type of team this team will be.

    • earlhamhawk

      With that OL and Weisman we should be pissed if we can’t convert a 3rd and 1! You can be creative AND still run the ball….

  • FactsareFacts

    Jon, you indirectly addresed it, but why not be bold and not only wear gold, but call out Kirk Ferentz the way did Don Shumpert? Bottom line on this unnecessary loss is that Iowa was, as usual, out-coached. My gosh, FAKE PUNT AGAIN?!? Even with new coaches, Iowa again looks like the rube. How can this happen over and over and over and over and over… This had a huge impact on the outcome, as did Iowa launching another 10-yard punt after failing to have the guts to go for it on 4th and a foot. My gosh, IT’S FOURTH AND A FOOT!

    Meanwhile, N. Illinois DID go for it in similar field position on FOURTH AND TWO YARDS! And they made it to keep a scoring drive alive.

    If we can’t fire the head coach, can we at least bench him? How can any intelligent person abide these mindless mistakes?

    Still afraid of firing Ferentz? Shame on you if you are. This program is a shambles, and it should be embarrassed to even suit up against Missouri State.

    Keep making excuses for Ferentz, but since the Wisconsin fake punt, this program has been a laughing stock. Oh, did I say FAKE PUNT?!

    • hawkifune

      I completely agree,..My family were season ticket holders since 1968,…Wisc game started the embarrassment,…..punting from the Nebraska 35 not once but twice ,….ended it for us. We missed going to the games,…alot. Do we regret it ,…HELL NO. We are outcoached on a regular basis,….it complete bullshit . For the money we put into the Iowa program this is unexceptable. But if I were to bet,…Barta will set on his ass and watch us go 4-8 and then bring everyone back again. Ive always been a Ferentz supporter,…and if you get your ass kicked there is no shame in that,…BUT,…when you continue to lose games you have no business losing,……..thats BS. Keep it up and more season ticket holders of 40 plus years will say enough is enough,….GO HAWKS!!!!……FU……nebraska !!!

      The Joint family,….Omaha and Fremont Ne,,,,,and North Port , Fl

  • FactsareFacts

    You mentioned, correctly, that Powell slowed down on his route on that 3rd and 1 bomb. Why do you think that happened? Because all other long balls had been seriously underthrown, so he slowed down so he wouldn’t outrun Rudock’s arm…and, of course, this time Rudock uncorks a tight spiral that Powell misses by a step. And so go the Hawkeyes…

  • louie

    Ferentz is totally responsible for this cluster.Afterall ,he hired Davis.Never though that he could be worst than O’keefe,but he is.Our weakest position on offense is WR.We are strong on line,TE and RB.Let’s play to our strengths .That is not throwing WR screen and lateral passes.If we pound RB’s and mix in play action whole game yesterday we win by 2 TD’s.We have no clue on the offensive side of the ball.With talent we have we actually should be running alot of 2 TE sets.

    • Guest

      agree!

  • Buck18

    Have to agree with Louie. Davis just doesn’t understand the kind of personnel we have. I don’ think we have to be “smashmouth”, but we are not fast enough to run his scheme. Let’s get real here! We have to make first downs, not just throw the ball down the field so that we become glamorous, all of a sudden.

    • westsidebill

      We don’t have the personnel to be smashmouth either and haven’t for years. It’s time to modernize a bit and throw the ball down the field.

  • PMM

    Am I the only one who saw no pass rush & no pass coverage? At his point the defense is usually ahead of the offense. The offense looked pretty for a first game with a new QB. The defense was horrible. 400+ yds to a MAC team at home?

  • John

    I haven’t given up on Ferentz, but I am very tired of defending him and the program. It IS bad right now. There is no way of getting around it. They still have a pretty difficult schedule remaining. There may be silver lining in the context of this individual game, but fans are right to be worried about where this program is headed. I am not confident this team is going to significantly improve their season win total this season or next.

    It’s one thing to expect a team to have 5 wins and it’s another to experience it in (give or take a win). If things do not improve, fans will stop getting upset and start getting apathetic.

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