Critical and objective observers of last weekend’s game vs Michigan State undoubtedly realize something sucky for Michigan—State was able to put together lessons learned from the previous four games to completely shut down the offense; crappy secondary and all. State showed the rest of the schedule a good first draft blueprint on how to beat Michigan: play keep away (only 10 possessions all game) and stop our bread and butter (the run).These aren’t novel observations and its said before every game, but now it has been done. Opposing Coordinators now only have to implement/tailor a proven game plan. So the imminent question now is, can Iowa execute this plan, and more importantly, is there anything we can do about it?
This is a pretty straightforward proposition and right in Iowa’s wheelhouse: out execute and play ball control offense. The never-ending story of a drive in the first quarter vs. MSU was absolutely huge., soaking up about 2 drives that Michigan and MSU’s opponent normally have in the 1st qtr. A lot of that had to do with exploiting the weaknesses of our defense. At QB Cousins is better, but Stanzi is probably adequate. In the running game Iowa definitely gets the nod; especially when you factor out Cousin’s scrambles last game. Stanzi can at least match what Cousin’s did on the ground against us. MSU probably has better overall receivers, but against our secondary that doesn’t matter much. Boil it all down to: yes, Iowa can play keep away from our offense if we let them.
Iowa most definitely has the ability to shut down a running game. Our guys did not have their best game on Saturday and Iowa has routinely made opposing running backs under perform this year. I adopted a rating CollegeFootball13 came up with in a previous post (like a pass efficiency rating for RBs) then tabulated the relevant data for each of the FBS running backs Iowa has faced. Its basically a clumsier version of what the Mathlete has been doing in his By The Numbers series. I split out the data into two groups, vs. Iowa and vs. others.
Each of the four FBS running backs Iowa has faced this year have under performed against Iowa as compared to their games against other opponents. What’s more is when rated in this way, Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor aren't necessarily better than Reggie Arnold (Ark. St). Ouch.
As for our most recent performance, the most obvious culprit was overall offensive execution through three and a half quarters. MSU’s defense definitely played well against us but our guys did plenty to make them look better than they are. The O-line was out played for sure and State was able to take away the running game. But, when we switched to the passing game our guys were dropping balls left and right, thus preventing any kind of momentum from getting started. Once we started catching balls and built up a head of steam at the end of the game, State had no answers. Again, I’m not saying State didn’t play well just that we didn’t. I’m taking it for granted that the offensive execution and concentration errors that killed us last game will be improved or eliminated for this week’s game.
As for Iowa most impressive victory, I think they benefited from things that are unreliable such as the blocked punt for TD and TERRIBLE QB play (Darryl Clark: 38% completion, 3 INTS). Penn State had four turnovers in the game. This is not to say that we can not possibly turn the ball over; just that turnovers are useful for the opposing defense.
So can we do anything about it? I think there are several things we can do. First, we can play defense like we did against MSU, but with better tackling. The second half specifically look more inspired to me. The play Graham made to force the field goal after the Ruby Punt Fiasco comes to mind. Also Kovacks‘s late game run stopping. If the D plays like that again, we’ll be in good shape.
The second thing we can do is short circuit the keep away strategy by coming out of the gate ridiculously aggressively. If we win the coin flip, we should take the ball then go for the jugular on the first play like Penn St. did vs. Iowa in week 4. How ‘bout opening up 5-wide shotty with Stonum, Hemmingway, Roundtree, Mathews, and Brown in the slot? Boom, Forciered. Then dial up a squib on side kick like MSU did vs. Notre Dame in week 3 on the ensuing kickoff. A failed recovery puts pressure on our D to come up with a stop from mid field, but I think they can handle that pressure especially if they know it’s coming early in the game. If we lose the coin flip, sell out for a quick 3 and out then execute the plan as previously stated. The overriding objective is to force Iowa into a shoot out and take the air out of Kinnick before anyone knows what hit ‘em. Getting Stanzi into a shootout would be a great start to the game.
The last thing, better execution on offense. No eff ups on snaps. Minimize ineffective blocks (see Huyge v.Jones @5:17 in the 2nd Qtr vs MSU). No dropped passes. None if this is magic and its all stuff we're perfectly capable of and have done before.
I think we have what it takes to beat the Hawkeyes, and we've done it before against reasonably comparable competition (Defense v MSU; Offense v Notre Dame). We just have to put it all together in a cohesive package of win.