Monday, November 3, 2014
Iowa is Pretty Good Now I Guess
In the words of our good buddy W at DownwithGoldy.com -- Is Iowa, like good?
While we were living the dream as a borderline ranked team and not losing to Illinois it seemed easy to overlook Iowa. Everyone was doing it, not just we Gopher brethren. (As opposed to wee Gopher brethren, that's MV). They currently sit at 6-2 (3-1) and are tied with the Gophers and Wisconsin for second in the Kanye West division behind 4-1 Nebraska.
They stumbled early with a loss to Iowa State and that's when I think I wrote them off with a chuckle. Which is probably the same thing that everyone is now doing with our Gophers. "You lost to Illinois? HAR HAR HAR."
The Gophers' three conference wins are now looking less than stellar as they have a combined record of 5-10 in Big Ten play. But looky here, Iowa's 3 wins are against similarly poor opponents (3-11 Big Ten record) and everyone is tripping over their dicks in fear. Iowa lost to a 3-2 Maryland squad while we all know the Gophers succumbed to the Illini (1-4) for their only conference loss. There is some justification in that the Hawkeyes whipped these likely bottom-feeders in a more convincing fashion than Minnesota did. They won those 3 games a combined 117-46, while Minnesota won theirs 93-69.
The way the Gophers play with their power run style, I just don't think you're going to see a lot of blowouts. However, there is definitely room for concern on the defense. They gave up a lot of big plays to Purdue. And Iowa has been putting up big points of late, scoring 124 points over their last three games (2-1).
Let's try and take a look at what has been working for Iowa on offense and see if we can recognize what we should be most afraid of:
The Quarterback Position
Junior Jake Rudock is in his second year leading the Hawkeyes' offense. Looking at the numbers, his 2014 varies from 2013 in a couple of key categories. He has cut down his interceptions -- through 7 games, he has just 3 interceptions as opposed to 13 over 13 games in 2013. He's also increased his completion percentage from 59.0% to 64.6%. His first two career 300+ yard passing games have also come this year in the Maryland loss and an early season beating of Ball State.
One negative is that he's taking sacks at a much higher rate. He already has been sacked 11 times as opposed to 14 in all of 2013. This is interesting because Iowa was thought to have a great O-line coming into the year, more to come on that when we get to the O-Line.
In his last three games, Rudock has been solid. He's passed for 62% completion with an average of 255 yards per game. He's throw just 5 TDs and 1 INT over that span.
The Running Backs
I still have flashbacks of Mark Weisman running wild all over the Gophers in 2013. I had hash for breakfast that day. Weisman finished 2013 with 975 yards on 227 carries and had 8 touchdowns. This year, Weisman has had his ups and downs, but is still extremely dangerous in short yardage. He's already amassed 13 scores and has two or more TDs in each of the last 5 games. The only game he hasn't reached the end zone was against Ball State. On the season he has 521 yards on 133 carries, good for a 3.9 ypc. Weisman has a total of 8 receptions in the last two years, so he is not a factor in the passing game. Senior Damon Bullock is a threat out of the backfield though, catching 25 balls for 206 yards.
Jordan Canzeri (ankle) and LeShun Daniels (knee) have been battling injuries, with Daniels being lost for the year. Freshman back Jonathan Parker was hurt on the opening kickoff last week as well. In total, 5 other running backs have had carries besides Weisman, but they may have finally settled on the lightning to Weisman's thunder just this past week. Freshman Akrum Wadley ran for 106 yards and a score on 15 carries despite not getting a touch in the first quarter.
Over the last three games Iowa has run for 221, 116 and 207 yards. The 116 against Maryland was on 31 carries and Rudock threw the ball 56 times that game. Iowa gets 200+ yards = bad, who knew?
Iowa seems to have a decent history with having at least one pretty good reciever in the corps and this year is no different with senior WR Kevante Martin-Manley. Seventeen different players have caught a pass for Iowa this year, but Martin-Manley leads the way with 36 receptions for 336 yards and 18 of those have been for a first down or score. He has just one TD, and three other Hawkeyes have 2 TDs to lead the team. Rudock likes to sprinkle. Junior Tevaun Smith is the #2 receiver and he's already surpassed his receiving totals from last year by catching 27 balls for 326 yards. Senior Damond Powell appears to be a deep threat with 14 receptions at a 20ypc clip. He has a 72 yard score on the year. Junior tight-end Jake Duzey has 26 receptions for only 180 yards... possibly a safety valve for Rudock.
Over the past 3 contests, the top receivers been Matt Vandenburg, Damon Bullock and Damond Powell. Martin-Manley has just 104 yards total over that period. In fact, over the 8 games, 6 different players have led the team in receiving yards.
The Offensive Line
Iowa has a great history of strong offensive lines and coming into this season the story was that this year would be no different. Prior to the year, the highly rated Hawkeyes were said to be led by left tackle Brandon Scherff, a guy who is considered among the best in the nation. Austin Blythe was projected at center and a potential Rimington candidate -- and pre-season all Big Ten Jordan Walsh would slot in at right guard. Big boy Andrew Donnal was to move over from backing up Scherff to right tackle. Left guard was pretty much up for grabs, but probably would be another great big white guy.
Some things have changed since then. Blythe is now the starting left guard and senior Tommy Gaul is at center. Scherff is still holding it down at LT, OMG you guys did you know he was a HS quarterback? Jordan Walsh remains at right guard although Sean Welsh got some time in as well last week. Andrew Donnal is also still at right tackle.
You might think going from 15 sacks allowed in 2013 to 13 sacks allowed so far this year that the line has had problems. However, it should be noted that 15 sacks allowed was the lowest in the Big Ten last year and that Iowa threw the ball 375 times that year. This year they've already thrown it 288 times and that 13 sacks allowed number is 5th best in the now 14 team conference. Minnesota is 4th best allowing 12 sacks thus far, MSU leads... they've allowed just 5 sacks. Wow.
Rushing for Iowa has been pedestrian as a whole on the year. They're mid-table in both yards per game and yards per carry. They are tenth in the Big Ten in rushing yards. We've seen that number tick up a bit in the last few wins, so perhaps they've figured it out.
As a bonus, I'll share what I've read over at the Gazette about Iowa's formations. Last week, they ran the 22 (RB, FB, 2 TE) 32% of the time. They ran the 21 (RB, FB, 1 TE) 22.5%, 11 (1 RB, 1 TE) 29.5% and the 12 (1 RB, 2 TE) 15.5%. Of note here is that they completed some of the bigger passes of the game out of the sets with the FB and a flea flicker out of a 3 TE set (only time they ran that set). Tricky tricky, Kirk.
Stay tuned over the next couple of days for some coverage on the Iowa defense. Or at least to check out whatever the hell it is that Frothy is doing.