IOWA CITY — Iowa’s offense against Northern Iowa was extremely Iowa.
That’s a lot of Iowa, but you know the Hawkeyes had an extremely familiar look on the big-play connections between quarterback James Vandenberg and wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
It was Kirk Ferentz-and-Ken O’Keefe–coast offense to the core.
On a second-and-10 from the Iowa 40 in the first half, the Hawkeyes lined up with one running back and a tight end in formation. Vandenberg faked a handoff to Greg Garmon and spun in the pocket for a look upfield.
UNI’s safeties were lined up 20 yards off the line of scrimmage on the second-and-10, in a Cover 2 zone. The linebackers were on their toes and headed for the fake. Martin-Manley, who lined up in the slot, started up the seam and broke to the post and was wide open for a 26-yard gain.
Iowa’s passing offense, such a shoddy proposition in the first two weeks, took a step forward by going back a few pages in the playbook. Iowa looked an awful lot like the Iowa Ferentz and O’Keefe conceived and ran for 13 years, before O’Keefe departed last winter to become wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel in the passing game,” said Vandenberg, who completed 18 of 28 for 228 yards. “There are going to be things that are similar that we’ve had success with in the past. It marries really well with our running game. There are some things that are similar, but there also are a lot of changes.”
Last week, Iowa tried to work more out of the shotgun. There was a degree of success, but it’s a gigantic tell because the Hawkeyes don’t run out of the shotgun. They don’t very much, anyway, and when they do, it’s slow developing and generally doesn’t click.
Yes, it was against an FCS defense — one that held Wisconsin to 3.6 yards on 47 carries, mind you — but Iowa leaned on the run, specifically the inside zone, and that set up everything else.
Iowa was able to line up in its straight power formation and make it go. After UNI scored on the game’s opening drive, the Hawkeyes closed out their first drive with four straight plays out of two tight ends, a fullback and running back. That produced Damon Bullock’s career-long 27-yard run and the first of Mark Weisman’s three 2-yard TD runs.
“We’re going to do the same stuff,” said senior wideout Keenan Davis, who was targeted a team-high eight times against UNI. “We weren’t missing anything the first two games, we just had to execute. Today, we actually showed we did our job. We had the work ethic, we had the heart.”
On the first drive of the second half, and leading 17-13, Iowa went Iowa-coast with the same sequence.
Iowa hit the Panthers with 108 rushing yards in the first half. Bullock, before he left with what appeared to be a concussion, had 77 yards. UNI was ready to fight this fight, perhaps too much so.
On first down, Weisman ran an inside zone for 3 yards. Second down, Vandenberg faked to Weisman and rolled to his right. UNI linebacker Sam Tim took a step toward the fake and had tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz cross his face and run wide open into the flat. It was an easy pass-and-catch for a 14-yard gain. Both plays came out of a two-tight end set.
First-and-10 from the 47, Iowa went two tight ends and two running backs. Vandenberg faked and spun and Martin-Manley was wide open on the same pattern in the same spot as his 26-yarder. This time, UNI free safety Wilmot Wellington played run, lining up just 10 yards off the line of scrimmage in the middle of the field.
Martin-Manley split the safeties and took the ball 51 yards to UNI’s 2. Cue Weisman 2-yard TD. Iowa’s longest play of the season triggered Iowa’s shortest scoring drive in ’12.
“Those were our seam balls, right up the middle,” said Martin-Manley, who caught five passes for 101 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career and longest reception of his career. “It feels good. The receivers have been working hard. We made some plays for our team and helped us win.”
No matter how they got there — O’Keefe-coast offense or the power running game — the Hawkeyes were happy to see the progress.
“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” Vandenberg said. “It all started with the running game. We were able to establish that and that opened some things up down field.”
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