Against Northern Illinois, Iowa finished 1-of-7 on third-down opportunities in the second half. That number stands out when you consider the Hawkeyes four times were inside of NIU territory and scored three second-half points. It’s even more glaring when Iowa loses 30-27.
When you examine each third-down situation, the blame can be spread evenly to the play-calling and the execution. Northern Illinois’ defense should be given credit for three defensive stops.
Here are the plays:
1. Third and 2 at Iowa’s 37, 12:15-ish, third quarter; Iowa leads 24-17
Iowa had two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back on the field. Quarterback Jake Rudock fired at wide receiver Don Shumpert, who was coming out of a break on a right slant route. The ball hit Shumpert, who was open, before he was ready for it. Otherwise it’s at least a seven-yard gain and a first down.
2. (A). Third and 1 at NIU’s 39, 5:30-ish, third quarter; Iowa leads 24-17
Iowa had three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. On the previous play, Rudock connected with receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley on a left slant for 8 yards. The ball was spotted poorly at the NIU 39. Iowa could have challenged the spot. Instead, Rudock attempted a quick count quarterback sneak, but his teammates weren’t ready, and receiver Jordan Cotton was flagged for false start. It pushed Iowa back five yards.
2 (B). Third and 6 at NIU’s 44, 5:30-ish, third quarter; Iowa leads 24-17
Iowa had three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back with Rudock in the shotgun. Rudock threw five-yard square in to Cotton, who was covered brilliantly by NIU’s Marlon Moore. Moore beat Cotton to the ball, and it was an incomplete pass.
3. Third and 1 at Iowa’s 40, 8 seconds, third quarter; Iowa leads 24-20
Iowa had two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. Northern Illinois had 10 defenders located within five yards of the line of scrimmage. With time running out in the quarter, Iowa elected to throw deep against one-on-one coverage toward receiver Damond Powell, who previously caught a 49-yard pass. Powell appeared to slow up, then accelerate and Rudock’s pass was overthrown.
Individually, it was a call that should have worked. But in context, Iowa’s defense could have used some help. Iowa’s defense was on the field 13 of the previous 14 plays, including a fake punt that led to a first down. Iowa’s only offensive play during that stretch was a first-down interception inside Northern Illinois territory. Iowa could have let the clock run down, then taken over facing third-and-1 on fourth quarter’s first play. Or simply, the Hawkeyes could have run the ball and maintained possession.
4. Third and 8 at Iowa’s 13, fourth quarter, 11:35-ish; Iowa leads 24-20
Iowa had three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Running back Damon Bullock ran to the left flat for a screen pass. Three Iowa offensive linemen were in front of Bullock and one defensive back was in position to tackle him short of the first down. Bullock, however, dropped the pass.
5. Third and 1 at NIU’s 35, fourth quarter, 8:17; Iowa leads 24-20
Iowa had three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Rudock drove ahead on a 2-yard quarterback sneak. It was Iowa’s only third-down conversion of the second half.
6. Third and 3 at NIU’s 26, fourth quarter, 6:55; Iowa leads 24-20
Iowa had three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Rudock threw to Bullock in the left flat against an NIU blitz. Bullock was stopped by Jason Meehan for no gain.
7. Third and 9 at NIU’s 44, fourth quarter, 2:50-ish; Score tied 27-27
Iowa had three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Rudock threw a bubble screen to Martin-Manley running left to right. NIU safety Ken Bishop read the play and attacked the route before the snap. Bishop tackled Martin-Manley for a 1-yard gain.