FIVE SENTENCES ON MINNESOTA RESULT
1) Minnesota wants to play a physical game, but it’s a ways away.
2) WR Damond Powell has something Iowa needs, namely lightning for legs. (This is a holdover from last week. I don’t see a need to change it.)
3) Iowa’s kick coverage is at an F-minus and falling.
4) The BTN stats guy did the exact post I would’ve done if I weren’t in the back of a Honda CRV until 2:30 a.m. I think I guessed Iowa ran 25 times to the left during a Twitter convo on the way home. I was close. Give that a click to check out the breakdown. Iowa clearly has an ass-kicker in Brandon Scherff at left tackle and a left guard in Conor Boffeli who has quietly grown his body/game for four years and has become a solid starter in year 5. (BTW, Kirk Ferentz said Boffeli was OK after the game, that he will be sore, but it was more of a scare than anything.) (Huge thanks to Mike and Scott for driving.)
5) Nutty things happen when you go to bed and there’s still college football going on. No. 25 or so Fresno State avoided upset at Hawaii. Oh, and USC fired Lane Kiffin. Quite possibly in the parking lot at LAX. Maybe during the third quarter of the Trojans’ 62-41 loss at Arizona State. The school did announce it at 4:35 a.m. on its website. Believe it or not, Kiffin is only 38-years-old. It just feels like one of those Lynyrd Skynyrd “rock-and-roll” 38s. The one kind of 38 that feels as though its 58. It’ll be interesting to see who recycles this empty soda can.
1) Iowa linebackers – James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens controlled this game. The three combined for 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions. They were the wheels under the bus. They don’t play each other, of course, but Iowa’s LB corps will counterpart this week with what’s widely considered the best LB corps in the Big Ten in Michigan State’s trio of Max Bullough (middle), Taiwan Jones (star) and Denicos Allen (strong side). It will be an interesting side-by-side.
2) OT Brandon Scherff and OG Conor Boffeli — Iowa ran their way 22 times on 45 rushes, that’s nearly half Iowa’s carries vs. UM (45). “I wasn’t tracking them,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It depends where the ball is and what the defense is giving you. It’s no great design. We feel great about both sides.” I can grok that. OT Brett Van Sloten performs like you’d expect a senior tw0-year starter to perform. Jordan Walsh and Andrew Donnal kept it quiet on the inside (DT Ra’Shede Hageman’s stat line: four tackles, pass breakup). A lot goes into which side Iowa runs to. Fullbacks are in the mix, so are TEs. When Iowa ran to the left last week, it was an avalanche that Scherff and Boffeli were rolling.
3) WR Kevonte Martin-Manley — But idiot, what about Powell’s 74-yard tunnel screen TD? Yeah, it was gorgeous. I wrote about everything you could last week about this game and I know one of the thoughts was when teams finally put the cap on Martin-Manley. Could be this week against Michigan State, the best defense in the Big Ten. It wasn’t last week. Martin-Manley came through with six catches for 56 yards. He was targeted 10 times, converted two third downs and drew a pass interference that eventually turned into a TD. No one requested him for interviews, it was that quiet of a game.
1) Kick returns — A huge part of Minnesota hanging around in the second half was kick returns. The Gophers dialed up returns of 66 and 53 yards in the second half. On the first one, Marcus Jones, one of the Big Ten’s better kick returners, blew up the middle. In a pile were linebackers Christian Kirksey, Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman. Safety Tanner Miller stayed in his lane, but got caught breaking down and whiffed on a diving tackle attempt. Linebacker Quinton Alston was double-teamed and pushed up field. Ditto for safety Nico Law. Just really horrible. This set up Minnesota’s only TD. The next one was Antonio Jones’ turn. A lane opened up in the middle of kick coverage. A giant lane. Law ended up pancaked. This created a bottleneck that took down a couple other defenders. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens couldn’t shed a block. Just really ugly stuff. Iowa is now 113th in the nation in kick return defense, allowing 25.78 a return. They had a lot of starters in on that second return. It didn’t help.
2) Rudock’s pick — It ended up being a blemish, but this is the kind of thing that gives a team, no matter how much it’s been dominated — and Minnesota was dominated — a little light at the end of the tunnel. WR Tevaun Smith was wide open on this play very early. It was a play-action pass, so Rudock does turn his head on what’s developing and doesn’t see that Smith is going to be open four strides into his up route. Does he wind the clock a bit? I don’t think so. It still was a decently quick release, but he did lock on Smith and made it an easy read for safety Brock Vereen.
3) Take a knee — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill took his headphones off with about 35 seconds left. Iowa snapped the ball with 30 seconds left. Minnesota had two timeouts. It was over, but Iowa ran a play. Boffeli had his right leg slammed up against the pile. Ferentz stood over as trainers checked out Boffeli. He had that “oh, bleep” sort of look. Boffeli got up and limped off and was eventually called OK by Ferentz. “If you watched, he walked off the field. He’ll probably be sore here . . . a little bit of a scare,” Ferentz said. A 23-7 lead with 30 seconds left and the opponent having two timeouts. It’s easy to do the math and second guess. Maybe the idea was to get RB Jordan Canzeri some real work. Either way, they lived to tell.
1) Tunnel screen — The 74-yarder to WR Damond Powell was the old tunnel screen that Iowa used to run — a lot — in the early 2000s. The one example everyone points to is C.J. Jones at Michigan in 2002. The one that I remembered was Kevin Kasper going 43 yards to help Iowa snap a record 13-game losing streak in 2000. Powell caught the short screen pass from Rudock, the OL pulled out toward the sideline and Powell cut behind them. His speed split the middle of the Gophers’ defense. He went to the end zone untouched. I’ve been around for awhile and remembered writing about the tunnel screen in 2001. If you’re with me on this, you know they used to run it a lot (this was a “for” and “against” piece during the 2001 Alamo Bowl run-up):
“It’s just like everything else we do,” McCann said. ”When it works, it’s the greatest play in the world. When it doesn’t, some dope called that play.”
The tunnel screen can go for 6 or 60 yards anytime, so it’s usually good for a first down or two each game. It’s also an easy play to execute. Pitch, catch, everybody block one way and receiver runs the other. Iowa coaches know the play’s percentages and are satisfied. Not ecstatic, but satisfied.
“We’re happy … I shouldn’t say that. We’re content with the percentages,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. ”We’ll continue to run it, no question.”
Against: It’s ugly.
“It is ugly,” McCann said. “It’s almost like a little jumbled mess of confusion, and then, somebody pops out and busts big play or gets what we need for a first down. Anything that works I’m willing to try it.”
When offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe introduced the play, the coaching staff was somewhat cautious. After all, coaches tend to bunch up when they see a “jumbled mess of confusion.”
“Oh my gosh, how do we run it?” O’Keefe said with a laugh. “It’s ugly, we don’t like it. Everyone’s afraid to call it.”
Then, after Kasper’s play against Michigan State, confusion waned and confidence rose.
“I remember when the coaches put it in, we ran it all the time and asked ourselves, how’s this supposed to work,” running back Ladell Betts said. “But then Kasper took one int the end zone and won a game for us.
“Then, we were like, oh, that’s how it works.”
For: It’s an “oh, yeah” play, as in, oh, yeah, they have that play. It draws out a defense and keeps coordinators from pressing the blitz button every other down.
“It’s like running a reverse,” Ferentz said. ”The effect that it has even when you don’t have success with it, the effect that it has on the defensive playcaller, there’s some value there.
“It makes them think about what they’re doing. Some things you do on offense, I think you have to do to make sure they know you have it in your repertoire. It might limit some of the things they’re thinking on their side.”
Or, as O’Keefe put it, “Sometimes it’s just a respect issue. Everybody’s playing with fire. They’re playing with it when they blitz. And we’re playing with it when we’re trying to beat it.”
2) Cox’s 35-yard gain — Iowa was in heavy 22 (two TE, two RB) and it was third-and-3 at its 38. Did it cause any alarms to go off that Weisman was switched out for Bullock? If it did, you couldn’t tell. If anything, it set off the “Bullock out on a wheel route” alarm. That is in the books of every Big Ten defense. The fake sucked everyone up. Give a helmet sticker to WR Jordan Cotton, who’s route cleared the flat for Cox, who had a career day. He got his first career carry, a 5-yarder that gave Iowa a first down in the fourth quarter and helped grind out the clock. And the 35-yarder, his second career reception. Smart bombing the fullback touches, Davis knows Iowa can’t make a living off it, but in small doses, they’ve hit.
NEXT — MICHIGAN STATE (3-1)
– Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has seemingly settled on Connor Cook as the Spartans’ QB. This is the Spartans’ Big Ten opener.
– The Spartans were off last week. Last time out, they fell at Notre Dame, 17-13, and took a little heat. The playcall that drew said heat was a called pass for true freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton. He threw his first career pass into into double-coverage. It was intercepted and eventually turned into the winning points. MSU practiced the play once.
– Some Q/A with Detroit Free Press’ Joe Rexrode. He’s the MSU beat writer. He knows his stuff.
– Saturday’s game starts 11 a.m. on ESPN2. Iowa is off on the next Saturday.
Closing the deal (Red zone TDs/possessions)
Iowa — 1 of 4 (NIU: 2-for-3; MSU: 4 of 6; ISU 2 of 5; WMU 2 of 5)
Minnesota — 0-for-0 (NIU: 0-for-2; MSU: 0-for-1; ISU 1 of 1; WMU 0 of 2)
Just three of nine for Iowa in the last two weeks. That’s “light at the end of the tunnel” stuff. By this count, Iowa has allowed one red-zone TD this season. Iowa leads the nation in red zone TD percentage, allowing TDs just 16.67 percent of the time.
Setting the tone (defensive three-and-outs)
Iowa 3 — Just three, but they came in three of Minny’s first four drives. It gave Iowa’s offense some leeway to find itself and forge a 10-0 lead. (NIU: 6, MSU: 6, ISU 5, WMU 9)
Minnesota 1 — Going to throw out the one play kneel at the end of the first half. Iowa had a 36:01 to 23:59 advantage in TOP. Winning stat in a game with two teams who love to run the ball. (NIU: 3, MSU: 3, ISU 4, WMU 3)
After adjustments (second-half yards and avg. yards per play)
Iowa — 235-6.02 (39 plays) (NIU: 156-47, 33 plays; MSU: 285-6.47, 44 plays; ISU: 192-4.92, 39 plays; WMU 287-6.37, 45 plays)
Minnesota — 85-3.54 (19 plays) (NIU: 234-4.77, 49 plays; MSU: 130-5.2, 25 plays; ISU: 258-7.58, 34 plays; WMU: 89-4.68, 19 plays)
Best number of the season for Iowa. Minnesota had no button it could push. It did find some daylight in man coverage on CB B.J. Lowery, but not enough. A critical drop by #14 killed. Iowa secondary remains iffy.
Game-changers (offensive plays of 20-plus yards)
Iowa 4 — Powell’s 74-yard TD jumps off the page. Rudock hit Cox the fullback for 35, that was a surprise. Also, Rudock had a 22-yard scramble. He ended up with 35 rushing yards, outgaining Minnesota’s 30. Damon Bullock also had a 22-yard rush. (vs NIU: 3, MSU: 4; ISU 3; WMU 4)
Minnesota 2 — Both pass plays, including a 23-yard TD pass to Derrick Engel. It was the seventh 20-plus TD pass against Iowa this year. That number continues to quietly slide up. (NIU: 5. MSU: 4; ISU 4; WMU 1)
Two-minute magic (points, final two minutes of half)
Iowa 0 — Iowa was close with Powell’s 74-yarder coming with 2:56 left before halftime. Maybe the better number here is 4-minute drill. For the second straight week, Iowa drained the clock. Against WMU, it was an 18-play, 63-yard drive that took 9:26 off the clock. At Minnesota, the Hawkeyes went with the definitive four-minute drill, holding the ball for seven plays and taking the last four minutes off the clock. You hear the term “four-minute drill,” it’s what good teams do to keep the lid on victories. Iowa has the rushing game to make that work. (vs NIU: 7, vs MSU: 0; vs ISU 6; vs. WMU 14)
Minnesota 0 — Kill and Ferentz had some words at the end of the game. It seemed friendly, but animated. Maybe Kill wondered about taking a knee? Maybe not. Who knows. (NIU: 3, vs MSU: 0; ISU 0, vs. WMU 0)
Iowa big plays (going by OC Greg Davis’ definition of 12-plus yard run and 16-plus pass)
8 — A healthy number on the road to open the Big Ten. Also, very organic. Six of these were rushes, including four from RB Mark Weisman (19, 18, 15, 14). Rudock and Bullock had 22-yard runs. Was the tunnel screen a trick play? No, we’ll classify it under “an oldie, but a goodie.” Was the Cox play trickeration? No, that was just great playcalling. (vs NIU: 5; vs MSU: 6; vs ISU 7; vs WMU 10)