FIVE SENTENCES ON MICHIGAN RESULT
1) Athletes have different brains than we do. That start Iowa got off to, down 21-7 with 41 seconds left before halftime, it sure seemed like a “lotion in the basket” situation, you know, like the one that lady found herself in about half through “Silence of the Lambs.” That lady didn’t give in and neither did the Hawkeyes. This is a topic I talked with LB James Morris about last week. We (you and me, us, media and fans) want to extrapolate every play, every result into where we think it might go. We jump to conclusions. Athletes, the smart ones, live in the moment. The tough-minded ones push through and stay focused on landing the plane no matter how icy the runway. Or at least trying to land the plane.
2) This week’s word on bowls: Again, I don’t know. I talked to the Texas Bowl guy in the Kinnick press box. I think that bowl is interested and would have Iowa in a heartbeat. I don’t think it gets the chance. Here are the bowls that would have to pass on Iowa before Texas would get a shot: Outback (don’t dismiss it, 8-4 Iowa would have a great shot), Buffalo Wild Wings (it was the Insight the two times Iowa went to it previously) and the Gator. Does Minnesota bully past Iowa? No. There’s the theory that the Outback would pass on Nebraska because the Huskers would promise PHX the world for the B-Dubs Bowl and a shot at Texas or Oklahoma. There’s logic there, but it’s not going to happen if UN beats Iowa this week.
3) I keep getting asked about “most improved” and my no-brainer answer is the D-line and DT Carl Davis. We went over this in the “Three and Out” last week. He’s gone from maybe 60 snaps in ’12 to more than 600 this season. He’s a different body, a tougher athlete and, if he keeps pushing, a pretty darn high draft pick in 2015. And then I’m asked about offense and my default answer is QB Jake Rudock. I think that works, but I also think I’m probably selling sophomore WR Tevaun Smith short. Like Davis, Smith has expanded his profile immensely this season. As a true frosh, he caught three passes for 31 yards. It was a ripple in the pond. This year, he’s at 24 for 310 yards, including the 55-yard TD to give Iowa EXACTLY WHAT IT NEEDED to start the second half against the Wolverines. One thing I’ve never GPS’d is how much a factor blocking is in a WR’s playing time at Iowa. What would you guys say? Is 40 percent too high? Smith is becoming a complete player. The play he made Saturday — first corralling that pass (he almost let it leak out) and then putting the move on the outside defender and pulling away — is something Iowa needs. That was YAC. YAC is what will make this offense go.
4) Who do you like in the Big Ten title game? I prefer Michigan State’s brand of football. I am a devotee of “old man” football. The game is intriguing, but here’s what needs to happen for the Big Ten to remove itself from target practice for brainless national writers who cling to the “Big Ten slow, Big Ten bad” meme: Ohio State has to win and win big. Then, Florida State or Alabama have to lose, so the Buckeyes get into the title game. Then, Ohio State has to win the national title. Forget whatever bias you have against Ohio State. Yes, Urban Meyer has an oozy — my word for discomfort brought on by extreme success and/or someone never seemingly having to eat poo on their way up to the top (that’s not entirely fair, I know, Meyer coached at Bowling Green and came up through ranks) — quality. Ohio State is the Death Star. If you’re into the Big Ten and underdogs, you’re not into Ohio State. Still, if you’re into the Big Ten, you want it to win its way out of this negative national narrative (the NNN, if you will).
5) No Kinnick sellouts this year. Is that bad? Yes. Iowa has had at least one sellout in every year Kirk Ferentz has been here, through 15 seasons now. Nebraska accounted for it in 1999. The Iowa State game helped Iowa reach it in 2000. In ’01, it was the Michigan game. I have to believe this is the product of 4-8. The finger gets pointed toward the student section (10,400 this year, we’ll see what it is next year). I don’t entirely agree with this. Iowa shrank the student section this year. I’m not sure if it took two bites out of it or not, but the extra inventory didn’t seem to move, even after it was taken out of students’ hands. The student section was set up to fail last weekend. Everyone bolted campus for Thanksgiving break. That was going to be a bleacher-colored blank space and so it was.
So, no sellouts was bad. Still, Iowa drew 65,708 for the coldest game in Iowa football history. That many of you showed up and you knew it was going to be colder than a gravedigger’s knuckles. Nice job. Seriously, well done.
1) Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens – Play of the game. Last season, Ferentz has said Hitchens got lost on plays. He was highly productive, but he chased ghosts and lost position at time, more than you’d want for a starting linebacker. This year, Hitchens has grown his game. The play he made to basically win Saturday’s game showed a lot of instinct and smarts. He noticed Michigan QB Devin Gardner carried the ball in the wrong hand as he headed toward the sideline late in the fourth quarter. Michigan would’ve faced a third-and-3 at Iowa’s 31 down 24-21 with 2:12 left. The Wolverines were poised to tie the game. But no, Hitchens saw a fundamental mistake and made the Wolverines pay. How did the ball stay in bounds? Who knows? It was inches from going out, it just happened to bounce right. Hitchens pulled off the super-dub, the strip and fumble recovery. He finished with team highs in tackles (eight), tackles for loss (three), QB hurries (two) and, of course, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. This was a smart play made by a player who’s done his homework.
2) Iowa DT Carl Davis — Davis has been a consistent force all season. Saturday, he tied for the team-high with eight tackles, had 2.5 tackles for loss, a half of a sack and a pass break-up. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan and strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle have helped Davis realize the potential of a 6-5, 315-pound body (which actually was 340 when it arrived in IC). Davis’ transformation, which included a comeback from a dislocated kneecap, has been off-the-charts.
3) RB Mark Weisman and WR Tevaun Smith — Weisman looked like a healthy player. Bogged down by injuries for five games, Weisman hadn’t rushed for more than 60 yards or more than 13 times since Sept. 28. Saturday, he carried 17 times for 88 yards. Those were winning numbers in 18 degrees with an 18 mph wind out of the NNW. Smith caught a slant and made a play, going 55 yards for the quick TD Iowa needed to start digging out from under a 21-7 halftime deficit. Smith is strong and fast. He’s also not afraid to go into traffic to make a play. There’s still potential to mine here, but Smith’s growth from freshman to sophomore year has been terrific. Ferentz often points out that when making the decision to play a true freshman, even a little bit, the idea is to get them in the game and get them to grow their game at a faster rate. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Smith has been a positive case study. Can this happen for Matt VandeBerg? Maybe.
1) The obvious — Forget the two interceptions were Jake Rudock had faced pressure, the one he throw into just a well-guarded zone in the second quarter was strange. Michigan CB Blake Countess picked it, but another DB would’ve had a shot at it. It looked as though an Iowa WR broke open late on the sideline, but this is one Rudock wanted back. It was into the wind, and while we’re “tightening” things here, let’s get someone to do something about that wind in Kinnick. OK? (Joking.) To win at Nebraska, Rudock can’t afford this type of mental lapse. What goes unnoticed when you have three picks, though, is the three passes Rudock had batted down at the line of scrimmage. Here also is where the “learning machine” kicks in for Rudock: He made none of these mistakes in the second half. OK, he did throw another pick — again under pressure — but he also completed 10 of 12 for 147 yards, a TD and the pick. That’s a 197.3 pass efficiency.
2) Yeah . . . — Let’s move on.
3) They won — The defense held Michigan to 60 rushing yards and 98 passing. The offense came alive in the second half. OK, 4 of 15 on third down isn’t tremendous, but Iowa’s D held serve there, holding UM to 4 of 14. Rudock had the three picks, but did you know he was 4 of 4 in the fourth quarter? That was going into the wind, too. He hit Smith on back-to-back passes to start the game-winning FG drive. Iowa won its first game this season after trailing. E-mailer and On Iowa podcast friend Benjamin tweeted the podcast earlier this year he thought the first play of Ferentz 3.0 would happen in the Michigan. That’s the larger question, isn’t it? Was this pushing off the shore and launching the 3.0? I think they’re still pushing away from the beach. Win this weekend and maybe it’s the 3.0 is out trying to climb the breakers.
1) Back shoulder pass! — Iowa has tried to get this popped open the last two seasons. So, we should note that Rudock hit RB Damon Bullock on a back-shoulder throw on the first play of the drive before halftime. I’m not sure it was intentional — it was going into the wind — but Rudock threaded a pass to the back of Bullock’s numbers. Bullock spun his body around and made the adjustment. It was a thing of beauty. Hugely athletic play on both ends. It unfortunately didn’t lead to any points. I’m certain I’m making more of this than it is, but it’s a sign of growth in what the offense is able to do.
2) First drive of the second half — Ferentz does a halftime radio bit coming out of the tunnel. He said the usual stuff and added that Iowa needed to get something done quickly. Less than five minutes later, Smith finished off his 55-yard TD pass. The drive started with RB Jordan Canzeri. He had just 12 yards on three carries in the first half, so, yes, time to go to him. At halftime, Weisman had 43 yards on seven carries, a 6.1 yard average. Weisman was working, but Iowa was behind 21-7, mostly through its mistakes and not anything in particular that Michigan did. Maybe the thought was to go to Canzeri and try to get the home run. Or maybe inject some speed, a true change-of-pace to Weisman’s power. Canzeri took the first play of the second half, an inside zone, for 12 yards. He went for 3 on the next play. And then Rudock and Smith hooked up. Canzeri rushed for 38 yards on nine carries in the second half.
NEXT — NEBRASKA (8-3, 5-2)
– The ESPN Big Ten blogger dudes have Nebraska in the Outback Bowl.
– The Huskers defense controlled the line of scrimmage in their OT win at Penn State, the Omaha World-Herald’s Jon Nyatawa writes.
– How much politicking has been going on with each Nebraska victory since the Bo tape was leaked? That’s the underlying theme in this Tom Shatel piece in the World-Herald.
– How much of Bo Pelini’s job rested on Pat Smith’s right foot last Saturday night in State College? OWH’s Dirk Chatelain writes about it.
– ESPN Big Ten blogger dudes (they probably hate that) say Iowa-Nebraska is worth watching. Nebraska has won three of its last four. How many times has this team’s obit been written this season. Hey, Iowa has won three of four. This is rivalry weekend. That’s the overarching question this week. Is this a rivalry? That’s up to Iowa. Iowa has lost five straight to the Huskers. It hasn’t beaten Nebraska since 1981 and hasn’t won in Lincoln since 1943. The rivalry part of this rivalry is up to Iowa.
Closing the deal (Red zone TDs/possessions)
Iowa — 2 of 5 (NIU: 2-for-3; MSU: 4 of 6; ISU 2 of 5; WMU 2 of 5; Minn 1 of 4; Mich St 1 of 2; OSU 2 of 3; NU 2 of 3; WI 0 of 4; P 4 of 5)
Mich — 2 of 2 (NIU: 0-for-2; MSU: 0-for-1; ISU 1 of 1; WMU 0 of 2; Minn 0 of 0; Mich St 0 of 3; OSU 3 of 5; NU 1 of 2; WI 3 of 3; P 1 of 1)
This isn’t what you’re looking for. Also, you probably can put this in the same head scratcher file that had Iowa winning despite a 4-to-1 turnover margin. Iowa had two completely empty red zone chances (missed FG and botched hold on FG).
Setting the tone (defensive three-and-outs)
Iowa 8 — Masterful effort by the defense. Well-called game by DC Phil Parker. Everything came together for Iowa’s defense, including a clutch late turnover. It wasn’t a three-and-out, but it was the knockout. (NIU 6, MSU 6, ISU 5, WMU 9, Minn 3; Mich St 4; OSU 0; NU 2; WI 5; P 1)
Mich 4 — Iowa was held to one three-and-punt in the second half, which is sort of what they needed down 21-7. (NIU: 3, MSU: 3, ISU 4, WMU 3, Minn 1; Mich St 9; OSU 0; NU 1; WI 8 ; P 3)
After adjustments (second-half yards and avg. yards per play)
Iowa — 237-6.2 (38 plays) (NIU: 156-4.7, 33 plays; MSU: 285-6.47, 44 plays; ISU: 192-4.92, 39 plays; WMU 287-6.37, 45 plays, Minn 235-6.02, 39 plays; Mich St 104-2.97, 35 plays; OSU 153-8.5, 18 plays; NU 150-4.8, 31 plays; WI 163-4.3, 38 plays; P 259-7.2, 36 plays)
M — 45-1.9 (23 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; Minn: 85-3.54, 19 plays; 210-4.8, 39 plays; OSU 306-5.77, 53 plays; NU 208-5.47, 38 plays; WI 216-6.4, 34 plays; P 127-3.9, 32 plays)
Ferentz didn’t like the second-half question. He didn’t mind it in Saturday’s postgame. What more can you say about the defense? That’s the season-best as far as yardage goes. Offensively, that’s what you’re shooting for. It was a total-team comeback. “I don’t want to say we were embarrassed, but I think we knew we could play better offensively, certainly, in that second half,” Ferentz said.
Game-changers (offensive plays of 20-plus yards)
Iowa 5 — RB Mark Weisman will lead Iowa in these at the end of the year. I’ll have to count them up, but add two against UM, rushes for 20 and 22 yards, with the 22-yarder leading off Iowa’s drive to drain the last 2:12 off the clock. WR Tevaun Smith could still make a run at Weisman. He had pass receptions of 55 and 21 yards. The 55-yarder was a TD; the 21 helped set up Mike Meyer’s 34-yard FG that held up as the winner. CJF also had a 25-yard reception. (NIU: 3, MSU: 4; ISU 3; WMU 4; Minn 4; Mich St 2; OSU 3; NU 2; WI 3; P 4)
M 0 — Yes, that’s a zero. This after Michigan, with the same QB, racked up seven 20-plus plays against the Hawkeyes in a 42-17 victory last season at Ann Arbor. That’s two gigantic turnarounds by Iowa’s defense, vs. Michigan and vs. Northwestern. (NIU: 5. MSU: 4; ISU 4; WMU 1; Minn 2; Mich St 5; OSU 2; NU 2; WI 3; P 3)
Two-minute magic (points, final two minutes of half)
Iowa 0 — Wait, didn’t Meyer’s field goal come late? No, it was with 6:02 left. That’s also how long Iowa held Michigan’s offense to the mat. (vs NIU: 7, vs MSU: 0; vs ISU 6; vs. WMU 14; vs. Minn 0; Mich St 7; OSU 0; NU 0; WI 0; P 7)
M 7 — The Wolverines put together one, nice organic drive all day. When I say “organic,” I mean one drive that wasn’t set up by an interception. Iowa punted into the wind and Michigan had the ball at the Hawkeyes’ 47 with 3:24 left on the clock. The Wolverines drove 10 plays and went up on a 9-yard TD pass to WR Jeremy Gallon. It was 21-7 with 41 seconds left in the first half. At this point, the crowd of 65,708 probably thought about the warmth of their living rooms. No idea on what percentage actually opted out, but I don’t think a high number. (NIU: 3, vs MSU: 0; ISU 0, vs. WMU 0; Minn 0; Mich St 0; OSU 0; NU 0; WI 14; P 7)
Iowa big plays (going by OC Greg Davis’ definition of 12-plus yard run and 16-plus pass)
10 — Second time in double digits here this season. A hugely impressive number if you consider the wind, which was a factor. Rudock threw the ball well going into the 18 mph gust. Six of these were passes. Rudock also had a 19-yard scramble. Weisman had two 20-plus rushes. Canzeri had a 12 rush and 17 pass. Smith had 55 and 21 receptions. Offense averaged more than 6 yards a play in the second half. The game drifted into the danger zone and the offense buzzed the tower (that’s a deep “Top Gun” reference, sorry about that). (vs NIU: 5; vs MSU: 6; vs ISU 7; vs WMU 10; Minn 8; Mich St 2; OSU 4; NU 5; WI 7; P 13)