Iowa holds Iowa State to 9 and still loses

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I will do my best not to turn this into a full out rant on Greg Davis and the completely inept offense. But let me make this perfectly clear, this loss lands solely on the shoulders of the offense. The defense played a hell of a game. They forced 4 turnovers, held Iowa State to 9 points, came up time and time again with their backs against the wall to give the offense a chance...only to have the offense let them down. To their credit, they didn't give up. They kept fight until the end, even though they probably knew the offense wasn't going to come through.

Four factors in review

Contain Steele Jantz - For the most part, good job defense. Jantz had only 40 total rushing yards and only picked up one third down with his feet and was stuffed for no-gain or a loss on a couple of others. And though the D didn't come up with a sack, they had 8 TFLs and pressured Jantz into a couple of bad throws.

Vertical Offense - Well, at least they tried...some. Vandenberg took a couple of shots down the field and was mostly unsuccessful. He had 2 picked off, both in hurry-up mode and both trying to be overly aggressive when conservatism might have been the right decision. He was never in-sync with Kevonte Martin-Manley and overthrew a probable TD.

The mid-range pass was a little more present. The best play Iowa ran all day was the classic Ken O'Keefe play-action bootleg where all the receivers flood one side of the field at multiple levels. Of course Vandenberg never threw it to the deepest level, but was at least not throwing it to the guy in the flat.

What was very frustrating though, was the way Iowa failed to attack ISU's cornerbacks when they were in obvious man coverage. In past years, it was almost an automatic check at the line to throw a fade over the man coverage. How many times did we see that last year with Marvin McNutt? Well it was absent Saturday as Iowa State consistently loaded the box and player cover 1 with the receivers out wide in single coverage.

And you can't blame the pass protection this week. It was fantastic. Vandenberg had all day to sit in the pocket to try to find someone open. Iowa didn't give up a sack, and Vandenberg was only even pressured a couple of time.

In the red-zone - Another fail by the offense, another win by the defense. Iowa's offense drove inside the 20 just twice and twice came away with field goals. The 3 play sequence when Iowa had 1st-and-goal from the 3 at the very end of the third quarter was atrocious. To make excuses, Iowa thought they had scored to have a review bring it back, got stuffed on first down, then had the quarter end and had to go all the way to the other end of the field...that kind of killed their momentum. But the play calling was frustrating. All three plays were from a 3 TE set...the first two where runs right up the gut that went nowhere. The third was a pass that was defended/dropped in the end zone. If Iowa wanted to pass out of a 3 TE set, they should have done it one first or second down when it would have been more of a surprise. They weren't fooling anyone on third down. If they really wanted to pass on third down, bring in some receivers and don't throw to the fullback. (To be fair to Mark Weisman, the receivers weren't doing a much better job catching the ball either...there were 8 drops on the day. His was the only drop in the end-zone tough.)

Defensively, Iowa held Iowa State to just 9 points on 5 red-zone trips. That's pretty amazing. Iowa forced three red-zone turnovers...2 fumbles and an interception. Iowa State drove inside the 10 on all 3 of those drives that ended in turnovers. The last one was particularly spectacular. Iowa State was running down the clock in the fourth quarter and a TD would have essentially put the game out of reach. On 3rd-and-goal, James Morris picked off Steele Jantz and returned the INT all the way to mid-field, setting up the offense was a chance to win. Of course, they went 4-and-out on 4 straight incompletions.

Field position - Iowa squarely lost the field position game. It felt like the entire second half Iowa was stuck getting the ball around its own 15, would go 3-and-out, punt it out to about ISU's 45, ISU would go 3-and-out, then punt it down to the 15. Rinse and repeat.

Iowa's average starting field position was its 23 yard line. Iowa State's average start was at its 36.

It wasn't so much the kicking game, punts or kick offs, that made the difference. Both Connor Kornbrath and Kirby Van Der Kamp averaged about 37 yards per punt. The difference was really Iowa's offense wasn't able to move the ball down the field what so ever to help reverse the field.

Overly aggressive

Maybe it's my risk averse nature, but I generally am okay with Kirk Ferentz's conservatism. And Saturday Iowa looked more aggressive than usual with some of its calls, and I'm guess KF would like to have those decisions back.

The first un-Ferentz thing we saw was at the end of the first half as Iowa came out in its hurry-up offense and tried to drive down the field for a quick score before half. After a successful screen pass and a short run, Iowa decided to take a shot down the field...Interception.

Luckily, Iowa State wasn't able to capitalize and missed a 54-yard field goal as the half expired. It still wasn't pretty.

The second was the play the effectively ended the game. After picking up a huge 4th down and using Damon Bullock as a receiver out the backfield, Iowa was down to ISU's 32 yard line with around a minute to go needing only a FG to tie. Mike Meyer has already hit a 50-yarder this year. So at worst, Iowa should have been looking at a makeable FG to tie. This is where Iowa usually would have played it safe...run up the middle, short pass to the sideline, that kind of thing. Instead, Vandenberg throws it down-field over the middle and has it picked off. Game over. Credit to Jake Knott for making an amazing play getting that interception, but still it shouldn't have been thrown.

Some stats

BHGP presented some statistics without comment. I'm going to comment though. Iowa's offense is by the numbers in the bottom 10 in the nation. They are 120th in yards per play ( horray horizontal offense) and 115th in points per play. 114th in scoring offense, 119th in yards per passing attempt, and on and on. Just terrible.

Make excuses if you want. There are plenty of other teams that have new offensive coordinators. Plenty of teams that lost their best running back and wide receiver from last year. Plenty of teams that aren't full of 5-star recruits. But there are only about 5 teams that have a worse offense.

The defense has a new coordinator too. They lost a ton of starters on the defensive line, and half of the secondary. They don't have a bunch of 5-star guys either. And what has the defense done? They are a top 30 defense by the numbers. 25th in yards per play. 27th in points per play, 20th in total defense, 26th in pass efficiency defense, 26th in TFLs, etc...

So just more of the defense playing well, the offense not.

Of the games

Player of the game - I don't know. Clearly nobody from the offense (though Bullock had a good game with over 100 all-purpose yards). Anthony Hitchens had a monster game with 19 tackles. I'll give the POG to James Morris though. He struggled at times and missed a couple of tackles, but still finished with 12 tackles, had a TFL, an INT, and a fumble recovery.

Play of the game - It was Morris's interception. He picked it off in the end zone, and then returned it 50 yards giving the offense its best field position of the day. They only need about 15 yards to give Meyer a shot at tying the game. As we've been over before...4 incomplete passes later and the ball was right back in ISU's hands.

Good coaching decision of the game - Hmm. I don't have a particular call in mind, but I thought for the second week in a row Phil Parker made great adjustments at half. Iowa State didn't score a second half point. The Cyclones had 7 real drives in the second half; 5 ended in punts, 1 ended in a fumble, and 1 ended in an interception.

Closing thoughts

Last week my closing thoughts were those of optimism. The defense played well and the offense moved the ball up and down the field, just failed to score touchdowns.

This week, I am not so optimistic. The defense was still solid, but the offense failed to do anything right. The good rushing attack from last week was gone as ISU loaded up the box forcing Iowa to pass. And when Iowa was forced to pass, they failed.

Sure, there were signs of promise. The offense did drive down into field goal range on their final drive and could/should/would have tied the game if not for the INT. They also showed a little life in the middle of a couple of their drives. I'm talking about stringing 2 or maybe 3 plays together in what looked a competent offense. That's about it though.

Now Iowa has two more weeks to get it together before the B1G schedule starts. And that doesn't mean I think they can just cruise to victory the next two weeks. If the offense plays like it has, then Iowa will lose to UNI and maybe to Central Michigan as well. But the B1G season is what counts, right?

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