As frustrating as the game was, Iowa actually played a pretty good game. If you just looked at the stats and saw that true freshman Marcus Coker had 129 yards, Ricky Stanzi was 22/33 for 290 yards, Iowa had 22 first downs and 445 yards of total offense, while Indiana had just 313 yards, Ben Chappell completed less than 60% of his pass and threw an interception, and the Hoosiers scored just 13 points...well you would have thought this game was a blow out.
Oh the red zoneSo, why did it take a wide open, for the win, dropped pass in the endzone for Iowa to win the game. You could point to a couple of minor issues (penalties, kickoff coverage, etc...) that contributed to the class game, but what it really game down to was the red zone. Iowa drove the ball 4 times inside of Indiana's 10 yard-line and came up with just 9 points (3 Meyer field goals and a miss). That's just 2.25 points per red zone trip. Iowa had been averaging 5.6 points per trip. If Iowa had converted on 1 or 2 of those trips and scored somewhere near their average, then we would have been looking at a much more comfortable lead at the end of the game.
I have been trying to figure out went so wrong in the red zone. I think part of it had to do with Robinson being out. I think Coker did an amazing job overall, but just okay inside the 20; he a rushes of 4, 4, -1, 12, 1, and 2. It seems like Robinson usually is able to take an outside zone to the left for a score, or at least get Iowa close enough to sneak it in or hit play-action out of the goal-line set. I think Robinson's absence had a bigger impact on the play calling, though. Stanzi threw the ball 9 times in the red zone...he went 2/9 for 9 yards. He over threw a couple of fades to DJK, threw it behind Sandeman (though it was still catchable), and just looked generally out of sorts. Another trip was stalled by back-to-back penalties. The red zone play was just bad.
There is some real depth this yearMoving on... Iowa has been forced to use a lot of young players this year largely due to injuries. For the most part, these young guys have performed really well. And, they are getting some great big game experience (not just mop up time against FCS teams) that will help them later in their careers. The two perfect examples on Saturday were Marcus Coker and James Morris; two true freshmen starting in two very important positions.
Coker started in place of Adam Robinson and became the third straight true freshman running back to go over 100 yards against Indiana. He actually had over 100 yards in the first half and finished with 129 yards on 22 carries. He looked very good out there too. He made good decisions, held on to the ball, and broke a good number of tackles. I also didn't notice him having any troubles picking up the blocking. Coker gets my vote for player of the game.
Morris started his second game as the MLB. He has been getting better every week and once again had a good game. He had 9 tackles, an assisted TFL, 2 pass break ups, and a QB hurry. The 2 pass break ups were definitely encouraging. I think his coverage skills were more in question than his ability to defend the run (which he has been excellent doing...he cleans up a lot of tackles).
Also needing mention is Mike Meyer, another freshman who has stepped up big this year. Daniel Murray has been dealing with a hip injury all year (he didn't even travel to Bloomington), and Meyer has stepped up to be the starting place kicker. He went 4/5 on field goals on Saturday (he missed a 22-yarder from a harsh angle) and raised his season total to 9/11. He looks like he'll be Iowa's starting kicker for the next 3 years and there's no reason to believe he won't improve. When he is making over 80% of his FGs thus far, there's not much room to complain.
The offensive line is better than expectedI have thought this for a few weeks now, but this game just reiterated it. The offensive line coming into this year was a big question mark. It has turned out to be an exclamation point in my mind. The line opened up some big holes for Coker and Stanzi for the most part had ample time to throw (though he was sacked twice).
The O-line has dealt with some injury and not had any noticeable letdown. Adam Gettis and Nolan MacMillan, the two right guards, both sat Saturday with injuries. Josh Koeppel, a center, started in their place and played very well. The rest of the line was good as well. Reiff and Vandervelde have done an excellent job on the left side of the line all year. Ferentz has been a very good center, and Zusevics is probably playing better than anyone expected. This line has really come together, and the best news is that most of the pieces will be back next year. Vandervelde is the only senior who has regularly started. The line next year will likely be: Reiff, Gettis, Ferentz, MacMillan, Zusevics (which looks really good to me).
Going forwardIt's kind of nice that Indiana is going to be in the other division and is not a protected rival. Iowa does have the Hoosier on the schedule the next two years though. For whatever reason, they have caused Iowa all kinds of problems the last few years, so having a couple years off might be a good thing.
Also, I now feel more confident about the Northwestern game (another team Iowa has struggled with for some reason). If Iowa responds to the shaky performance in a similar fashion to the response after the Wisconsin loss, then look out Wildcats. Iowa, yet again, just needs to clean up a couple of things and will be ready next week.