IOWA CITY, Iowa — A live viewing of Iowa’s 14-7 win over Minnesota on Saturday wasn’t for the faint of heart. After all, it wasn’t the prettiest football game.
At second glance, however, while all the warts in the game didn’t disappear, the play of the Iowa defense did come to the forefront.
Let’s break down the film.
Defending the pig
Iowa entered TCF Bank Stadium in possession of Floyd of Rosedale. The defense made sure the Hawkeyes left with it. The Golden Gophers only gained 268 total yards. They were 4 of 15 on third down. They scored only 1 touchdown.
It was a knockout victory for the Iowa defense, and like with most strong defensive games for the Hawkeyes it began at the line of scrimmage. Iowa (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) cured one of its biggest ails in recent weeks, controlling the line of scrimmage all day against Minnesota (3-2, 0-2).
The biggest improvement in this regard came at defensive tackle. Jaleel Johnson put together one of his best games of the season, collecting 4 tackles with 1 sack and 1 tackle for loss while also clogging Minnesota rushing lanes in the middle of the defense.
The impact of a defensive tackle isn’t always seen in the box score, as evidenced by Johnson’s seemingly low number of tackles. But watch on this video as the entire Iowa defensive line stands firm and the ball carrier has nowhere to go but near Johnson, who gets off his block to stop the play.
Missed tackles and defenders on the second and third level not reacting fast enough were also problems in recent weeks for the Hawkeyes. There were still missed tackles against the Golden Gophers, but defenders reacted and responded to plays quicker against the Gophers.
Take linebacker Bo Bower. Like Johnson, he put together one of his better performances of the season with a team-high 7 tackles. More importantly, he was where he needed to be when it mattered, like on this run. He stepped into the hole when he reads it’s a handoff, sheds a block and forces a fumble while going for the tackle.
The defensive fundamentals Iowa harped on during the week were there on Saturday. It was a big reason why Iowa was strong across the board, defending the run and pass.
But on Saturday, there was no one more consistent than cornerback Desmond King. Of course, that’s no surprise with King being the reigning Thorpe Award winner. The surprise was Minnesota tried attacking him. Few teams have this season and the Golden Gophers went at him from the start. It didn’t end well — King recorded 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss and 1 pass breakup, and nearly had an interception.
This play highlights what makes King so good. King followed Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky as he went in motion. There isn’t much separation between the two on a slant route and King swatted the ball away.
It wasn’t only King, either. Cornerback Greg Mabin played textbook defense on Minnesota wide receiver Brian Smith on the Gophers’ final offensive snap, keeping with Smith all the way to the end zone, thwarting a would-be touchdown, and ensuring the Iowa win.
It all came together for the Iowa defense, which spent much of Saturday holding Minnesota to three-and-outs and getting off the field quickly. At no point was that more important than the fourth quarter, with Iowa trailing 7-6. With each Hawkeyes failed drive on offense, the ensuing drive for the Iowa defense grew in importance. Here is a look at the Iowa defense’s first three drives in the fourth quarter:
|First series||3 plays||6 yards allowed|
|Second series||3 plays||5 yards allowed|
|Third series||3 plays||3 yards allowed|
This stretch probably got lost a little during the game. Without it, however, the Hawkeyes don’t get the chance to convert the go-ahead touchdown. On the first play following that third defensive stand, Iowa got one last big play to finally grab the win.
Paving the path to victory
Plenty was made after the contest about Iowa sticking with the running game and it resulting in the Akrum Wadley game-winning, 54-yard touchdown run.
The run wasn’t working early for early (just 5 yards on its first 5 carries). On the first Iowa rushing play, offensive guard Sean Welsh couldn’t stay in front of his man and it caused running back LeShun Daniels to get wrapped up in the backfield.
The rest of the offensive line did a decent job and a hole was there for Daniels to run through. If he can get to it, the Hawkeyes open the game with a huge gainer.
This is what happened early on — something kept popping up that kept Iowa from consistently breaking loose for big runs. As the game went on, however, the running game improved.
|First quarter||9 runs||1 run of at least 6 yards|
|Second quarter||7 runs||2 runs of at least 6 yards|
|Third quarter||9 runs||5 runs of at least 6 yards|
|Fourth quarter||15 runs||1 run of at least 6 yards|
Things peaked in the second half, culminating in the Wadley touchdown run. On the play, tight end George Kittle cleared out his man and Welsh pulled and put a defensive tackle on his backside. Wadley burst through the hole, made one defender miss about 8 yards downfield, and he was off to the end zone.
And this run became all the more important when the running game stalled after the Wadley score, preventing Iowa from running out the clock and making things little too interesting late.
Iowa changed up its offensive line on Saturday, moving Boone Myers moved to left tackle, switching Cole Croston from left to right tackle, and sliding Ike Boettger inside to guard. It resulted in some rushing lanes and more time for quarterback C.J. Beathard in the passing game. The line play wasn’t perfect, but Iowa moved in the right direction.
It was a performance the Hawkeyes can build on.
What’s up with the aerial attack?
That being said, the Iowa passing game was a little schizophrenic. Beathard finished 17 of 31 for 142 yards, with no scores and 2 interceptions. But he found success with the short passing game, including this screen pass to wide receiver Riley McCarron. A block by tight end Kittle helped spring McCarron for 21 yards.
ESPN sideline reporter Rocky Boiman said Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis wanted Beathard to limit his throws to his first two receiving options and, if neither was open, throw it away or run. When Beathard got the ball out quick, especially in the short passing game, he looked good.
That wasn’t the case the rest of the time. He missed on two potential passes in the end zone that could have opened the game up. He threw to McCarron’s back shoulder and let a trailing defender deflect the football in the first quarter. He led wide receiver Jerminic Smith out of bounds in the end zone in the third quarter. Iowa settled for field goals on both series.
As for those two interceptions, the first was off a tipped pass intended for Smith, the second occurred when Minnesota linebacker Jack Lynn came free up the middle. Under the pressure, Beathard threw the ball up for grabs and it fell in the hands of Minnesota linebacker Kamal Martin.
Iowa running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. didn’t help out Beathard with how he ran his wheel route, but the poor pass was the biggest reason for the interception.
The receivers also dropped four passes. Beathard appeared to hurt his draft stock on Saturday, but the problems with the passing game go beyond the quarterback.
There were a lot of positives for Iowa to take away from this win, most notably the defense showing what it needs to do for Big Ten success. The Minnesota game could very well go down as a turning point for the offensive line, as well. The passing game, however, isn’t at that point yet.
Iowa can build on this performance. The question after a second glance is if the Hawkeyes will follow through and do so.