IOWA CITY, Iowa — Aggravation, not frustration, seemed to grip Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and quarterback C.J. Beathard in the moments following their 14-7 win at Rutgers on Saturday.
The point output was Iowa’s lowest this season, as was its third-down conversion percentage. But the Hawkeyes did run the football effectively after a week in the ditch. They flipped field position. There were long drives. But the source of aggravation comes from the eye-rolling ways the offense ended drives.
A strong push to the Rutgers’ 11 derailed when Beathard accidentally stepped on running back LeShun Daniels’ foot, Daniels losing 2 yards. Receivers were covered in key situations. Beathard missed an open back in the flat for a first down.
But the penalties, oof, the penalties. A decent start to a second-quarter drive ended when an Iowa assistant collided with an official. That took a second-and-10 to a second-and-25. An illegal block below the waist (which Ferentz contested) wiped out a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Later in the quarter, a holding call on a second-and-2 running play pushed the Hawkeyes from field-goal range.
They were killer plays on Saturday. But they aren’t poison pills.
“I’m not saying this to discredit opponents at all, but when you are penalized — it’s kind of like sacks,” Ferentz said. “Sacks aren’t just the line; there might be a couple of things going on. One of those holding penalties from where I stood was the back not staying with the play, kinda bounced it out and left the lineman in a bad spot. It’s a team thing. Everybody has to understand why certain things are important and why you have to stay with your keys or your roles.”
Then there’s the lack of execution. Late in the third quarter, Iowa ran twice for 4 yards to set up third-and-2 at its 41. Then a missed block on running play turned into a 1-yard gain instead of 4. That led to a punt.
A whiffed block on third-and-8 at Rutgers’ 13 turned a possible touchdown into a 3-yard gain in the second quarter. On the next play, Iowa eschewed the 30-yard field goal for an incomplete pass into tight coverage.
The passing game wasn’t immune, either. Beathard misfired on a couple of passes. Several times the receivers didn’t gain enough separation.
Iowa’s troubles were collective, no doubt. But they also are correctable, Beathard said.
“We’re close,” Beathard said. “It’s just as a matter of us putting it together. When you shoot yourselves in the foot like that, it’s tough to overcome that in drives. When you have a positive play and it’s called back and then you’re playing behind the chains, it’s tough to overcome those in drives. I think we’re just going to get better as a team. The offense didn’t play near as well as we wanted to (Saturday), but we’ll keep improving.”
The Hawkeyes’ first two games were practically a breeze offensively. Iowa put up 45 points on Miami of Ohio and 42 against Iowa State. But with two starting offensive linemen out against North Dakota State, the running game was choked (34 yards) and Beathard routinely was hit in the 23-21 loss. Against Rutgers, Iowa rushed for 193 yards.
“I think each game you play tells its own little story in how the game plays out,” Beathard said. “Obviously we didn’t play as well offensively (Saturday) or last week as we did against Iowa State. But games are going to be like that. You can’t expect it, ‘OK, score 42 points and 45, 50.’
“Each game is different in its own sense. We wanted to play better (Saturday) than we did offensively. We didn’t do very well, but we’ll look at the tape and we’ll improve.”