Iowa CITY, Iowa - The Iowa football team returned to practice on Tuesday after spending Labor Day off the field and in the film room. The Hawkeyes focused on fixing glaring defensive breakdowns that showed up in Saturday's opener against Northern Iowa.
The Panthers exploited holes up the gut, three times isolating middle linebacker Quinton Alston with their big, fast tailback David Johnson. The UNI star took screen passes and raced 60 yards early in the game and 70 yards in the third quarter, the latter a touchdown.
While the second-level mistakes were obvious to the eye, the other breakdowns on those plays and others weren't as apparent. Senior strong safety Johnny Lowdermilk was caught out of position on a touchdown pass. And the secondary did the linebackers no favors on the big plays.
"You know, any time you have something like that that involves someone on the front end it's also the secondary end, as well. It was probably the most displeasing part about the ballgame, giving up big plays, particularly in the passing game, and if we’re going to have a good defensive ball club we’re going to have to eliminate those things, and that’s a team thing," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said during his weekly press conference Tuesday here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
"Short throws, long runs, that's just not a good thing. I just had a flashback to Purdue '02 I think it was, where they caught one right across the middle and right up. When that happens, it's hard to feel good about what you're doing defensively. You know, we know that. We've got to get that cleaned up. I think it was six or seven plays over 20 yards, and three of those being 60 plus yards. So I mean, you wonder how they got 405, there you go, so that's a credit to them. They did a great job. I'm not saying that in a derogatory sense at all. We know where we have to work, and that's what we'll do this week."
In addition to breaking in three new linebackers, Greg Mabin (cornerback), Jordan Lomax (free safety) and Nate Meier (defensive end) started their first games at their respective positions. Iowa defensive players here on Tuesday said the game film revealed mistakes could be attributed to communication failures and poor alignment.
"There are different levels of communication - D-line, linebacker, DBs. So, we've got to communicate better. That was probably one of the biggest things as well as doing our assignments. It makes our job easier," Defensive Tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat said.
To Alston's credit, the fifth-year senior stepped up after Saturday's game and again Tuesday and took responsibility for his mistakes. He believed he could fix what went wrong.
"I need to get more depth (in pass coverage). We have to communicate. It's something we put behind us but we're still going to remember it. We'll get back at it this week," he said
While the big plays stuck out like sore thumbs, the defensive played well as a whole. The Hawkeyes held UNI to 25 rushing yards on 25 carries. Panther Senior Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen completed just 17 of 37 passes and was picked off twice.
"The beauty about is that we know can get better. If we take away those passing yards, that scoreboard wouldn't have been what it was. We were proud and we were upset at the same time. We did a good job in the rushing game. We made sure we got pressure and made some stops," Defensive Tackle Carl Davis said.
Ball State comes to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday after beating FCS-level Colgate, 30-10, last weekend. The Cardinals rolled up 514 yards of offense (311 rushing, 203 rushing).
READ AND REACT: Jake Rudock enjoyed a solid performance in Week 1. The Iowa quarterback completed 31 of 41 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
Rudock hit a couple of big throws, one a 46-yarder to freshman Derrick Willies. Most of his damage came underneath on check downs. He felt like, overall, he did well with his progressions.
"They gave some different coverages. Sometimes you think it's one thing, and it is to that side of the field but to the other side it's a little bit different. That's hard to always see the whole field the way the progressions work. There were sometimes when I might have left one a little early. But that can happen. If you would have stayed with them a little longer, it would have been there, but just the rhythm, the time and the place felt off for me so I was like, OK, I have to get off and go to the next one," he said.
Ferentz was pleased with how Rudock read the defense.
"That's how (the Panthers are) built. They're pretty much a deep zone team and have been, so that's what I said a week ago. Typically their style is to make you earn it and work for it, and I think that's a good defensive strategy personally, unlike what we did. That's a good thing when you can make people drive the ball 10, 12 plays, that's typically a good strategy, and they did a nice job, so we didn't expect many clean shots down the field. Going into the game didn't look like part of the possibility," he said.
ISN'T THAT SPECIAL?: In addition to changes on defense, Iowa broke in a new punter and kicker on Saturday. Results were mixed.
Punter Dillon Kidd hit four balls for an average of 36.2 yards. One of them was downed inside the 20.
Kicker Marshall Koehn knocked through a 40-yard field goal but missed from 37. Four of his six kickoffs went for touchbacks.
"I thought it was okay. I know Marshall would have liked to have gotten that one field goal, and we'd feel better about that. His kickoffs were good, and Dillon punted okay. He can punt better, he has punted better, and I think that'll come," Ferentz said.
The leash for the starting specialists appears to have some length.
"Guys have to practice well and they've got to perform well, and yet at the same time, and I told Dillon this going in, and Marshall the same thing, it's no good if they're looking over their shoulders. You can't do that. I think it's in fairness to both those guys we've got to let them compete a little bit and perform, and then we'll see how it goes," Ferentz said.
RUNNING BACK ROTATION: Ferentz was asked about the advantages and disadvantages of playing four running backs. He answered vaguely.
"You know, still working that out ourselves. LeShun (Daniels) is probably a little bit more like Mark (Weisman), and Jordan (Canzeri) is a little bit more like Damon (Bullock) or vice versa. We're still working through that, and we'll just see how it plays out. I think any time you can change the pace, it's probably not a bad thing. There are virtues with both styles of running," he said.
Weisman received 10 carries in Week 1 and produced 34 yards. Daniels was next in line with eight carries for 15 yards. Canzeri rushed seven times for 22 and Bullock three for 10.
Added together, the top four running backs carried 28 times for 81 yards (2.9 yards per tote). Fifth-team back Jonathan Parker ripped off 21 yards on a sweep and receiver Tevaun Smith tallied 35 on a reverse.
"I'll give UNI a lot of credit, they had an excellent game plan both sides and special teams, and they did some things that made it a little tough for us on the run game and made us adjust," Ferentz said. "I thought we did a good job adjusting during the course of the game, but it wasn't the same old same old. I mean, they threw a couple of wrinkles at us that we had to discuss and try to come up with some answers for. They're a good, aggressive team, and they're very well coached. We knew that coming in, we just didn't know what the variables would be."
Ferentz said last week that they would play but hinted that fullback Aaron Mends and kicker Mick Ellis also were possibilities. The coach said Tuesday it was unlikely the staff would dig deeper into the true freshmen pool.
"We're probably about where we were last week, so hopefully if somebody emerged, that would be a possibility. On the flip-side if somebody gets hurt, which I hope we're not dealing with any time soon," Ferentz said.
Iowa played four true freshmen last season after utilizing seven in '12.
Plewa was slated to back up Adam Cox at fullback this season. He was thrusted into the starting role when Cox tore his ACL in camp.
"We're working on it. Maybe we'll have an announcement for you Saturday. We'll see. It's ongoing," Ferentz said.
FAMILY AFFAIR: After missing out on a chance to get into the NFL last season, former Hawkeye Center James Ferentz, Kirk's son, learned in the last few days that he had earned a spot on the Houston Texans practice squad.
"It's been perfect, actually, because the nights they've played are the nights we've been off, so appreciate them scheduling the way they have. It's been fun. I'm really happy for him," Kirk Ferentz said.
James Ferentz started for three seasons with the Hawkeyes. He wrapped up his college career in 2012 when he was named first-team all-Big Ten.
C.J.'s TIME COMING: Ferentz said that the coaches still are working on a way to get back-up quarterback C.J. Beathard into games. When that happens is anyone's guess.
"I can't tell you when, I can't tell you if it's going to be this week, next week, but it'll happen. It's not a knock on him, but the game the other day was just one of those deals. We'll figure that out, and we've talked about it, but whenever it happens it'll happen," Ferentz said.
Beathard is in his second season backing up Rudock, a junior. The redshirt sophomore has playing time under his belt after replacing Rudock last season when he was injured.
Beathard completed 9 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions over five games in '13. He rushed 13 times for 49 yards and two scores.
EXTRA POINTS: Linebacker Josey Jewell will remain sidelined this week, Ferentz said. The freshman from Decorah broke his hand in practice last Wednesday…Iowa announced that there were about 7,500 tickets remaining for Saturday's Ball State game. Single game tickets for the Sept. 13 game against Iowa State will go on sale Wednesday. Approximately 500 of those remained…Trinca-Pasat, Alston, Weisman and Brandon Scherff will be captains this week as they were against UNI…Saturday's forecast from weather.com is calling for a mix of clouds and run with a high of 74 degrees.