As I will do on occasion, I spent Sunday night breaking down the game film from Iowa's latest football game.
It was a pleasurable experience this week, recounting Iowa's 40-22 win over the Gophers. Here are some of my thoughts from the game, with the luxury of the remote control and slow motion instant replay at my finger tips.
PS: Dear Santa, I want a Tivo for Christmas.
Fred Russell was absolutely flying on the opening kick return. He darn near outran Marcus Schnoor to the hold and what a great hole it was. A return left was on, and the wedge formed a great wall, opening up a gaping hole on the left side which Russell hit at full speed. Good thing for Minnesota that they kept a couple of guys back as safety valves on that play, or Russell would have been gone. I know Russell has taken some heat this year for not being as fast, but if you watch the tape of that play, the kid can still fly. This time, an opponent had the angle on him; Russell did not get dragged down from behind by a DB that runs a 4.3 forty, like he did against Miami of Ohio on two separate occasions.
On the first play from scrimmage, the Hawkeyes went to Ole Faithful: the play action waggle play.
They must have seen something on film last week that made them think Minnesota would be vulnerable, or they just broke a tendency (which they did a lot in the first half).
Normally, Chandler fakes the stretch play to the left and keeps it going back to the right. The right side WR clears out on a fly, and the left side WR drags across the deep middle, and the tight end blocks down left for an instant, then releases to the right, so you have at least two receiving options dragging parallel with the quarterback.
On this play, Ochoa was wide open and Chandler threw the ball 46 yards in the air on the run. Though the ball was under thrown and Ochoa had to slow down and wait, again, it was on the run and off of one foot.
After getting nothing the next two plays, Chandler was sacked on 3rd and 8 and nearly coughed the ball up trying to make a throw as he was going down. The officials blew the play dead, must be the college version of ‘in the grasp' and the ball came out after the whistle. Chandler is just so big and strong; he knows it takes a lot to bring him down. That can be a good thing, but Nathan has made more than a few throws this year falling down. Fortunately, most of them have not hurt the Hawkeyes.
On Minnesota's first possession, their first play, Marion Barber flat out planted Atwan Allen who had come up to support the run. If Allen had made the tackle, it would have been a two yard loss. But Allen tasted Barbers knee pads and Marion gained 12 yards. There was also a great crack back block by MN WR #83 on Bob Sanders. They do that extremely well.
On the next play, they ran Barber to the right and MN OL #78 made a great block on Steen that also took Sanders out of the play and Barber picked up another 13 yards. Sanders could have made a stop for no gain.
On their third play from scrimmage at the Iowa 43, Minnesota was called for illegal procedure, so they had 1st and 15. That turned out to be a big penalty that probably killed their drive. After a couple of short slant completions (another theme on the day and something you will see Wisconsin do), MN dropped a slant on Atwan Allen that ended the drive. They missed the field goal. Penalties and turnovers really hurt the Gophers on this day.
On Iowa's second possession, the Hawks ran Russell twice on first and second down and got one yard. That set up third and nine and Chandler was intercepted trying to get a pass into Mo Brown. Minnesota's man-under-robber scheme reared its ugly head on this play. Iowa has not seen much or any of that defensive alignment this year.
Over the next day or so, I am going to look at every one of Nathan's INT's on the year and look at the down and distance. I am willing to bet sight unseen that most of them have come on third and long, something Iowa can not afford to get into.
On Minnesota's 2nd possession of the first half that started at the Iowa 21 off of the INT, Bob Sanders really asserted himself. That guy does not just hit people, which he does well, but he drives and sort of wrestles them down after contact. He almost looks like he is wrestling cattle or how a lion looks when he is tackling his prey. I will miss seeing that.
Minnesota drove the ball down deep into Iowa territory, but Abdul Hodge made a nice play on 3rd and 5 breaking up a pass that Derreck Robinson nearly intercepted. Had D-Rob been able to hang on, you could have taken the ensuing field goal off the board.
Fred Russell had another solid KOR on the next play, high stepping his way up the gut. Fred is going to need to show people at the next level that he can return kicks (which he has done in the past). I spoke to a man this morning who runs an NFL draft website about Fred and his chances at the next level.
He said the concern is over whether or not Fred can catch the ball out of the backfield. If he can do that, he might go in the 4th or 5th round. Or he might go undrafted. But if he can show some things in the return game in Iowa's last two games that will help him.
On Iowa's third possession, they ran the waggle, but this time, they faked stretch right and went left, across Chandler's body and he hit Erik Jensen for a seven yard gain. On the next play, Chandler audibled into a stretch left run that would have been there, but MN did a great job of disguising the corner blitz from the short side of the field and that was right where Chandler checked to. There was no way for Chandler to know that the corner blitz was on.
On third and 6, Chandler threw to Mo Brown, but Mo dropped the ball. It would have been a first down had he held on.
Jared Clauss was limping badly on MN's 3rd possession of the game.
Another thing I saw in the first half was that Minnesota was sort of channeling Howard Hodges into crashing hard at a 45 degree angle from his position on the LOS and where the backs line up…they were sending their tackle to block down, letting Hodges run in, and then they were running to where Howard was when he lined up. Howard ran by a lot of TFL (tackle for loss) chances on Saturday. They would then use the FB not to ‘kick block' on Hodges, as it typical of the FB on a DE, but they let Hodges crash in, then the FB ‘sealed' Hodges off from the play, or they just used Hodges aggressive style against him.
Matt Roth said in the post game, on half time adjustments:
"They were running some different stuff that we didn't expect out of the crash end. Some keys that we were keying before, we changed around and got after them in the second half. We had some adjustments at the line, and the linebackers got after those guys."
I think that one of the adjustments was having Howard not crash in, rather, go up field and force the play inside.
Tyler Luebke had such a solid game. He had 7 tackles and 2 TFL's and two of his other tackles he stopped the RB for a short game by running down the line on a great angle of pursuit from the backside. I really think he gives Iowa some good DL depth for next year. This year and last year's media guide have him listed as a junior. It lists 2001 as his first year and 2002 as his second year. Most of the papers are citing him as a junior, at any rate. He reminds me a lot of Joe Uselman.
On Iowa's 4th possession, they really went against their tendencies. They called a pass on first down and gained a first down. Then they called another pass play, a waggle, but Chandler tucked it and ran 17 yards, including a nice little spin move that picked up four at the end of that run. After picking up a first down later in that drive on a pass interference call where Ochoa was held, Iowa ran another waggle out of an ‘I' formation, breaking another tendency. Ochoa had a lot of big catches in the first half, and through this 4th drive, three of his four catches went for first downs. Iowa threw yet again on 1st down on this drive deep in MN territory, where Ochoa was brought down at the three.
On 1st and goal from the three, Iowa called another pass play; but Chandler kept the ball and blasted his way through MN defenders to the goal line.
Midway through this drive, the first quarter ended. After the drive ended in a touchdown early in the 2nd quarter, Iowa had 13 pass plays and seven run plays; two of those runs were called pass plays that Chandler kept. Through the first four drives, Iowa passed eight times on first downs.
That last paragraph is something that MN did NOT expect out of Iowa in watching every other game film this year. Good plan by Coach O'Keefe.
It was evident on MN's next drive that Antwan Allen needs another 15 pounds of muscle. He missed too many open field tackles on the day. We also saw more of Hodges crashing and MN allowing him to take himself out of the play.
On this same possession, MN's fourth, they completed a great sideline fade route on the Iowa sideline down to the Hawkeye 12. I am not sure if he was in. I rewound the play over and over and even my wife felt like the MN receiver had stepped on the line…but it was real, real close, so its hard to complain with that call.
It did not matter, because on the next play at the Iowa 12 on first down, MN OG #66 decided he block down on Matt Roth and let Luebke come into the backfield unchecked. He crushed Asad Abdul-Khaliq and forced a fumble that Matt Roth recovered. What a huge play. The score was 10-6 Iowa at that time and the Gophers would have at least come away with a field goal there.
What was amazing to see on that play is that Matt Roth had three players blocking him. He managed to knock the middle player on his keister right away and Roth still was able to get to the ball.
On Iowa's next possession, their fifth of the first half, Chandler again dropped back to pass on a play action play, but was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Robert Gallery got beat on this play and his man sacked Chandler.
Iowa had to punt and then MN could not muster anything.
On Iowa's 6th possession, the Hawkeyes were forced into a 2nd and 15 after Jermelle Lewis was dropped for a five yard loss. The play on 2nd down was a new wrinkle. The Hawks were in shotgun formation with Lewis in the backfield. Chandler took the snap and looked to pass, but then gave Lewis the handoff on the shotgun draw. Though it only gained five yards, we had not seen that look this year and it gives Wisconsin another thing to think about with Jermelle Lewis in the game. Lewis is a dual threat to run or catch the ball and his pass blocking is much improved from where it was a year ago.
Next year, the Hawkeyes are going to have a dual-threat tandem with Lewis and Albert Young. Young catches the ball extremely well out of the backfield, so when Lewis needs a blow, teams will not be able to pick up on Iowa's tendency shift with Young the way they have with Russell.
Chandler hit Ochoa for another first down pass on this drive at the MN 34. On the next play, Lewis broke a tackle at the LOS and raced 34 yards for the score. Three big things happened on that run aside from the broken tackle:
** Robert Gallery sealed off the DT and the LB with a block, with some help from David Porter.
The MN S #27 took a poor angle of pursuit on Lewis, running to where he was and not where he would be and he could not cut in time to catch Lewis.
Ramon Ochoa made a great (and legal) cut block downfield on the CB which erased Lewis' last obstacle.
Plays like that signify the beauty of football, the ultimate team sport. 17-6 Iowa.
On MN's next drive, Jovon Johnson got beat deep by MN WR #83. Then he missed a tackle, but he got back up and came back and made the tackle at the Iowa one-yard line. I am sure that he heard some things after getting beat, but he could have just laid there on the turf after missing the tackle. He did not, and it ended up saving a touchdown, because two plays later, Bob Sanders forced a fumble on the six-inch line.
As I said, Bob Sanders has a tenacity to him. If he blitzes and misses, he stays after the play and often times makes the tackle downfield. Bob Sanders never, ever stops going 100% until he hears the whistle. Jovon showed me something there, something I hope that he never forgets: just because you get beat or miss a tackle, you cannot quit until the whistle blows.
Now, the next couple of series are interesting.
Iowa took over at the one yard line. After a couple of penalties, the ball was as close to the goal line as you can get. Chandler tried to get MN to jump offsides on one play, and actually let the play clock run out because Iowa could not move back any farther. I liked that, because there was no harm done with a possible upside. Chandler then sneaked for two yards and MN called a timeout with 1:59 to go in the half. On 2nd and 8, Iowa made a gutsy call, rolling Chandler out to his right and he pump faked to Melloy on a drag and go route. It netted 22 yards and got Iowa to the 25. That was HUGE for field position. Iowa then hurried things up and Chandler tried to hit Brown on a deep post, but it was incomplete.
I was shocked to see that, as that went against what Iowa has done all season late in the first half: they were still being aggressive with 75 yards to go for the score and tried to sneak one in there.
After two more incompletions, David Bradley boomed a 75 yard punt! You can argue that the punt got Iowa three points.
Minnesota had the ball back with :59 seconds to go. They ran a play for no gain. Iowa was NOT going to call a timeout and they had two remaining. But Minnesota quickly came up to the line and snapped the ball with :38 seconds left and threw an incompletion. That really helped Iowa there. They ran on third down and Iowa called time out and MN punted the ball with :23 seconds to go in the half.
Ochoa got to the Iowa 48 before he was tackled with :14 to go. But there was a holding call on MN, so there was a re-kick. This time, the punt was a low line drive that Ochoa fielded at the MN 37.
Coach O'Keefe sent in the play with Chandler, but Iowa did not have the right personnel on the field, so they had to take their final timeout.
And in came Nate Kaeding, much to the delight of the Kinnick faithful. A roar built just prior to Nate's attempting the 55-yarder. It was a high snap, but David Bradley, as he usually does, got the ball down perfectly and Kaeding drilled it.
In the first half, Iowa passed the ball 10 times on first down.
There were some highlights in the second half, but clearly the Hawkeyes came out of the locker room ready for action. Sanders' blitz on MN's first series that forced a fumble was a great play. Again, two men went with Roth and Sanders was unchecked. MN's QB saw the blitz coming but did not look Bob's way after the snap.
Marcus Schnoor made a great tackle on a kickoff return, fighting through a shoulder block and making first contact at the MN 6. Miguel Merrick is going to be a hitter. He already is.
As I was drifting off to sleep around 1am after watching the tape, I thought back to last year at how there were so many gifted players that moved on.
One could argue that 2002 saw the best OL in school history, one of the best centers and tight ends in school history, etc.
This year's team might have the best offensive lineman in school history, statistically one of the best running backs in school history, the most physically gifted receiver in school history, the best kicker in school history and the best strong safety in school history. Throw in Jermelle Lewis, who I feel is the most talented running back I have seen at Iowa.
All of those players were on the 2002 team and played significant roles.
Chuck Hartlieb told me this morning that he disagrees with me when I call this a rebuilding year. Maybe he is right. But we both acknowledge that the attrition this team has had to overcome has made it a very tough year.
And with a win on Saturday against the Badgers, Iowa might find themselves back in Florida for another New Years day bowl.
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