There are few things that I enjoy more than watching Iowa football.
One of them being, watching the ‘tape' of Iowa football a few times in the days immediately following the game.
I used the word ‘tape' sort of how I might say, ‘Hey, did you hear that new U2 record? It's really good.' ‘Records' are a thing of the past, and in this Tivo age, ‘tapes' are almost obsolete.
So I fired up my digital video recorder and watched the first half of Iowa's game with Kent State.
What follows are some of my thoughts and evaluations on the action.
As I said on the message boards over the weekend, I really liked what I saw of Tate on Saturday.
At one point, he had completed 10 passes in a row. Then came the incomplete fade route to Clinton Solomon where a nice play was made by the defender. After that came Tate's ill advised throw into heavy traffic that was intercepted and returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
Though he may have made one or two other throws that were not ‘A' level tosses, for the most part, he played extremely well in his first college start, in my opinion.
He has more zip on his throws than did Nathan Chandler, and he makes his decisions very, very fast on certain routes. He throws a nice out route, and though he did force the INT, he also showed some poise during the game.
There was one play with roughly 7:20 to go in the first half. Drew dropped back and loaded up to hit James Townsend on the deep post. But he broke off his throw, scanned the situation, and then ran 10 yards for a first down.
That was the exact type of scenario that I have been worried about with Tate this past offseason. I felt that he might try to go for the home run more than Ken O'Keefe would like. Iowa's offense is high percentage, low risk, or at least, that is what I have seen it to be over the last few years.
Tate also spread the ball around. With roughly 2:30 to go in the half, nine different receivers had caught passes for Iowa, including full backs Aaron Mickens and Tom Busch. Has Marcus Schnoor not dropped an easy ball early in the game, the number would have been 10.
Tate showed more poise in the pocket in the first half with his legs, and I am not talking about the 39 yards he gained on the ground in four carries.
He stepped up in the pocket on several occasions, buying himself time to survey his options. Iowa's offensive line and backs did a good job in the pass protect schemes, and Tate really made Kent State pay.
Is he a quarterback beyond his years in moxsie and poise? Let's talk about that at the end of the year, because he was not facing Michigan at the Big House.
But I saw enough to feel good about his future at Iowa.
He was 13 of 22 for 136 yards and two touchdown passes to go along with his one INT.
An overlooked stat in this game: 22 passing attempts in the first half. Is this a sign of things to come for the 2004 Hawkeyes; pass happiness?
Keep in mind that in 2003, Nathan Chandler had 26 attempts or fewer in eight of Iowa's 13 games. Three of the five games where Chandler threw more than 26 times, Iowa lost. This year, higher passing totals might not necessarily mean an ‘L' for the Hawkeyes, as Tate would have likely thrown 30 or more times, as his backup, Eric McCollom had eight attempts with a dialed down version of the offense.
I give Tate a ‘B' grade in this game.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE & BLOCKING
It was not the best display of run blocking by the Hawkeyes, but their pass protection in the first half gets a solid ‘B' grade from me.
Former walk on and first time starter Todd Plagman did a solid job at left guard. On the 35-yard Tate to Ed Hinkel third down conversion on the first drive, the lineman opposite Plagman went to the outside, as did the end. He and Lee Gray took their men that way, then the end darted inside on a twist. Plagman picked him up and danced with him like a seasoned veteran.
There was another play where Plagman made a great cut block, a situation that took place right after the snap, as if Todd sensed the action. It was the right decision, and he took his man out of the play. A good start, to be sure.
Mike Elgin played well in his first game as a starter. It was his block that freed Matt Melloy on Iowa's first touchdown of the 2004 season, a ‘jailbreak' wide receiver screen. As you probably know by now, when you throw the ball behind the line of scrimmage, the linemen can run downfield right away.
Warren Holloway made a nice block on his man, then Elgin went eight yards downfield and delivered a crushing block. Melloy was able to score easily at that point.
Another man that deserves mention for his first half blocking efforts is fullback Aaron Mickens. He made the key block on Albert Young's one-yard TD run, and he also made a nice hustle block near the end of the aforementioned 35-yard gainer by Hinkel that allowed Ed to tack 10 more yards onto that play. His block was not drawn up; he just hustled 25 yards downfield and got in the action. It should be noted that Elgin was also close behind him on that play, and Lee Gray also was seen making blocks far down the field. It would seem like these guys did learn a thing or two from Robert Gallery.
Marv Cook mentioned during the broadcast that he really thinks Scott Chandler can be a weapon for Iowa this year, lining up as the ‘H' back. After watching the first half on film, I concur.
Chandler made some good blocks in the game, including one that sprung Albert Young for an 18-yard gainer to the left. He will also be a load for LB's to handle in pass coverage.
On the whole, the line needs to shore up its run blocking, but given that they have not been able to practice together for long periods of time due to various minor injuries in camp, it was not a horrible day. I rate them a C+ in their run blocking performance.
Clearly, he is a talented back who has a very, very bright future at Iowa.
He has some nice combinations to his game:
He has a budding stiff arm (Ronnie Harmon)
He has good speed (better than Sedrick Shaw, but not Tavian-like)
He has power and looks to deliver a blow (Shaw)
He has a bounce in him (Fred Russell)
He seems to have good balance (Jermelle Lewis)
He can catch balls out of the backfield and the slot (Harmon)
He was inconsistent with his patience and vision on Iowa's zone and/or stretch plays, but he was playing in his first collegiate game.
There were a couple of plays in the first half that really stood out to me.
First off, he was routinely 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage when he lined up. Then there was a zone play to the left, the short side of the field as Iowa is wont to run, where he got the ball and just tucked it under his arm and ran to the outside. He gained four yards, but he wasted a nice cut block by Mike Jones who took out a linebacker in the middle.
On a stretch play to the left on Saturday, that meant that Jones was at right tackle. Had Young been more patient, he had at least 15 yards on a cutback to the middle, if not more. He would have been able to make a move on the free safety, and the safety was all that was between Young and the endzone. But that type of vision and patience only comes with experience.
However, Young proved to be a quick study.
In the second quarter, Iowa called a stretch/zone play to the right. Young took the ball, and made two steps to his right. He then cut back to his left on a Russell-like bounce, then hit the speed, got threw an arm tackle attempt by a diving linebacker, hit the gas again and ran past another linebacker who had the angle on him but could not lay a finger on Young, then he lowered his shoulder and slammed into a corner at the 20, and went out of bounds at the 15. It would have been a 23 yard gain were it not for Calvin Davis' holding penalty on a player that would not have made a play on Young.
So in one run, we saw patience, vision, balance, speed and power. Later in the quarter he got free for a big gain on a zone play to the left side where he threw in a nice stiff arm.
This kid also showed some nice spin moves and the ability to move the pile a bit in short yardage situations.
When Jermelle returns this week, he is the number one. To date, Russell and Lewis of 2002 have been Iowa's most productive running back duo. I think there is a chance by midseason for Lewis and Young to eclipse the Russell/Lewis combo as far as overall skills go.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
There was some good blocking taking place by Warren Holloway, Matt Melloy, Tony Jackson, Mike Follett and Scott Chandler. Clinton Solomon has a ways to go in this department, at least on some of the plays that I was able to see on tape.
Hinkel is a valuable player; it seems that all of his catches come on third downs. In fact, his first three catches on Saturday all came on third down situations, and he moved the chains every time.
Solomon has a lot of talent, he just needs to focus on the nuances of the position. Melloy is a solid route runner and does enough things well enough to earn a lot of playing time this year. He was on the field a lot in the first half on Saturday, as much or more than any other receiver.
Though there is not a Braylon Edwards or Steve Breaston in this bunch, their collective efforts should be good enough to be a positive for the team this year. That was not the case in the spring. It should be noted that Warren Holloway is the only senior receiver on the team
Marv Cook said during the telecast that he feels Iowa's front four might be the best that he has seen in Iowa City.
That is a mouthful, as Marv was a redshirt freshman on the 1984 team, meaning he saw some of Iowa's better defensive unit's during the 1980's.
He has also been living in Iowa City since his NFL playing days were over in the mid-1990's, so he has witnessed the recent strong fronts that Iowa has had.
Again, Iowa was not playing against Michigan or the talented offensive lines that Minnesota and Wisconsin have this year, but Iowa's front four will certainly be very good this year, if they remain healthy.
How good were they on Saturday? Abdul Hodge had just two tackles, that is how good. Hodge cleans up in the middle if a running back gets past the DL. He was given a virtual day off, as Jonathon Babineaux had four tackles for loss to go along with Derreck Robinson's three. Matt Roth was credited with just one tackle, and that was a sack. But he was routinely pushing his man two or three yards into the backfield. Tyler Luebke seemed to be at the bottom of several piles, though he was credited with just six tackles.
Chad Greenway was everywhere on Saturday. He led the team with 10 tackles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown and the other one was where he did his best Superman imitation.
Does anyone else think that he might have had a chance at a Dallas Clark-like career as a tight end?
Sean Considine was really laying down the lumber on Saturday, but he wishes he had one play back. It was in the first quarter, and he dropped a pass that would have been six points.
It will be fun to see what this defense can do against a Michigan, or an Arizona State, for that matter. I think they will post similar results this coming Saturday against Iowa State. The Clones will gain more yards than did Kent State, but I will be shocked if they top 200 total yards, as long as there is not a broken coverage play like there was at the end of last year's game in Ames.
Kyle Schlicher made two of this three field goal attempts, good from 20 and 33 yards and pushing a 44-yard attempt to the right. He had plenty of leg on that kick.
Leg strength will not be Kyle's problem, as he has a stronger leg than Nate Kaeding at the same age, IMO.
But Kaeding was able to get height on his kicks, something Schlicher will struggle with this year. Though the blocked PAT was not necessarily Kyle's fault, as the hold was slanted, his first field goal was very low.
That low trajectory helped him boom five touchbacks and he might someday break the Iowa record of 58-yards for the longest field goal.
All in all, it was a good opener for Kyle. I think it was a smart move letting him kick the 20-yarder on Iowa's first drive, just to get his feet wet.
Keep in mind that Kaeding was 14 of 22 in his first season at Iowa on field goals, which was a percentage of 63.6. Another thing to note is that Mike Nugent of Ohio State, perhaps the best kicker in the country was also two of three on Saturday.
One other stat for Schlicher: his kickoffs averaged 61.0 yards, which means an average of the four-yard line. He did intentionally kick one high and short, and Iowa's coverage unit dropped the returner at his own 15.
Iowa blocked another punt this week. It's almost to the point where if they do not block a punt in a game, it's news. That makes six punts blocked in their last 14 games. Greenway got the block.
David Bradley had a great game, averaging 50.8 yards per punt, both gross and net. He is the nation's leader in both categories. Two of his punts were inside the 20 and the other two were touchbacks, with a long of 70 yards.
While I don't expect him to put up Reggie Roby-like numbers this year, if he could put together a consistent season, ala Jason Baker of 2000, that could help to alleviate some pressure from Schlicher and the defense and offset the loss of Kaeding, even if just a bit.
Iowa held Kent State to –13 yards rushing and just 110 yards of total offense…Kent State had 11 first downs, five of which came by penalty…Iowa held a time of possession advantage of 40:06 to 19:54...Kent State tried and onside kick on the opening kick of the game. It went out of bounds, giving Iowa great field position. Northwestern tried doing the same thing to Iowa in 2002, and that play did not work either...Lee Gray moved before the snap on Iowa's first play from scrimmage in 2004, resulting in a five yard penalty. Gray is taking over for Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery, who allowed just one sack in 2003. That happened on Iowa's first play from scrimmage for the 2003 season against Miami (OH).
NOTE: The tape evaluations are normally reserved for website subscribers, and will return to 'subscriber only' access starting next week with our breakdown of the Iowa-Iowa State contest