Some random and not so random thoughts after breaking down film of Iowa's 38-16 win against Michigan State…
Play by play announcer Wayne Laravee, plus every other TV guy that does an Iowa game, commented on Iowa's receiving the ball to start a game 58 out of the last 60 games. He said that was an ‘incredible statistic'.
I think it has stopped being incredible, and it's just the way that Iowa wants to do things.
I guess I have never really thought much as to why Iowa does this, but last night something came to me.
Kirk Ferentz is a stickler for routine and schedules. Which is one reason why I doubt we ever see Iowa going west to play a regular season night game again, period.
Kirk also knows that most every college football program wants to put its defense on the field first, or at least, if they win the toss, defer to the second half.
Knowing that, he pretty much has it set up that if he chooses to take the ball no matter if Iowa wins the toss or not, his team can prepare the same way, knowing that 96.6-percent of the time, they will be getting the ball first to start the game. It would not shock me in the least bit if this was the real reason behind Kirk choosing to get the ball first…routine.
Now, to the game.
Tony Jackson dropped a pass on the game's first play. It was a waggle play. But later in the first half, he caught a sit down route in front of the linebackers and broke a tackle, gaining about seven more yards on the play that went for a first down. The thing that has kept Jackson from being a very good pass catching tight end has been in inconsistency with the ‘easy' or ‘routine' routes.
Scott Chandler is starting his career in similar fashion. He made a superb catch on a 3rd and three on Iowa's opening drive, the first third down attempt of that drive. It was a great throw that threaded the needle, and Chandler really did a great job of holding on to that one. Later in the game, he had two drops. However, he did make a key block on one of Clinton Solomon's skinny post routes that went for 40+yards; the block allowing Solomon to gain 15 more yards. More on that play later.
Jermelle Lewis…what can you say? He showed an amazing burst of speed on his touchdown run, as if he were running for his life. He was going to get to the corner no matter what, and seeing his excitement after he scored brought a smile to my face. But the smile quickly turned into a kick in the gut.
The play that he hurt his knee on was just an excellent play by a quarterback and running back on the same page in an improvisational level. The kind of thing you dream of as a coach.
Tate faked a handoff to Lewis up the gut, Jermelle went and sat down in front of the backers in the middle. Tate got flushed to his right, and Lewis mirrored him and went into the flat on a parallel track. MSU LB #44 then had to make a decision…stay on Lewis or commit to get Tate who could have run for several yards. Tate strung it out, and Lewis, almost sensing that the LB was ready to commit to the run, cut upfield. The LB then went after Tate, and Drew lobbed a pass over his head to Lewis, in stride. Lewis then scampered 28 yards before hurting his knee on a play where there was no contact to the leg, just a basic plant.
It was painful to watch Jermelle sitting on the bench with his leg iced and his head in his hands, because he had to believe his career at Iowa was over. It's just football, it's not young men and women in the war in Iraq.
But to Lewis, football was the way he was going to make a better life for his family, as many of you read in Rob Howe's interview with Jermelle in the August edition of Hawkeye Nation magazine. I just hope that he keeps his head up and does not allow this second major injury to affect his life adversely.
It was good to see David Walker, who recently suffered his second major injury of his career, on the sidelines consoling Lewis as well as taking part in the offensive line meetings between series'.
MSU punter Brandon Fields had an erratic day, yet still averaged 46.0 yards per punt. The ball shoots off his leg like he is trying to kill the pig that once wore the skin. The only other punter I have seen that kicks as ferociously as Fields was Iowa's Reggie Roby.
One of Fields' punts traveled 77 yards in the air and only had a hang time of four seconds. Unreal.
Back to Lewis for a second in an offensive schematic sense…Iowa has run more screen plays this year than they have since the 2001 season when Ladell Betts and Jeremy Allen were in the backfield. With Lewis and Albert Young on the shelf, one wonders about whether or not we will see that play anymore this season. It depends on Marques Simmons' ability to catch passes, but we could also see screens with Champ Davis out of a one back set.
SPEAKING OF PART I: Marques Simmons might be just the type of back that Iowa needs to run the ball this year. He is a north-south runner who gets low to the ground and almost seems to enjoy the contact that he can deliver. He gets up to speed quickly when hitting the holes. He is a one-cut running back, but this year, one cut might be all an Iowa back gets. One thing that I noticed was that once Simmons came in, Iowa ran at least two toss sweeps and very few zone plays. It might be due to his style. They also ran a waggle play off of a faked toss sweep. I don't recall seeing that one for a while.
It was great seeing him score twice on Saturday, and after his first score, he pointed to the heavens, almost in a redemptive fashion. Then on the sidelines, when people were slapping him on the shoulder pads, he was just shaking his head, not in a ‘you can't stop me' type of way, but almost seeming a bit overcome with emotion type of way.
He played on some bad football teams in high school, which was one of the reasons he chose Nebraska over Iowa. The Huskers football fortunes were better than Iowa's when he had to decide some four years ago, and that irked a few dyed in the wool Hawkeye fans. Things did not go the way he had hoped at Nebraska, and he transferred to Iowa as a walk on. After the solid spring game, he got an OWI some 13 days later, and went into the dog house. When you are a walk on and do things like that, you are in a deep hole.
Inexplicably, the man who started the season as the number four tailback is now the show, with numbers one through three likely done for the year. Young and Marcus Schnoor are out, and the prognosis for Jermelle does not look good.
Simmons now has his shot.
SPEAKING OF PART II: There was a Champ Davis sighting on Saturday. Just before the end of the first half, Davis fielded a squib kick and scampered 32 yards on the return. He set Iowa up with great field position, and they would later kick a field goal on that drive just before the end of the half, swinging momentum back in the favor of the Hawks. It was the second big momentum shift of the game.
The first shift came on the play immediately following Lewis' injury when Drew Tate locked on to Clinton Solomon on the right sideline and threw into double coverage and was picked off. The Hawks were on the march, already leading 14-0, when that INT happened. MSU would put together two very long and time consuming drives after that, but came away with just six points.
SPECIAL TEAMS WERE SOLID
A good day for Hawkeye special teams in all phases. One play that stands out was on Iowa's second possession of the game, after failing to convert a 3rd and 1 (and going shotgun in that situation, by the way), MSU tried to block Iowa's punt, which left the Iowa gunners with one defender to run interference on both Charles Godfrey and Walner Belleus. Bradley kicked a good ball, with just enough hang time that allowed both Hawkeye gunners to get to the MSU return man a split second after he caught the ball. Each of them drilled the Spartan at the exact same time, and hard. Stuff like that gets lost in football games, but those are plays that coaching staffs will underscore in film evaluation with the team, so it's what I look for when I watch tape. You can't do it any better than that.
SPREADING THE FIELD TO RUN THE BALL
It's what MSU did against Iowa on Saturday, it's what Arizona State did a few weeks back and to some degree, Michigan did the same, though they use trips all of the time. MSU sent twins left and right on numerous occasions, and at least 65-percent of the time, QB Drew Stanton ran out of that formation, and with success. What it does is send three of your DB's out wide plus one LB. They also brought a fifth receiver in motion, tying up another LB. It just gives you more room to run the football. Iowa might take a look at this in coming weeks…and they will sure as heck see this against Purdue.
HAWKS RELEASED FROM THE BURN UNIT
Iowa's defensive backs played a whale of a game on Saturday. That includes CB's Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen. Allen has been playing some pretty good football this year, and both he and Johnson made some fantastic breaks on some passes that they were able to knock down, plus they did a great job tackling in the open field.
Merrick and Paschal were everywhere, or so it seemed. Is it just me, or does Merrick seem to have a little Bob Sanders in him? The play that he made in the third quarter on MSU's opening possession was a thing of beauty.
It was MSU's first drive of the second half, and it was 3rd and three. MSU had sent a man in motion to the left, and both Edmond Miles and Chad Greenway blitzed off of the left. MSU threw a pass to the WR on the RIGHT, and a big ole MSU tackle was running out to the right flat to make a block on Merrick…it was a jailbreak screen. Merrick saw what was going on right away and went right at the ball as though shot out of a cannon…he saw the tackle bearing down on him, and did the only thing he could do in order to make a play…he launched himself like a missle and brought down the WR with one arm. It forced a punt. Had he not made that play, there was nothing but green in front of the MSU receiver, as Iowa had blitzed from the side away from the play.
Speaking of laying out on a play, Chad Greenway made one heck of a play breaking up a pass in the third quarter. He looked like a DB.
Matt Roth might not have had a huge day on the stat sheet, but he did induce one holding penalty. I guess that is a start, but it's not because he was not being held a lot. However, the signature play for Roth in this game, and one that reminded me of Aaron Kampman was with just under seven minutes to go in the 2nd quarter, and MSU in a 3rd and 7 deep in Iowa territory. MSU ran an option to its left, and Roth was lined up on MSU right, or Iowa left; on the away side of the play. Stanton had to pitch immediately, as Jonathon Babineaux had a bead on him. Roth comes hauling tail down the LOS like a mad man and ends up tackling the MSU ball carrier near the left sideline, some 15 yards away, at least, from where Roth started the play. That just should not happen, folks. Meaning, Roth should not be able to make a play like that, but he did, and Iowa killed another MSU drive and forced another field goal.
THE DREW TATE FILE
What do you know, Tate learned to slide. He did so on a waggle play after picking up five yards on first down.
Let's start with the positives, which far outnumber the negatives. Tate was efficient, yet again. Eight different Hawkeyes caught passes, and Tate throws good balls up to about 20 to 25 yards. His zip on outs and slants were great and his timing was fantastic. This kid is THE leader of the football team on offense, make no mistakes about it. Not because he is the quarterback, but because he has earned the respect of his team.
Tate still throws the deep ball about as well as Brad Banks and Nathan Chandler did, which is not all that great, but that comes from experience, or it never comes. The good thing, is that he is real good at the other stuff for just being a true sophomore.
I think that I owe Calvin Davis an apology. I said last week in this space that I didn't think Calvin would ever be a great receiver for Iowa. That was a pretty stupid thing to say, in hindsight. Iowa has not had many ‘great' receivers to begin with, certainly not on par with those Michigan has produced. But I did say what he could be was a good receiver at Iowa, and he showed on Saturday that he can certainly be just that.
There was one play that was particularly impressive, on both his part and the part of Drew Tate.
It was late in the third quarter. Davis was lined up wide on Iowa right, and the MSU safety crept up in the slot and came on a blitz. Tate caught the ball and immediately hit Davis on a skinny post that resulted in a 13 yard gain on third down. After the play, Tate ran down a bit and made eye contact with Davis, and pointed into his own eyes, and clapped his hands. What I think might have happened was that Davis made a read upon seeing the safety come on the blitz, and took five steps and slanted into the space vacated by the MSU safety. Tate clearly was hoping for this, and he hit Davis without ever looking elsewhere.
Perhaps that was just the hot call on that play. But given Tate's reaction, I am thinking it was two players making the right read and it worked to perfection. I really implore each of you to watch these games on tape. You see things like that, and it will bring a big smile to your face when you watch young men grow up before your eyes.
Speaking of that, Clinton Solomon continues to look like one of Iowa's best playmakers I can ever remember at that positions. He is just graceful, yet slithering. On his skinny post in the 2nd quarter with 7:34 to go and on 3rd and 14, it was just a thing of beauty.
Tate threaded the needle between the S and the CB, and hit Solomon right on his post cut. Solomon caught the ball with his hands out ahead of his body, thus not slowing down his momentum one bit. He made a few nifty cuts in the middle, got the great block from Chandler, and nearly got outside and up the sidelines for six points.
And how about ‘Easy' Ed Hinkel?
His TD catch was a good play on his part and great patience on the part of Drew Tate, with a little help from a unintentional pick route from Ryan Majerus. I think that play actually calls for Majerus and Hikel to crisscross, but Majerus went more vertical at first than a slant, which actually worked to Iowa's advantage on this play.
Then Ed turned a routine and ball-control five-yard hitch route into a 43-yard gainer that nearly went for a score.
Iowa has an emerging duo on their hands in Hinkel and Solomon, and if Davis can get in there, along with a fiery Warren Holloway and a sure handed Matt Melloy coming back into the mix…plus if you get improvement out of James Townsend…all but Holloway return next year.
Last year, Ramon Ochoa led the team with 34 catches and he had 477 receiving yards. Mo Brown went for 33/507, and Calvin Davis 23/330.
Iowa is going to throw the ball more this year than they did last year, a lot more. Right now through five games, Hinkel is at 23/317 and Solomon is at 14/270. Clinton's 19.3 yards per catch average is near that of Mo Brown in 2002.
RANDOM: Kyle Willcox was in on a 3rd and 4 play on MSU's second possession…Champ Davis was Iowa's one back on Solomon's big gain post play deep in Iowa territory on third and forever in the second quarter…MSU average starting field position in the first three quarters: V19, V10 and V17…V stands for visitor, as in not very good field position. For the game, their average field position was their own 20…hats off to special teams.