They scored three points on their first possession of the game.
KEY PLAY: Sean Considine's interception. Iowa got the ball on Minnesota's 44 yard line.
Drew Tate threw a quick hitter to Clinton Solomon in the right flat. The catch picked up the first down, but what happened after that helped set up the field goal. Solomon pulled off a stutter step move than got him a couple of extra yards, then he delivered a great stiff arm to the face of the defender, and that bought him a few more yards. He then got ‘skinny', slithering sideways as a Gopher defender tried to make a hit, and Solomon got by him for a few more extra yards.
In the end, on a play that was designed to gain two or three yards when Iowa needed one, resulted in an 11 yard game. It was individual effort that made that play.
After Sam Brownlee picked up two yards on first down, there was a communication error between Tate and first time starting center Ben Cronin, and the ball hit the turf. Iowa recovered the ball, but the momentum of the drive was stopped. Kyle Schlicher was good from 36-yards.
On Minnesota's next possession, they had run 15 plays and had the ball down to the Iowa seven. It was third and five, and Matt Roth's reputation seemed to make a play here. He was lined up outside right, and on the snap of the ball, the tackle took a few steps back in pass coverage. That is normal. But Roth is so quick off of the ball, the entire exchanged looked like a man stealing candy from a baby, as Roth gave the tackle an outside in stutter step, not a full blown swim, and put heat on MN QB Bryan Cupito, who had to throw the ball out of the back of the end zone. The MN OL who was assigned to block Roth on that play was on his heels from the start. You can pass protect without being on your heels, but he certainly appeared intimidated by Roth's bull rush style and reputation.
After watching the tape, I guarantee that on Iowa's second drive, some of you were wondering, either to yourself or aloud, ‘why are we running the ball so much?', as those plays were not gaining yards. I will get to that in a bit.
KEY PLAY: Walner Belleus fumbled on the kick off return, and Bryan Mattison recovered. Matt Roth was on the field, and you could hear him yell, ‘HEY!' to Mattison. Bryan looked at him, and Roth slapped his helmet and screamed ‘Good job!', The slap was a pretty good blow.
On 1st and 10, Tate had to throw the ball away. On 2nd and 10, Iowa ran the ball with Sam Brownlee. I wrote in my original game notes, ‘why?'
KEY PLAY: On 3rd and 10 out of the shot gun, Tate was pressured, he stepped up into the pocket, side steps a defender to his left, then changes direction back to the right flat, and found Ed Hinkel for a 19 yard gain on a playground play. Teflon Tate strikes again.
On 1st and 10, Iowa runs the ball with Aaron Mickens. This drew another ‘why' in my original notes. On 2nd and 8, Chandler gets called for a false start. On 2nd and 13, Iowa runs Brownlee off tackle to the right for no gain. This drew and underscored ‘WHY!!!' in my original notes package.
KEY PLAY: Tate then hooked up with Solomon for a 19 yard square in on third and 13.
So it's now first and 10 at the Minnesota 41. I have had three ‘why's' in my notes from this drive already.
On the next play, Iowa fakes a handoff right to Damien Sims. The entire line breaks to the right to start the play. Tate then turns and hits Solomon, who had taken two steps forward then two steps back, on a quick WR screen play. Ben Gates released from his left tackle position and made a great block on the cornerback who was in man to man coverage on Solomon. Solomon reads the block well and cuts to the inside.
Another key aspect here was that MN LB #43 had blitzed off the edge from the same side of the field Solomon was on, and MN had eight men in the box. All eight of them bit on the fake run and run motion to the right, away from the play.
Solomon is then up field and Mike Jones gets another good block on the safety that was on the left side. Now, the only player who can catch Solomon is the corner who was in man coverage on the opposite side of the field as Solomon. Of course, he could not get there in time.
Really, I could have marked all of those non-producing running plays as KEY PLAYS, because they helped to set up the defense biting on the run fake on Solomon's drive. MN was overplaying anything that looked like run flow, and on this particular play, Iowa was also fortunate that they blitzed the linebacker off of the edge from the same side of the field that Iowa threw to.
It's the small stuff that adds up in a season like this.
On the ensuing kickoff…
KEY PLAY: Kyle Schlicher kicks the ball to the goal line, and Devan Moylan and Miguel Merrick bring down MN return man Gary Russell at the MN 10. After two running plays that yielded three yards, Roth forced Cupito to throw the ball away with heavy heat. Minnesota punts the ball.
Ed Hinkel makes a great over the shoulder and back to the punter catch, and then returns the ball 31 yards to the Gopher 40.
Tate immediately goes back to Solomon on a pretty, pretty fade route, a very hard throw to make, and Solomon gets down to the MN 6.
Iowa fails to punch it in, and a lack of a running game rears its head. They settle for a field goal. It's now 13-3 Iowa early in the second quarter.
Four plays later….
KEY PLAY: Chad Greenway intercepts a Cupito pass. Iowa ball on the Gopher 34.
KEY PLAY: Iowa is 3rd and 10 from the Gopher 34. Tate hits Hinkel on a jailbreak screen. Hinkel gets hit four yards shy of the first down marker, spins and dives for a first down.
Three plays later, and no yards later…
KEY PLAY: Tate hits Scott Chandler for a 20 yard gainer on 3rd and 10, getting the ball to the Gopher four yard line.
Tom Busch runs for two yards on first down, and Damien Sims picks up one on a toss sweep. Third and goal from the one…Iowa goes back to the toss sweep again, only to lose two yards. Schlicher puts it home, and it's 16-3 Iowa.
So you have two trips where you had first and goal no worse than the Gopher six, and you score just six points. It could have been 24-3 at this point.
TWO PLAYS LATER, Lawrence Maroney rips off the 79-yard touchdown run.
QUESTION TO PONDER: When will Iowa's lack of a running game bite them this year?
MOMENT OF LEVITY: On Iowa's next possession, as the Hawks trot on to the field, the Minnesota band is playing the theme from ‘Superman'. Hearing that song associated with Minnesota's defense would be like seeing Billy Graham singing ‘It's Five O'Clock Somewhere' on Karoke night at Herb and Lou's in West Branch, Iowa; it just doesn't fit.
On first down, Iowa is in an ‘I' formation, and they fake the run right and Tate throws a blind hitch back to the left to Solomon for a gain of seven. Again, as meek as Iowa's running game is, they set up plays like this by staying the course.
KEY PLAY: Two plays later, on 3rd and 3, Tate throws a low pass to a diving Warren Holloway who picks up four yards on the catch.
KEY PLAY: Two plays later, on 3rd and 3, Tate scanned the field out of the shotgun before the snap, the pocket collapsed with edge rushers from both sides getting into the pocket. Tate then executes what is now his signature escape move; the pump fake and spin back to his right, with his back facing the LOS at one point. He leaks to his left and then runs with it, somehow picking up four yards and the first down.
So there you have two 3rd and 3 conversions on the same drive.
TWO PLAYS LATER: Iowa runs play action…again, that is significant, because they have not abandoned the run, and the play action freezes the safety. He then covers Tony Jackson on a 15-yard sit down route in the middle of the field. I don't know who blew coverage, but the corner on James Townsend sure looked like he was in a two-deep zone. Townsend caught the ball with the nearest player being 15-yards away, and he scored from 60 yards out.
That was a great play, but the two 3rd and 3's made it possible,
When you have a team like the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes, a team that is just trying to keep running backs healthy, the little things add up, as I hope we have illustrated. And for every touchdown maker, there is a teammate who is diving on third and three to make a catch and giving that extra effort that ultimately leads to the payoff.
The payoff might mean a field goal when a drive was dead, or a touchdown when a play seemed dead, or a chance to be 7-1 in the league when you had been left for dead.
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