Dan Cagley's Miami(OH) Review

Newspapers around the state used words like "almost stumbled" and "struggle" to describe Iowa's 29-24 win over Miami of Ohio, but it might be just what the program needed to prepare for future games this year. The Hawkeyes were 7-5 last season, but the wins tended to be either by a comfortable or blowout margin while almost every loss was close. The Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech was the only tight game last year in which Iowa made enough plays down the stretch to prevail.

The Iowa Defense might have yielded a game-winning touchdown to the RedHawks if Miami had gotten the ball back late in the fourth quarter, but the Iowa Offense would not let that happen. After watching Miami pull within five points with 4:54 remaining in the final quarter, the Iowa Offense sealed the road win by marching down the field and running the clock out at the Miami eleven. It was the kind of drive that helps to determine what kind of season a team will have, and although there are still ten regular season games left, this team is starting to look more like a team that will win around eight games.

In many ways, this game was reminiscent of the Iowa-Arizona game in the 1996 Kinnick Stadium opener. The Arizona game in 1996 was also a hard fought contest in which the Hawks prevailed by running the clock out with a long drive that consisted of tough running from RB Sedrick Shaw and good blocking from LT Ross Verba and the rest of the Iowa OL. Neither the 1996 contest nor the Miami game were dominant Iowa team performances or error free, but both were tough games in which the Hawks found a way to win. Miami may not be as big of a name as Arizona, but the game was on the road and the RedHawk Offense is much better than the 1996 Arizona Offense. By the way, the 1996 Hawks went on to finish 9-3 and won other close games that year against Michigan State and Penn State to finish 6-2 in Big Ten games.

The 2002 edition of Iowa Football still has a lot of work to do before playing Iowa State on Saturday. The Cyclones will be the third straight opponent that has a strong passing attack yet also balances it with a solid running attack. Miami of Ohio had balance in their win over North Carolina two weeks ago (175 yards rushing, 204 passing), and Iowa State has had success throwing and running the ball in each of their three games. Some observers wondered whether Iowa Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker was going to defend Miami's spread offensive attack by playing six defensive backs for most of the game to go with one linebacker, but for much of the early part of the game he chose to play all three starting linebackers to go with four defensive backs.

By playing his starting lineup against the spread, Miami was able to run for only fourteen yards for the game. RB Cal Murray ran 23 times for 101 yards against North Carolina, but was held to 18 yards on six carries against the Hawks. However, Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 33-51 passes for 343 yards and two touchdowns. Miami's lack of balance led in part to an interception by Hawkeye FS Derek Pagel, but part of the reason Miami passed so much wasn't because they were forced to, but rather because receivers were wide open at times.

In the past two years, Iowa has had success against defending the spread (e.g. wins over Northwestern in 2000 and 2001, Miami 2001, and Texas Tech 2001), but past success was not apparent on Saturday. Senior CB D.J. Johnson was mentioned the most in the newspapers for playing poorly as he was called for pass interference on more than one occasion to go with getting beat at other times. However, one interference call was questionable, and for the most part, D.J. was in good position when the receiver made the catch against him. He also batted down a pass on fourth down that stopped a RedHawk drive.

While D.J. may have played better than his performance was reported, freshman CB Antwan Allen really struggled. He gave large cushions on many plays, yet he was repeatedly getting beat deep. Although he started to tackle better late in the game, his overall tackling was poor and his inability to sack Ben Roethlisberger on a blitz led to a Miami touchdown. Make no mistake, the Miami pass offense is very good, but Allen and the other cornerbacks are going to have to learn and improve dramatically if Iowa wants to have a good season. The DBs might have looked better if Iowa had gone to nickel and dime defenses early in the game, but Miami might have had even more success and a balanced offense had that happened.

Miami has one of the top three or four passing attacks that Iowa will see this year, but besides the cornerbacks, the defensive ends must improve their pass rush. Aaron Kampman and Colin Cole were average or slightly above average pass rushers last season at the defensive end positions, but they were very tough against the run. With Cole moving to defensive tackle and Kampman having graduated, the defensive ends this season were supposed to be faster, more athletic, and provide a better pass rush. This year's DEs Howard Hodges and Jonathan Babineaux were both somewhat frustrated by the Miami spread offense and quick drops by Roethlisberger, but there were many pass plays on Saturday in which the DL had time to get to Roethlisberger, but never did. Iowa ended up with four sacks in the game, but a majority of the pressure started to come when Coach Parker began blitzing on almost every play because nothing else was working. A good defense can apply pressure to the quarterback, stop the run, and cover receivers by playing mostly with a base defense. Iowa was not able to do that on Saturday. Can they against Iowa State?

While the defense had problems on Saturday, the offense continues to answer questions. QB Brad Banks did not have a perfect game, but he played well. In his longest playing time in his Hawkeye career, the senior was 18-27 for 256 yards and one touchdown. He was protected well most of the day behind the OL, but, when needed, he was able to avoid rushers and make plays. More than anything, Brad was poised, made good decisions, and was accurate with his throwing. With all of the running success, play action on deep patterns should be open as the season goes on, but the team did not try it much against Miami.

The Hawkeye receivers continue to surprise, as it looks like four wideouts are going to be able to contribute this year. None of the four looks like an all-Big Ten player, but all four could eventually start for many other programs in the conference. Senior C.J. Jones was solid with three catches for 54 yards, but junior Maurice Brown stole the show with another great performance this week. Mo had five catches for 115 yards, but more than the statistics showed good hands to go with his size and toughness. Even though he muffed a punt return that led to a Miami touchdown, freshman Ed Hinkel showed mental toughness and had four catches. Instead of getting down on himself and losing confidence after the muff, he seemed to use his anger to even play better. Clint Solomon is a true freshman, but his size, length, and running stride make many Hawk observers think that he is going to be a star someday. Clint had three catches for 35 yards in the game.

The running game was not as dominant as it was in the Akron game, but the OL looked very good. As long as the passing game makes opposing defenses stay somewhat honest, the running game should be as dominant as many hoped it would be going into the season. The first drive of the game was well executed, and the last drive when it mattered the most was just as good. For the game, RB Fred Russell followed up his 170-yard performance against Akron with 32 carries for 150 yards and a score. Fred did a great job of hitting the hole quickly, but he wasn't as good this week with keeping his balance and trying to break tackles. He did do a good job with ball protection and showing that 32 carries is not too much work for a back of his size. RB Jermelle Lewis did not see the playing time that he saw last week in the blowout win over the Zips, but his 12-yard scamper for a touchdown against Miami was huge. If he can learn to hit the hole quicker, his speed and power could make him a very dangerous runner. With Aaron Greving potentially coming back this week, the running back position looks pretty good.

Kicker Nate Kaeding was perfect as he made his extra points and converted all three field goals in the tight contest. His leg seemed to be pretty healthy, as his kickoffs were also good. P David Bradley had his best game in an Iowa uniform with four punts for an average of 49 yards per boot. Iowa State is going to be coming after him this week, but as long as he is confident like this last game, he should be a strength on the team. The punt return team has been bad so far this season, but Ed Hinkel looks like the kind of tough, confident player that needs to be back there. Although he muffed one on Saturday, he seems like the kind of player that won't let it happen again.

All in all, considering the opponent, the venue, and that it is an early season contest, there are a lot of positives to be taken from the game. In fact, as long as the Hawks beat Iowa State, the RedHawk game will be seen as a stepping stone and a true test that prepared the team for the Cyclones. If they lose to ISU, then the Miami game will be pointed to as the game during which the Hawkeye weaknesses were exposed.

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