Iowa Football Grab Bag

You know it's a good day for your football team when the starting defensive linemen only have to play around 30 snaps. That's what Iowa had Saturday against Syracuse. So that means Bryan Mattison recorded sacks on 10 percent of the plays he was in for. Not a bad game. We take a look at that, a look ahead to Iowa State, to 2008, a look at Jake Christensen's game and more...

One of my biggest concerns heading into this season was how thin was in its defensive line rotation. It's still a concern, but a few more games like Saturday sure wouldn't hurt.

For the game, Syracuse ran just 50 plays; that's a paltry sum. 60 is a low number, 50 is mind numbingly low. The starters didn't play the fourth quarter of this football game. So just how many snaps did Iowa's starting defensive line play on Saturday?

Syracuse ran 17 plays in the fourth quarter, so the maximum number of plays that Bryan Mattison, Kenny Iwebema, Matt Kroul and Mitch King played on Saturday was 33. It might have been less than that, as I think the last two plays of the 3rd quarter saw the reserves in the game, as Anton Narinsky and Lance Tillison were credited with tackles on those plays.

So the starting defensive line went roughly 30 snaps on Saturday night, and they came out of the game healthy, as far as we know.

I can't think of anything better for a defensive unit that has started alongside one another for the last three years, players that don't need the game reps to get the job done, and players that will have to go the full 70 plays many times this season.

It was also nice to see Christian Ballard, in just one quarter, record five tackles and one and a half tackles for loss. He was quite a disruptive force in that one quarter of play.

And oh by the way; not that national statistical rankings matter all that much this time of year, especially after going up against Northern Illinois and Syracuse, but Iowa is allowing less than 23 yards per game on the ground, good for #2 in the nation, and they are allowing just 1.5 points per game, which is tops in the nation. Iowa is #6 in total defense. Bryan Mattison is third in the nation in sacks, while Mitch King and Kenny Iwebema are 10th; King is also 10th in tackles for loss.

To see Iowa's national statistical rankings, CLICK HERE. Before you get too giddy, it's just two games. But it's still better than being statistically challenged after two games, that's for sure.

Speaking of being statistically challenged after two games, Iowa's next opponent, Iowa State, has more turnovers (7) after two games than touchdowns (4). ISU is 0-2, with losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa. ISU scored 14 points in both of those games.

UNI is a D1-AA program, and Kent State got waxed by Kentucky 56-20 this past weekend. If that were basketball, it would be understandable. But it's not. Kentucky, by 36 points, and Kent State had their way with Iowa State in the season opener, a game that I attended and witnessed.

ISU is a team in transition right now. New coach Gene Chizik will be contemplating a lot this week, such as if this is the right time to start the 2008 season, and go with Austin Arnaud at quarterback, and go with a lot of his younger players. It appears that the veterans haven't bought in to what he and the new coaching staff is selling.

Iowa State fans have been saying throughout the offseason that the Iowa game is no longer their season, that it's just another big game on the schedule. I think for their future, with Chizik at the helm, that will one day be true.

But it's not true this year, not after an 0-2 start, and not with the following schedule looming on the horizon after Saturday:

at Toledo
at Nebraska
at Texas Tech
Texas
Oklahoma
at Missouri
Kansas State

The seniors on this Iowa State football team have tasted victory against Iowa, so they have that to fall back on. Their offense can still be dangerous, if they decide to spread the field like they did in the first half of last year's game at Kinnick.

But this year's Iowa State defense has shown little sign of life thus far this year, and Kent State and UNI have run on the Cyclones with success. You can try to scheme around that, such as loading the box to stop the run and force your opponent to beat you through the air.

Syracuse tried that this week, and Jake Christensen and his receiving targets flat torched the Orange.

I am still wary of Iowa State, because the game is in Ames. But Iowa has no business losing this football game on Saturday.

And any Iowa State fan that says to you at work this week that this game is no longer their season, tell that person that you might believe them in a few years, but that you are not buying it this year….this is simply all they have left this year, and as of right now, that's probably a long shot, too.

The Big Ten looks more wide open than it did a few weeks ago. Michigan starting out 0-2 has given a lot of teams a lot of hope. Michigan's defense, which was a big question mark going into this season, or rather, should have been a big question mark but since they are Michigan, they got a pass, is allowing 505 yards per game through two games, and 36.5 points per game.

505 and 36.5.

If they were playing against USC and LSU in those first two games, those numbers would still not sit well with their fan base. But we are talking about D1-AA Appalachian State and then unranked Oregon here.

Two teams, however, that play spread offenses. The spread offense is tearing up Big Ten teams this year, as it has in recent years. Wisconsin was lucky to get out of Las Vegas with a win last night, as UNLV's spread kept them in the game, and the Badgers managed just one touchdown. But good teams find ways to win games.

Penn State appears to be the cream of the conference right now.

If I had to rank the league through two games, which is purely for entertainment value only, here is how I would call it, with bowl slots to the side:

1. Penn State (BCS)
2. Wisconsin (BCS)
3. Purdue (Cap One)
4. Ohio State (Outback)
5. Iowa (Champs)
6. Michigan State (Alamo)
7. Michigan (Insight)
8. Illinois
9. Indiana
10. Northwestern
11. Minnesota

I don't think Michigan will play to the Insight Bowl once Big Ten games come around and they should move ahead of Purdue and Iowa in the pecking order. Remember, Purdue plays Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa in consecutive weeks in October. I still see Iowa's bowl destinations at this time being the Champps Bowl in Orlando or the Insight Bowl in Arizona.

A few weeks ago, I wondered if there was a last place team in this league. I wasn't so sure then, but Minnesota has stepped up to claim the early lead on that title. Indiana had a very impressive win over Western Michigan, in my opinion, and Michigan State turned in a workmanlike performance in beating Bowling Green.

Purdue has scored 52 points in both of their game this season, as their offense and special teams appear to be forces to be reckoned with.

Tresselball is back at Ohio State, where the offense put up just 20 points against Akron, but their defense is #3 in the nation. Just like old times in Columbus.

One last stat, as a look ahead: Iowa has played at least 20 freshmen this season, through two games. That has to be some sort of team record. I still believe that anything above eight wins for this year's team will be gravy, in my opinion.

You heard Kirk Ferentz say this offseason that AJ Edds getting time last year really accelerated his learning curve this past spring. We have seen that thus far through two games. It has allowed him to play more veteran than his true sophomore standing.

Next year, Iowa returns every offensive lineman in the two deeps, plus Rob Bruggeman, who would have been a starter this year had he not gotten hurt in the spring. Iowa returns every quarterback, every receiver and every tight end. It loses Tom Busch, Damien Sims and Albert Young. But Jevon Pugh is getting some time and he looks the part, and Shonn Greene is working to get back for two more years at Iowa. Jason Ford will be a true freshman.

Next year's offense appears stacked at this point in time. The defensive line will return Matt Kroul and Mitch King, and there are several enticing youngsters now in the mix. Iowa will start two new corners, but Jordan Bernstine and Cedric Everson have significant promise there. Iowa will return its safeties. They will have to replace Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal at linebacker, significant losses. Every kicking specialist will return as well.

Their schedule will look like this:
Maine
Florida International
Iowa State
@ Pitt
Northwestern
@MSU
@Indiana (sans Hardy)
October 18th: Wisconsin
at Illinois
Penn State
Purdue
at Minnesota

I am still of the opinion that I have never seen an ‘easier' schedule for an Iowa team than that one, with the four biggest games of the year at home, and the first major, major test of the year coming in the 8th game of the season, which will allow the defense time to find its way.

One last stat, Part II: Hey, it's the radio guy coming out here. We never have just one more question.

I have watched the film of the game twice now, in addition to watching it live once. I keyed in on several aspects that I will talk about this week, but I have to start with the play at quarterback, by Jake Christensen (big surprise, huh?)

Jake's stat line from the Syracause game was as follows:
23/32 (71.8%) for 278 yards, 4 TD passes, 1INT

In charting his game, I counted four of his incompletions that were throwaways, plays that he chose to throw the ball out of bounds. Of the other five incompletions, two were flat out drops. One was the ball that went off of James Cleveland's hands for his lone interception (two of Jake's career INT's have been such plays). So seven of his nine incompletions on Saturday were throwaways or drops.

On the year, Jake is 35 of 61. That's 21 incompletions. 11 of those were balls that hit the hands of a receiver and were dropped, and at least four were throwaways from the Syracuse game. I do not recall if he had any throwaways in the NIU game. Say he didn't, for the sake of discussion.

Did he throw some balls that were too hot, and off the mark, and some receivers had to make great plays on? Yes.

But so far, the kid is alright.


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