I had a chance to re-watch the TV copy of Saturday's game a few times and am going to provide a few thoughts and observations from what I saw. Film study off of TV copy is much more difficult than one might find from any of my NFL work. The NFL provides a wide shot of east-west play in which all 22 players can be seen, and a north/south view focusing on the offensive and defensive fronts. No such luck here.
Lo and behold, Austin Kuhnert was important. It wasn't all about replacing Tanner Volson with Kuhnert. Landon Lechler actually played his ass off all game long. It's easy to see, though, the results of NDSU's "Rams" regaining their continuity. The Bison out rushed the Hawkeyes 239 to 34, and that's an impressive feat. Iowa featured enormous defensive linemen, specifically at the defensive tackle position. Kuhnert, Zack Johnson and Jack Plankers (who appears to be settling in at guard) were able to prevent penetration in the power run game for the most part and the interior linemen only allowed one sack.
Brock Robbins is a really good player. Robbins was outstanding on Saturday. You won't hear a ton of people talk about it because he never touched the ball and eyes generally go with the ball. Robbins was specifically dominant in the second half, not physically overpowering Iowa defenders but executing blocks that were technically almost perfect, opening up hole after hole for Dunn, Frazier and Anderson.
As odd as it might sound, I have a tendency to believe Iowa was outcoached in this game. The Bison could have been beaten on Saturday. I don't think anyone will disagree with that. I saw two adjustments in particular that Iowa didn't make that they probable should have.
On plays that hadn't broken down, Easton Stick didn't attempt a pass more than 15 yards down the field. The vertical passing game either wasn't in the game plan or was taken away consistently by a very talented Iowa secondary. Yet when you look at pre-snap alignments Iowa didn't creep a safety up to the line to outnumber the Bison blockers. On a number of occasions Iowa stuck with a "Cover 2" look. That might have had something to do with NDSU's insistence on testing the perimter run game, but I found it odd.
On offense, Iowa insisted on sticking with a running game that was obviously not working. By far their most effective play was a tight end release out of play action (George Kittle accounted for 48% of Iowa's offense), so it makes sense that they would run the ball to set up the pass but I still don't understand the philosophy as a whole. NDSU's 5th DB, Eric Bachmeier was unavailable, and even when he has been healthy this season the Bison have not been able to stop the spread offense.
CJ Beathard is an NFL caliber quarterback and Iowa has offensive weapons. I understand that the NDSU game might have been viewed as a tune-up for the Big Ten schedule so Iowa wanted to do what Iowa does, but it didn't work against NDSU. Not only that, but until the Bison prove otherwise, spreading them out and slinging the ball around does.
Lance Dunn continues to prove that he's a much better player than he was last year.
The Bison were home cooked....... a little bit. I didn't expect NDSU to get much in the way of calls against the Hawkeyes. There were three pretty egregious missed calls in this game. The first was an early pass to Darrius Shepherd on the sideline. Shepherd showed off his incredible body control and made the catch down the sideline. The first official called it a catch until the downfield official overruled him. Replayed showed it was a catch. Chase Morlock was interfered with on a broken play in which Easton Stick threw him the ball deep down the middle of the field and RJ Urzendowski was absolutely mugged by Desmond King on the 2 point conversion try. The King play was particularly egregious.
With that said, the game was a tidy three hours and eight minutes. After the first two games the Bison went through, this game felt like an officiating revelation.
With that said, Desmond King is an amazing player. King didn't allow a single completion beyond where he lined up pre-snap. He completely took away whichever receiver he was covering and changed field position just by..... being him. NDSU continually accounted for King on kickoffs and punts.
Fisher and Davis have to be more consistent getting the hold down in the field goal game. Davis has had to re-spot the ball after it laying flat on the ground a number of times this season. It may have cost the Bison three points early in the game and it needs to get cleaned up. Cam Pederson appears to be a much improved kicker this season. His holder and snapper need to hold up their end of the bargain in the upper 90% of the time.
Nick DeLuca's two week performance between EWU and Iowa will probably be underrated in NDSU history. HIs ability to be a playmaker with basically one arm in two huge non conference should never be understated. Because so many people will likely remember Deluca's senior season in 2017, these three games might be forgotten. They shouldn't be. He was sensational for the second straight week and his toughness and commitment to the Bison program was clearly evident.
Easton Stick is going to be a special player. Stick was repeatedly bludgeoned by huge Iowa defenders. Not only did he refuse to get rattled, but he answered the bell on multiple designed QB runs (without sliding, mind you). His QB draw on the first play of the last series more than likely won the game for the Bison. His numbers might not have shown it, but Stick's play against Iowa was incredibly impressive for a seasoned college player, much less a sophomore.
Side note: Stick's throw up the middle of the field between three defenders to Bruce Anderson was a throw that not many QBs in college, much less the FCS can make. He has special arm talent.
One last time: Landon Lechler played his ass off.