One of the things that has been a source of frustration for me through the years regarding Iowa’s defense is when linebackers have to cover wide receivers in the slot. The outcome has rarely been good for Iowa, even when Chad Greenway was in coverage.
And that shouldn’t be a surprise, because a D-1 wide receiver should be able to win that battle 8 times out of 10. The two times that it won’t work is if the quarterback makes a bad throw.
On Saturday against Iowa State, the Cyclones were not only prepared to see that scheme, they had the same answer every time; audible, and throw the ball in the air and let the receiver make the play. Gene Chizik said after the game that they had practiced that exact scenario during the week. Hey, if Iowa is bold enough to get themselves into that coverage, opponents will take it.
Iowa was able to dodge a few bullets for most of the day, but in a time of game where Iowa State was going to be putting the ball in the air more than not, and on a second and 13 play, Iowa chose to stay in that coverage.
And middle linebacker Mike Klinkenborg was on Phillip Bates, who is a true freshman quarterback who was lined out wide.
Meyer threw the ball up for grabs, and he got Klinkenborg’s head on a swivel trying to find the ball, and Bates made a simple catch.
It’s not Klinkenborg’s fault; he shouldn’t be covering a wide receiver at any time of the game from his middle linebacker position, much less in this instance.
Iowa was also in its basic personnel group, with three linebackers. It sent six pass rushers, which meant a linebacker on a receiver. And a formation that calls for a middle linebacker to cover a wide receiver at the widest side of the field, that formation needs to be taken out of the playbook, burned and should never, ever, ever be seen again by Iowa Hawkeye fans.
The play got the ball down to the Iowa 16 yard line.
A few plays and timeouts later, Iowa State kicker Bret Culbertson, who has been much maligned in his career, split the uprights from 28 yards, and he goes into Cyclone history and will never have to buy a dinner again in Cyclone Nation as long as he lives.
Iowa’s play in the first half, on offense, was lackluster. Iowa’s offensive line did not distinguish itself in that first half. Credit ISU; they showed Iowa a lot of looks, they disguised things well, they brought heat at times, they dropped into zone coverage at times. It worked nearly all of the time, as Iowa didn’t gain 60 yards in the half.
Iowa’s punting game really let it down in the first half as well. Ryan Donahue continues to struggle with a case of the shanks, and he has had one in each of Iowa’s first three games.
In the first quarter, Iowa State’s average starting field position was its own 42, just eight yards shy of midfield. Iowa’s was its own 20.
Iowa’s defense came to play, as it was severely handicapped in that first half due to the offense not getting anything going and the poor punting. But they didn’t allow the Cyclones to cross the goal line.
In fact, Iowa’s defense has not given up a touchdown this season. So they are doing their part.
The one area where the defense was disappointing was that they did not record one sack of Bret Meyer on the day. Iowa State came out as I expected to see them on offense, in a spread formation. That makes it hard to get sacks, because the ball comes out quickly.
As the line struggled in the first half, quarterback Jake Christensen didn’t have the best half of his career, either. It’s a tough task to pull rabbits out of your hat when the opponent is getting significant penetration each and every time you have the ball. Jake was sacked 4 times on the day, but it seemed like more than that.
Jake and his teammates battled back in the second half, and they were the recipients of good field position.
Iowa also called some plays that allowed Jake to carry the ball, on a naked bootleg on 4th and short at the ISU 12, where Jake raced into the end zone. They also called at least two quarterback draw plays that worked quite well.
In addition to the less than stellar punting, other areas of Iowa’s special teams let it down. Iowa could not kick the ball into the end zone with the wind at its back. Iowa had a relatively short field goal attempted blocked with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, and that play came home to roost in a big way.
Iowa State schemed and planned exceptionally well for this game, on both sides of the football. They executed when they had to, they did so more consistently than Iowa did, and they won the football game.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for Iowa fans, including this one, who felt this game would not be that close, much less to see Iowa lose the game.
Some Iowa fans began to believe that this team was a January bowl team, and didn’t place enough weight on the fact that its first two opponents, Northern Illinois and Syracuse, might be two of the worst teams in D-1 this year.
Much of the nation felt that Iowa State was a team that could be included in that dubious category, due to their 0-2 start, one loss that included D1-AA Northern Iowa.
But on this day, you couldn’t tell that Iowa State and their fan base had come into this game limping as much as they have since the early 1990’s.