Iowa football mailbag: Cy-Hawk rivalry, vertical passing game, line protections

Iowa-Cy-Hawk Trophy

Have Iowa football questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Iowa mailbag to discuss Hawkeyes football. This week, we’ll discuss the passing attack, whether Iowa State is improving as a program and if Iowa will shift to nickel coverage early against the Cyclones.

Question 1

Answer: Iowa attacked down the field more schematically against Wyoming than it had in years. I counted 7 mid-range-to-deep passes, including 2 of the 3 touchdowns. The problem for Iowa was turnovers. A tipped pass led to 1 interception. Then there were 3 fumbles that killed drives. Iowa ran just 56 plays which means it didn’t get enough looks at really anything. Then when the game was in hand, the coaching staff opted to shut it down in the fourth quarter and run out the clock.

But the Hawkeyes need to back safeties out of the box by throwing the football. Wyoming crowded the line of scrimmage, which limited both Akrum Wadley and James Butler on the ground. Wadley still reached 116 yards and Butler hit 47, but both were capable of more. Until Iowa shows it can consistently move the ball through the air, expect teams to put at least 8 defenders in the box.

Question 2

Answer: It seems obvious to me that Iowa State is headed in a positive direction under coach Matt Campbell. The Cyclones are recruiting a different level of athlete and seem to have a better sense of itself than late in Paul Rhoads’ tenure. Iowa State made progress after losing at Iowa last year. The Cyclones were competitive but lost games to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State by 10 points or less. Then there was that 66-10 victory against Texas Tech.

Iowa State’s skill position players are on par with many ranked teams. Wide receiver Allen Lazard is probably the best receiver the Hawkeyes will face this year. Running backs David Montgomery and Mike Warren are starting-level runners, and quarterback Jacob Park has shown promise. So it’s easy to spot the progress. But Iowa State still has plenty of improvement to make along both sides of the line of scrimmage.

I think ISU’s strides boost its profile, which in turn could help the Hawkeyes. If Iowa wins Saturday and then Iowa State knocks off some decent Big 12 teams, it gives the Hawkeyes a boost among the talking heads.

Question 3

Answer: For sure. Left tackle Alaric Jackson saw his first action at Iowa, and it was obvious we’d see some rough patches from him. Likewise, graduate transfer Butler was in his first game at Kinnick.

It’s almost cliche, but it’s true that Iowa makes a lot of improvement through the first month of the season. After 6 weeks of training camp, the players needed someone different to hit and the coaches needed something tangible to critique. I’m sure every player made a few mistakes that has received full attention this week.

Question 4

Answer: I agree that Nate Stanley struggled a bit with pressure, especially in his face. Wyoming threw several different looks at him, including a few double A-gap blitzes. That made it challenging for Stanley as a first-time starter and Keegan Render as a first-time center. As the game wore on, I thought the sophomore quarterback looked more composed.

Iowa typically doesn’t help its linemen, who are expected to win their one-on-one matchups. Sometimes that has backfired. Iowa should have done something different last year against Northwestern’s Ifeadi Odenigbo or in 2015 against Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun. I think Iowa will keep either a back or a second tight end in the backfield during obvious passing situations, but I doubt the Hawkeyes go heavy max protection or chip speed-rushing defensive ends.

Question 5

Answer: Iowa State’s defense actually is similar in production to Wyoming’s, just not in scheme. Wyoming ran a complex 4-3 defense with blitzes all over the place. ISU is a 3-4 base that also has creative movements up front. I think there are players who are different but equally effective. Wyoming strong safety Andrew Wingard is a terrific player, as is linebacker Logan Wilson and rush end Carl Granderson. Iowa State has terrific playmakers in long-time starting safety Kamari Cotton-Moya, cornerback Brian Peavy and linebacker Willie Harvey.

Iowa should make strides in the passing game this week. The offense totaled just 56 plays and only 15 passes. Turnovers killed 4 drives, which in turn ruined many opportunities to diversify their attack. But look at how it performed after Stanley’s rough start. He completed 8 of 11 passes for 125 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s a positive performance for his first time out. Of course, he needs to improve quickly.

Question 6

Answer: I don’t think Iowa will switch from its base very often. Outside linebacker Ben Niemann is healthy (unlike last year) and looks as good as ever. He plays almost a hybrid position where he covers like a safety but defends the run like a linebacker. He was terrific in flat coverage last week so I think he’ll stay in on most downs. He’s not a liability in pass coverage.

Where I think Iowa might go nickel is either in hurry-up or obvious passing downs, like third-and-long. That’s when you’ll see Manny Rugamba move to the slot, Michael Ojemudia come in at right cornerback and weakside linebacker Bo Bower move out. Up front, that’s when defensive end Parker Hesse shifts inside and defensive end A.J. Epenesa enters at right end.

Question 7

Answer: I’ve seen tears both ways so many times out of this rivalry I would hate to wager a guess if it’s a million or more. I’ve seen Cyclones fans storm Jack Trice after a victory and exit quietly after a defeat. I’ve also witnessed dejected and furious Iowa fans after losses, too. Hopefully afterward any ribbing is good-natured by the winning side and all of us good Iowans can go back to arguing about politics afterward.

Coincidentally, President Donald Trump, who then was a Republican candidate back in 2015, briefly attended the game and met with Iowa State University officials beforehand. It was an interesting environment.

Question 8

Answer: If we’re talking Iowa or Iowa State, I’ll take the easy way out and say both. But looking throughout the Big Ten, I’m going to eye Minnesota. The Gophers were up and down in a 17-7 home win against Buffalo to open the season. They go on the road to Oregon State for a late-night game. If Minnesota can make some strides — especially in the passing game — it’s possible the Gophers can vault themselves into dark-horse territory in the Big Ten West Division. The other team I would say is Indiana, which unfortunately drew Ohio State first and played competitively for 3 quarters before giving way. The Hoosiers travel to Virginia and have a chance to snag a Power 5 victory.

Question 9

Answer: I would still go with quarterback. Stanley had a solid game after a rough first quarter but this is a tough atmosphere. At Iowa State, there’s a strong dislike for Iowa, and the crowd can rattle players. If Stanley plays composed against the Cyclones, then he’s a keeper. If not, you have to worry about his mental approach in road environments at Wisconsin and Nebraska later in the season.

The post Iowa football mailbag: Cy-Hawk rivalry, vertical passing game, line protections appeared first on Land of 10.

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