A crucial cut-blocking flag leaves the Hawkeyes coach bewildered
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Four games into the season, we still don’t know much about freshman kicker Keith Duncan’s ability to make game-pressure field goals.
That’s because the Hawkeyes continue to be uber-aggressive on fourth downs in enemy territory.
Even armchair fans who usually love aggression weren’t too sure about Kirk Ferentz’s decision on fourth-and-5 from Rutgers’ 10-yard line in a scoreless game with under six minutes left in the first half.
Instead of trying a 27-yard field goal, Iowa went for the first down. But C.J. Beathard overthrew Jerminic Smith on his pass into the end zone.
“That’s what we agreed on (in coaches’ meetings) Thursday,” Ferentz said. “We talk about that every week. We have different parameters for every game. But where that was as and what time of the game it was at, we felt that was our best shot.”
It was the first failed fourth-down conversion this season for Iowa in four attempts.
Iowa likes the idea of pinning the opponent near its own end zone even if the conversion fails. But in this case, Rutgers foiled that field-position plan five plays later when Chris Laviano completed a 76-yard pass to Janarion Grant.
In the meantime, Duncan has only attempted one field goal this year: a 22-yarder he made in the opener against Miami of Ohio.
Speaking of Grant, Rutgers' top playmaker didn't return after that 76-yard gain.
That's because Iowa cornerback Desmond King stepped on his foot while tackling him at the 3-yard line. King had missed a first tackle attempt on Grant near midfield, then chased him down. The Scarlet Knights would not score on the drive.
“I was trying to leverage him up and try to keep him inside and boxed in," King said. "He made one cut on me and went back to the outside, and I was trying to strip the ball.”
The Hawkeyes could have folded but they didn't in a 14-7 win at Rutgers.
Grant's foot was in a cast, and he was on crutches for the second half.
“For him to be out of the game," King said, "it kind of helped."
Scrambling C.J. a good thing
It was good to see Beathard moving around more on Saturday.
The senior quarterback had been pretty stationary in the pocket during Iowa’s first three games. But on Saturday, it was clear from the get-go that he had changed his approach.
He scrambled for 3 yards on Iowa’s first play from scrimmage, then for 14 on the next. For much of the day, he was the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher.
Beathard wound up taking two fourth-quarter sacks to dilute his rushing total to 37 yards on 10 attempts. But this was the first time the mobile quarterback was in positive rushing territory since the 2015 regular-season finale at Nebraska.
“There were two designed quarterback runs," Beathard said. "I don’t think it was part of the gameplan. ... We didn’t work on a quarterback draw all week."
Welcome back, ‘Raider’
Iowa’s “Raider” defensive package was revived from the dead Saturday, getting deployed on several occasions for the first time this season.
A Phil Parker concoction of the past few years on third-and-long had been on the shelf for Weeks 1-3, but got the green light against Rutgers. Iowa on Saturday inserted Manny Rugamba and Josh Jackson as extra defensive backs, with the two defensive tackles coming out, and linebacker Aaron Mends replaced Bo Bower to get a little faster on the pass rush.
On its 2016 debut play, Rugamba jumped offside on third-and-9. So that didn’t count.
But when it actually debuted, it came up big. Rutgers was on a long march to start the game and reached Iowa’s 8-yard line. After an offensive pass interference call pushed Rutgers back to the 23, “Raider” was deployed on third-and-21. On a three-man rush (eight in coverage), Parker Hesse sacked Chris Laviano for a 13-yard loss, booting Rutgers out of field-goal range.
The “Raider” was effective most of the afternoon, but Rutgers’ seven points came on a Laviano-to-Andre Patton touchdown pass with Jackson on the coverage.
“It does well,” Bower said. “We’re going to keep using it.”
New captain is 1-0
Iowa is 1-0 with LeShun Daniels Jr. as a team captain. The running back got more votes this week on a secret ballot from the team’s 16-player Leadership Group than Jim Thorpe Award-winning Desmond King, so he joined Beathard, Matt VandeBerg and Josey Jewell at midfield for the coin toss.
The middle linebacker shares his thoughts on Brandon Snyder's interception, a big drive by the offense and picking up a Big Ten road win.
“The team felt like I was fit enough for the role,” Daniels said. “Obviously I was excited about it.”
But is it anything to worry about with King? Not so, he said Saturday, even though Iowa hasn’t changed captains mid-season since 2012, when Micah Hyde was arrested for public intoxication. Hyde regained his captaincy a month later.
“We felt like LeShun had been doing what he had to do the past couple weeks,” said King, who is in the Leadership Group. “He ended up getting the votes this week.”
Though Ferentz was miffed at what’s a legal block or not afterward, he wasn’t disputing the 15-yard sideline-interference call against an Iowa coach — Brian Ferentz appeared to be the only assistant in the area of side judge Steve Hassel’s flag — after the first play of the second quarter.
“Typically, if you’re in their way, they give you a warning,” Kirk Ferentz said. “If they run into you, that’s going to be a flag.
“No excuse, neither. Kinnick (Stadium), there’s not much room. We had acres today.”
It was one of several mental-error penalties against Iowa, an area of concern in last week’s loss to North Dakota State, too.
“It’s inexcusable,” the head coach said.
The Hawkeyes were penalized seven times Saturday for 57 yards.
Scheduling quirk to end
Iowa’s first trip to Rutgers marked the 14th time in Ferentz’s 18 years that the Hawkeyes opened Big Ten Conference play on the road. The only four times the Hawkeyes have opened league play at home under Ferentz are 2001 (Penn State), 2008 (Northwestern), 2010 (Penn State) and 2012 (Minnesota).
That quirky scheduling disparity will end next year, when the Hawkeyes get three straight Big Ten home openers — vs. Penn State (2017), vs. Wisconsin (2018) and vs. Rutgers (2019).
Who made the trip
This was Iowa's first road game. Below is an unofficial look by position at Hawkeye players who were in uniform in Piscataway. (The Hawkeyes were without running back Derrick Mitchell Jr. and backup tight end Nate Wieting because of injuries.)
QB (4): C.J. Beathard, Nathan Stanley, Tyler Wiegers, Drew Cook.
RB (4): LeShun Daniels Jr., Akrum Wadley, Toks Akinribade, Toren Young.
FB (3): Drake Kulick, Brady Ross, Austin Kelly.
WR (7): Matt VandeBerg, Riley McCarron, Jerminic Smith, Jay Scheel, Ronald Nash, Devonte Young, Connor Keane.
TE (4): George Kittle, Peter Pekar, Nate Vejvoda, Noah Fant.
OL (10): Cole Croston, Boone Myers, James Daniels, Sean Welsh, Ike Boettger, Keegan Render, Lucas LeGrand, Ryan Ward, Steve Ferentz, Dalton Ferguson.
K (1): Keith Duncan.
LS (1): Tyler Kluver.
DE (5): Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson, Sam Brincks, Brady Reiff.
DT (6): Nathan Bazata, Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie, Cedrick Lattimore, Garret Jansen, Daniel Gaffey.
LB (9): Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, Aaron Mends, Jack Hockaday, Kevin Ward, Kristian Welch, Amani Jones, Angelo Garbutt.
DB (11): Desmond King, Greg Mabin, Miles Taylor, Brandon Snyder, Anthony Gair, Joshua Jackson, Michael Ojemudia, Jake Gervase, Manny Rugamba, Amani Hooker, Eric Grimm.
P (2): Ron Coluzzi, Colten Rastetter.