Leistikow's DVR Monday: Why didn't Iowa cover David Bell on Purdue's winning touchdown?
When putting out the call for requests for the first DVR Monday column of 2020, there were some replies that admittedly provided a chuckle.
“Big Brother, it’s an All-Star season (and) been great so far.”
“Delete Iowa game on 10/24/2020.”
Understandably, there's a desire to toss Iowa’s 24-20 loss at Purdue into the trash heap and move on.
For those that need a DVR Monday refresher, the idea is to take a deeper look at a digital video recording of the Hawkeyes’ previous Saturday with focus on the game within the game.
Let's get to "the film" ... then, yes, delete it.
How does David Bell get so wide open on the game’s most important defensive play?
A frame-by-frame breakdown of Bell’s 6-yard touchdown catch on third-and-5 with 2 minutes, 15 seconds to play …
Purdue threw out of an empty backfield, and Iowa rushed four — meaning it had seven defenders on the Boilermakers’ five receivers.
Bell started on the right side in the slot, with linebacker Barrington Wade initially guarding him but with safety Dane Belton behind him to provide inside help.
Let’s stop there for a moment. Why is Wade, in his second career start, lined up against one of the best Big Ten Conference receivers Kirk Ferentz said he's witnessed in 21-plus years at Iowa? Good question. Iowa was in its 4-3 defense instead of a 4-2-5. The Hawkeyes were down to one timeout but probably should have spent it, given the high stakes of that play.
Tight end Payne Durham, lined up to Bell’s left, was matched by linebacker Nick Niemann. That’s fine. The big mistake, though, was that Belton drifted right to help Niemann as Durham went over the middle. Wade gave Bell a cursory shove then let him go, surely thinking he had inside help from Belton while looking to protect any underneath routes that Purdue loves to call. Instead, not one of Iowa’s seven end-zone defenders took Bell — and it was an easy touchdown connection from Aidan O'Connell and Bell’s 13th catch of the game.
Even if Wade sticks with Bell, he needed extra help. It makes no sense to not have at least two sets of eyes on the best player in the stadium. Ferentz deserves at least a little blame here; he should have recognized the precarious matchup and spent his final timeout to make sure No. 3 didn’t beat him. A 20-20 game with no timeouts remaining would have been better than a 24-20 deficit with one.
Iowa was called for 10 penalties for 100 yards and Purdue for three for 21. What was the reason for that disparity?
As I listened to Ed Podolak on the radio broadcast and saw postgame Twitter feedback, there was a cry for Purdue’s lack of offensive holding calls. So, let's examine further.
Purdue right tackle Will Bramel was blatantly holding left end Chauncey Golston early in the fourth quarter on one of Golston’s best pressures of the day; it was so obvious that you don't need DVR Monday analysis. Instead of what looked to be a sure Golston sack or knock-down, O’Connell climbed the pocket and found Milton Wright for 20 big yards. That was a 30-yard swing on what became a Purdue field-goal drive.
Joe Evans’ jersey was later torn by Purdue’s other right tackle, Greg Long, on an obvious hold. Though Horvath was stopped for a 1-yard loss, that left Purdue with third-and-2 (which it narrowly converted) instead of second-and-11, which might have given Iowa a better chance to get off the field.
The two most significant flags called against Iowa were accurate calls. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, in both instances, the infractions were completely unnecessary.
On Monte Pottebaum’s 17-yard reception in the third quarter, Tyrone Tracy Jr. did not need to deliver a blind-side block to Purdue’s DaMarcus Mitchell, but he did. Just getting in the 270-pound defensive end's way would have been smarter. Remember, it was before the 2019 season that the NCAA made blind-side blocks a point of emphasis and a 15-yard penalty. The rule defines such an infraction as “an open field block against an opponent that is initiated from outside the opponent’s field of vision, or otherwise in such a manner that the opponent cannot reasonably defend himself against the block.”
Instead of first-and-10 at Purdue’s 37 with a 17-14 lead, it was first-and-13 at Iowa’s 43. A punt followed three plays later.
On Purdue’s winning drive, Jack Heflin’s face-mask penalty (costing Iowa 15 yards) was ruled correctly even though Golston was going to record a 4-yard sack anyway. Replays showed that Heflin's two fingers on the face mask were enough to pull O’Connell’s head to the left. The rule book states, “No player shall grasp and then twist, turn or pull the face mask, chin strap or any helmet opening of an opponent. It is not a foul if the face mask ... is not grasped and then twisted, turned or pulled. When in question, it is a foul.”
While Iowa deserved all 10 penalties it got, the official who didn’t call pass interference or defensive holding on the Hawkeyes’ final play needs to be reprimanded. Purdue defensive back Geovante Howard had his right hand inside Nico Ragaini’s left shoulder pad for a good 10 yards, then pulled down on Ragaini as the ball arrived. Iowa should have had a first-and-10 at Purdue’s 40 with 1:23 to go. Instead, the game was over.
Just too many missed tackles.
The Hawkeyes only had one true intrasquad scrimmage in 2020 prior to Saturday's game. That’s a deviation from the typical load (of at least three — the spring “game,” the Kids Day open practice and one closed scrimmage under the lights during the end of training camp) due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Limited practice time meant bread-and-butter fundamentals would be sacrificed, and it definitely showed up for Iowa on both sides of the ball and with silly penalties (like four false starts by four different Hawkeyes).
Iowa especially didn't look like Iowa in its tackling.
On Purdue’s first scoring drive, Bell broke a tackle attempt by Julius Brents and scooted an extra seven yards. Two plays later on second-and-12, Brents’ air tackle of Wright over the middle allowed for a 13-yard gain instead of third-and-5.
On Zander Horvath’s best run, a 33-yarder, Heflin couldn’t get low enough to bring down the 230-pounder near the line of scrimmage.
Adding to Iowa's frustration, one of the few times it got pressure without blitzing was when right end John Waggoner got a great inside rush, got both hands around O’Connell’s waist, but ... couldn’t pull him down for the sack.
On a key second-and-10 on Purdue’s game-winning drive, Golston and Jack Koerner were in position to stuff Horvath at the line of scrimmage, but both missed. Horvath gained five key yards to set up a more manageable third-and-5. Then on a very short pass over the middle, Bell eluded Wade behind the first-down marker and scurried ahead for 10 yards.
Those are just a few examples and shouldn’t be seen as picking on any Iowa player. Hawkeye tackling will improve as the season goes on.
It feels like Iowa will need to blitz more frequently going forward.
Phil Parker likes to stay home and rush four, but in the post-A.J. Epenesa era, he might not have that luxury. I counted 15 Iowa blitzes on 74 non-kneel-downs (20.3%), and the ratio probably should be higher going forward.
After blitzing just once in the first quarter, Parker blitzed on back-to-back plays early in the second. The first, with linebacker Jestin Jacobs, should have backfired as O’Connell missed a wide-open Bell for what would have been an 89-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Purdue lead. The second blitz, though, was terrifically designed and executed.
On third-and-9, both linebackers (Niemann and Wade) in Iowa’s 4-2-5 charged in on a blitz. But the beauty in the play was that right end Zach VanValkenburg backed up into coverage and expertly picked up crossing attempts from both Wright and Bell, leaving O’Connell no outlet. Wade gobbled him up for a nine-yard sack, and that finally got Iowa much-needed good field position.
In the second quarter, Purdue netted just 23 yards on seven plays when Iowa blitzed. That tally included a Matt Hankins’ interception when Parker sent Wade into the backfield.
Iowa got burned a few times in the second half when trying to get extra pressure, but the four-man rush didn’t show much juice by itself in Week 1.
Some finishing observations …
The offensive line needs to be better: Iowa’s pass protection was worse than I initially thought when watching the game live. Alaric Jackson had a tough first series. Tyler Linderbaum’s holding penalty against a three-man rush was very costly. Coy Cronk allowed Purdue's lone sack. Kyler Schott, who had the worst Pro Football Focus grade of the seven Iowa offensive linemen who played, allowed a last-drive pressure that hurried Petras’ second-and-10 throw to a wide-open Tracy.
More Ragaini, please: With so much attention being paid to Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Ragaini is going to have opportunities this season, and he made the most of them Saturday. In just 23 snaps (compared to Smith’s 65 and Smith-Marsette’s 61), Ragaini produced the best numbers of any wide receiver — four catches for 61 yards. He ran great routes Saturday. His 17-yard catch-and-run, tight-roping the right sideline, off a sharp out route on fourth-and-4 was beautiful.
A new DVR Monday category for 2020: Underrated MVPs on the rewatch? Pottebaum had a very good debut at fullback in 26 snaps; watch his work on Mekhi Sargent's 21-yard run in the fourth quarter. After a tough trip to Purdue in 2018, cornerback Riley Moss had a really good day. And hat tip to Terry Roberts on special teams for intelligently jumping back into the field of play to down Tory Taylor's third-quarter punt at the 1-yard line.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.