Leistikow's DVR Monday: The B1G surprised; Mabin wasn't that bad
If you’ve ever re-watched a good comedy movie, you know that sometimes the most priceless humor can sneak past you the first time through.
That’s the idea behind what I’m calling DVR Monday, a weekly column during the football season in which I’ll take another full watch of Iowa’s most recent game and pick out some fresh observations.
My plan is to try to write something other people aren’t and to see where my viewpoint might have changed (or been confirmed) in the 36-48 hours since watching it all play out live, from the press box.
This approach will probably evolve, and every week might be a little different, but the goal is the same: to inform and to entertain. It’ll be posted Mondays (hence the name) and in your Tuesday newspaper. I hope you enjoy it.
B1G narrative shift
Before DVR Monday gets to Iowa's 45-21 win over Miami of Ohio, a just-as-important evaluation must take place regarding the Hawkeyes' Big Ten Conference opponents. A Week 1 view: Iowa's schedule suddenly looks a lot tougher down the stretch — and with a potentially easier lineup toward the beginning of the season.
Iowa’s next five opponents had underwhelming openers: Iowa State (with its loss to FCS Northern Iowa) made bad decisions; North Dakota State (with its home overtime win over Charleston Southern) didn’t look like a program that has won five straight over FBS competition; Rutgers (with its 48-13 loss at No. 18 Washington) may have a longer rebuild ahead than some thought; Northwestern (with its home loss to Western Michigan) fielded a supposedly-good defense that couldn’t get off the field; and Minnesota (with its home win over Oregon State) looked undisciplined and average.
And with Purdue to follow, the door seems more than ajar for the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes to open 7-0.
But the end of the schedule could be a doozy, with Wisconsin (by upsetting No. 6 LSU), Illinois and Nebraska looking better than expected, Penn State taking care of business and No. 8 Michigan looking as good as advertised with a 63-3 rout of Hawaii. Most concerning in that group for Iowa fans should be Nebraska, which may have simultaneously found an identity in routing Fresno State while solving its biggest liability (limiting interception-prone Tommy Armstrong to 10 pass attempts).
The Cornhuskers opened freeway-sized holes in a 43-10 win — granted, it was against the No. 116 team against the run last year — and looked like classic Big Red teams with a power rushing attack. The Black Friday season-ender for Iowa just got scarier.
MVB: Not just The Possession Guy
Matt VandeBerg’s 65 catches last season averaged 10.8 yards; making it easy to think of him as The Possession Guy.
It’s accurate, because he catches about everything thrown his way. But "The Possession Guy" is often code for “good hands, lousy speed.”
VandeBerg came to Iowa weighing 160 pounds soaking wet. But if you’ve watched any of the Hawkeyes’ training videos that show VandeBerg (now 6-1, 190) vertical-jumping like an NBA prospect, you know that there’s more than meets the eye.
Against Miami of Ohio, he sped away from the RedHawks' defenders for a 36-yard gain on a flare pass. And on a 23-yard gain to set up Iowa’s fifth touchdown, he adjusted in mid-air to pluck C.J. Beathard’s pass between two of Miami's defenders with a third crashing toward him.
I’ll no longer refer to VandeBerg as just The Possession Guy. Opponents can do so at their own risk.
A suspicion confirmed
I asked Kirk Ferentz after the game how much he attributed Iowa’s defensive shakiness (424 Miami yards) to the early ejection of middle linebacker Josey Jewell for targeting. Ferentz didn't get into specifics or make excuses. The DVR was more revealing, with a lot of hesitation shown from Jewell’s replacement.
That’s not a knock against true sophomore Jack Hockaday, who was thrown into the fire in trying to replace one of Iowa's top defenders and a team captain. Ferentz said the Hawkeyes were thinking too much on Saturday; this was confirmed on the rewatch. Hockaday struggled to commit to a first step on Miami's read-option runs.
Jewell will never be accused of lacking aggression. I expect a much-improved run defense to show up Saturday night against Iowa State.
Was Mabin that bad?
Greg Mabin was certainly Iowa's most visible defensive straw man, as he was the nearest defender on both James Gardner touchdown receptions and on Rokeem Williams’ 67-yard catch-and-run. The third-year starting cornerback was replaced by Manny Rugamba in the fourth quarter.
While Mabin's had better days, he wasn’t solely to blame. He thought he had safety help on Gardner’s first TD; several completions were splendid back-shoulder throws by Billy Bahl; and Iowa’s so-so pass rush allowed receivers extra time to get open.
Don’t forget: Mabin missed all of spring practice after shoulder surgery. He was rusty. But he’s on NFL Draft radars for a reason. Expect teams to keep picking on him because he’s not Desmond King.
And Mabin made a lot of good plays against Miami, too. He's a competitor. I predict he'll record his fourth career interception Saturday against the Cyclones.
Red zone = End zone
Iowa was incredibly efficient in the red zone, with six possessions and six scores. And it should’ve been six touchdowns, had George Kittle not dropped a pass in the end zone.
Part of that was the play-calling; having Akrum Wadley as a threat to get outside (which he did) loosened up Miami's goal-line defense. Part of the efficiency was quarterback play. I counted only one poor throw among Beathard's 20 on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes have a really good quarterback. Not that a DVR was needed to confirm that.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.