Leistikow's DVR Monday: The hidden moments of Iowa football's epic comeback in Ames
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz likes to refer to “Kodak moments” when thinking back to memorable checkpoints in football time.
Saturday’s Cy-Hawk epic certainly created plenty of those for the Hawkeyes in a thrilling, 44-41 overtime win in Ames:
Akrum Wadley’s spectacular 46-yard catch and run finished with him diving inside the left pylon of Jack Trice Stadium’s south end zone.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s walk-off TD grab that found him exulting just inside that same end zone’s right pylon.
And then there was the overall performance of Nate Stanley (co-offensive player of the week in the Big Ten Conference after throwing for 333 yards and five touchdowns in his second career start), one that reminded Ferentz of C.J. Beathard’s fourth-quarter heroics on this same grass two years earlier.
But a comeback win often has hidden moments before the Kodak moments. And that’s where the focus of this week’s DVR Monday begins.
A memorable hour
After Iowa gave up back-to-back-to-back touchdown drives and trailed, 31-21, in the fourth quarter, there was little margin for error. Here are some of the quietly important things that happened that you might have forgotten or missed in the final hour of real time:
A simple completion: Down 10 and backed up to his own 8 after Amani Jones' holding penalty on the kickoff return, Stanley zipped a crisp ball to Nick Easley on a curl for 12 yards on first down — the first snap of an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive. Jack Trice was booming and momentum wore cardinal-and-gray until that point.
A fortunate incompletion: The first Iowa snap after Iowa State reclaimed a 38-31 lead was nearly a disaster. With 4:36 left, Stanley threw a ball toward Easley into triple coverage. It was a bad decision, but he got a reprieve as the ball was knocked to the ground. An interception, and the Cyclones could’ve eaten clock and booted in a clinching field goal. Instead, Iowa punted and got a defensive stop for one more chance to force overtime.
Fantastic Fant hands: Two catches by Noah Fant on the overtime-forcing drive proved critical. On third-and-2 from Iowa's 33, Stanley threw a fastball behind the sophomore tight end, but Fant collected the pass for a 9-yard gain. Two plays later, on second-and-7, Stanley darted a ball between two defenders — and again Fant was there for plus-9. Iowa State was suddenly on its heels. The very next play? Wadley went to the house after beating linebacker Joel Lanning (then others) to tie it, 38-38.
Miguel and Mends: After Wadley’s score, Iowa State still had 69 seconds and two timeouts with which to respond. But Miguel Recinos delivered a nice squib kick that found Mike Warren at the 3, and then Iowa backup linebacker Aaron Mends made sure Warren was stifled. Mends' hard solo tackle pinned Iowa State at the 20. If Iowa State had better field position, it probably would have taken more chances against a Hawkeye defense that struggled for much of the day. Instead, it got conservative and settled for OT.
OJ’s saving play: Iowa State had connected twice with Allen Lazard in the red zone for scores and sought a third on first-and-10 from Iowa’s 15 in overtime. Jacob Park’s ball was perfectly thrown, but Michael Ojemudia had Lazard (six catches, 23 yards) blanketed, and he broke up the play with his left hand. After Hakeem Butler’s drop two plays later, the Cyclones settled for a field goal — and, thanks to Stanley and Smith-Marsette, their offense wouldn’t see the field again.
Pass pro gets an A+
One of the things that struck me on the re-watch: Stanley barely got touched by anyone in gray.
He attempted 41 passes and ran the football twice. I counted twice out of those 43 snaps that a Cyclone made legit contact with Iowa’s quarterback — both of which resulted in hurried incomplete passes.
Stanley was officially sacked once for a loss of one yard, but that was when he scrambled and chose to go out of bounds — and received a bad spot. It looked like he got back to the line of scrimmage, at least.
So hats off to Iowa’s revolving offensive line, which used seven different players and had to adjust to the loss of 20-game starting tackle Ike Boettger in the third quarter.
James Daniels’ return at center was evident — he smothered the Cyclones' defenders, and his snaps were perfect. The 295-pound junior pulled with the lateral movement of a tight end on Smith-Marsette’s early 7-yard end around. And he was a lead blocker on several effective screen passes.
Iowa’s pass protection has been a weak point the past two seasons, but on Saturday, it was the best it’s been in a long, long time.
That shouldn't go unnoticed in what became Iowa's first 300-yard passing game since Jake Rudock in 2014.
Stanley missed deep balls, but ...
I saw them and heard them — complaints about Stanley missing too many throws during Saturday’s win. What is wrong with people?
Stanley, like any quarterback, would love to hit every pass he attempts. And, yes, he missed possible touchdowns to Smith-Marsette and Fant on overthrows.
It was just last week that Stanley hit Fant and Easley perfectly in stride for long TDs. And on Saturday, his back-of-the-end zone timing throws to Matt VandeBerg and Smith-Marsette were as good as it gets.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Stanley said. “I wish I had ‘em back, but all I can do now is learn from them and get better.”
The DVR can bring this point home, too. Even though Stanley overshot deep, open targets, there was a clear benefit of throwing the long ball.
Down 10-7, Stanley took his first deep shot of the day and missed Fant by four yards. But on the next play, you know what happened?
A few of Iowa State’s linebackers and safeties were inching backward just before the second-and-10 snap — the deep threat was in their heads.
So? Stanley handed off to Wadley — who broke free for a 35-yard gain.
Under Brian Ferentz, Iowa already has shown the threat of a vertical passing attack. That was something Iowa’s offense consistently lacked under Greg Davis.
Embrace it. And your quarterback, who is 35-for-52 for 458 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions in his last seven quarters and overtime.
Another unnoticed aspect of Iowa’s 82-play, 497-yard offensive outburst was the remarkable downfield blocking by receivers and tight ends.
“It’s probably about as good a receiver blocking as I can remember in one of our football games,” Kirk Ferentz said on the university’s website Sunday. “It’s probably one of the reasons we had so many yards.”
Here's a little honor roll:
- Fant had a key block on James Butler’s 26-yard catch on first-and-20 to help set up a go-ahead score in the second quarter.
- Smith-Marsette sealed off his man on fullback Drake Kulick’s catch and run for 26 yards in the third quarter.
- VandeBerg created a lane for Wadley on one of the game’s biggest plays — a 19-yard screen pass on third-and-11 with Iowa trailing, 31-21.
- Easley helped pave Wadley’s path up the left sideline on his 46-yard, tying TD.
- And freshman Brandon Smith cleared the outside for Wadley to gain six yards on second-and-10 in overtime. Three plays later, Iowa won the game.
Defensive line snap counts
This week’s exercise in tracking playing time and effectiveness focused on the defensive line, which unveiled an eight-man rotation in Week 1 and stuck to it in Week 2.
This will be interesting to monitor as the season progresses.
Starting defensive ends Anthony Nelson (a line-high 63 snaps out of Iowa State’s 72 official plays) and Parker Hesse (60) built up the highest workloads Saturday, largely because defensive coordinator Phil Parker kept them in for Iowa’s dime package — with Nelson at left end, Brady Reiff (13 snaps) and Hesse at tackle and freshman A.J. Epenesa (15 snaps) at right end.
Cedrick Lattimore (45 snaps) played the most of the four defensive tackles. And although he didn’t get credited with a tackle Saturday, he had one of the line’s biggest moments when he blew up Iowa State’s third-and-goal play from the Iowa 1 in the second quarter. He hurried Park into an incompletion, and Iowa State settled for a field goal on a day when every point mattered.
Nathan Bazata (44) and Matt Nelson (29) were effective in clogging the middle, and Sam Brincks (19) continued to provide relief at the left end.
Epenesa’s usage was up five snaps from his debut last week vs. Wyoming, and it looks like his role with the team is increasing. He was on the field during some of Iowa State’s most important plays late — including in overtime.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.