Status report: Stanford counters every Hawkeye move
PASADENA, Calif. — Iowa’s offensive line shuffled back to the combination that produced the team’s most dominant win of the Big Ten season.
It didn’t, however, produce the same type of yard-churning blocks that surfaced in October in a road rout against Northwestern.
Cole Croston moved from his recent home at right tackle to left tackle. Sean Welsh went from left guard to right tackle. True freshman James Daniels rejoined the starting lineup and left tackle Boone Myers went to the sidelines to start Friday’s Rose Bowl.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz indicated Myers hadn’t been fully healthy after a 16-13 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, at least during the early portion of preparations for Friday’s game against Stanford. Myers entered the game during the first half but played left guard.
“We felt during the course of the last couple weeks it was the best lineup to go with,” Ferentz said. “We ran the ball fine against Northwestern using that same lineup.”
Northwestern, of course, didn’t have Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas at the front of its defense, either.
“They outplayed us,” Ferentz said of the Cardinal's 45-16 romp. “They outplayed us in every turn, and credit goes to them.”
Run offense: Season-low production
Yards on the ground were hard for the Hawkeyes to find. They finished with a season-low 48 yards rushing.
Iowa topped the 100-yard mark in all 12 of its victories and eclipsed the 200-yard figure six times. But the ground game stalled in the two biggest contests of the season. The Hawkeyes finished with 52 yards against Michigan State and could never seem to gain traction on the ground against the Cardinal.
“They did an excellent job of playing their gaps and playing sound football,” said running back LeShun Daniels, who led Iowa with 37 yards on 10 carries. “They were always in the right spots.”
Pass offense: Sacks stall Iowa all day
The inability to move the ball on the ground created compounding problems for Iowa’s offense. The Hawkeyes continually found themselves in long-yardage situations, and Iowa receivers couldn’t shake free from the Stanford secondary quickly enough to keep the passing game in rhythm.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard threw a pair of touchdown passes in the second half and finished 21-of-33 passing for 239 yards. With the Hawkeyes trying to dig themselves out of a 14-0 rut, though, Beathard misfired on a pass toward the sideline, and Quenton Meeks picked it off and returned it 66 yards for a touchdown.
The Cardinal also sacked Beathard seven times.
“When I was running my routes, by the time I would get to my break points, C.J. would have to scramble,” said receiver Matt VandeBerg, who caught a 36-yard pass in the fourth quarter for Iowa's first touchdown. “I think that’s one of the main points.”
Pass defense: Breakdowns early and late
The Hawkeyes barely had time to dig in their cleats before Stanford dissected the Iowa defense for the game’s first touchdown.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan locked onto Christian McCaffrey on the game’s first play, and the speedy running back sliced through the Iowa defense for a 75-yard touchdown catch.
“We brought the safety down, and I was just a middle-of-the-field player and I was trying to work back to help (safety Jordan) Lomax out and went to plant and slipped,” linebacker Cole Fisher said. “He didn’t really have any help on the inside.”
The Hawkeyes gave up two more big plays in the pass game, losing track of receiver Michael Rector midway through the second quarter when Hogan acted like he fumbled the ball while Rector raced behind the Iowa secondary for a 31-yard touchdown.
The outcome had been settled long before Rector caught his second touchdown, a 42-yard bomb with 1:56 left.
“Our job, if we’re on defense, is to defend whatever they choose to run,” Ferentz said when asked if he took umbrage to Stanford’s decision to throw the ball deep with a 22-point lead. “So that’s what you do when you’re on defense, and we didn’t successfully defend that play.”
Run defense: McCaffrey hard to handle
Like most other teams on Stanford’s schedule, the Hawkeyes had a hard time corralling McCaffrey. The Heisman Trophy runner-up carried 18 times for 172 yards and put on a show in the open field.
“He’s a great running back,” Lomax said. “Everybody saw that today, and everybody’s seen that all season long. His ability to elude tackles and stay on his feet, he’s just a great player.”
Special teams: See above
The Hawkeyes had done an admirable job covering punts throughout the season, and they seemed to be positioned Friday to bring McCaffrey down when it appeared they had him pinned in during the second quarter.
But a sliver of an opening can turn into a highlight-reel return when McCaffrey has the football in his hands. The sophomore wiggled through traffic and sprinted 63 yards for touchdown, the first punt-return score against the Hawkeyes this season.