Plenty of items to target when analyzing Iowa victory
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The word of the day for the Iowa football team was “target,” as in “select as an object of attention or attack.”
Star linebacker Josey Jewell drew the attention of the officials — and TV viewers — early with a helmet-to-helmet hit and was tossed from Saturday’s game for targeting, an obvious call with severe ramifications. In his absence, the Hawkeye defense wasn’t exactly stout.
Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin was targeted all afternoon by Miami of Ohio and didn’t respond the way you would expect a senior starter to in the Hawkeyes' 45-21 victory at Kinnick Stadium. By the fourth quarter, he was sitting out while freshman Manny Rugamba tried his hand at coverage.
Hawkeye quarterback C.J. Beathard locked in on just two primary targets, one familiar and one new. But neither of them was senior tight end George Kittle, until late in the game. Kittle promptly dropped that pass in the end zone. Cause for concern?
And freshman kicker Keith Duncan was on target with the first five extra points of his Hawkeye career, but he wasn’t asked to kick a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter. Perhaps he still hasn’t earned the full trust of coach Kirk Ferentz, although it must be noted that Iowa ended up getting a touchdown on that fourth-and-6 play in the season-opening win.
Let’s take them in order.
The junior middle linebacker and defensive touchstone saw his day end 3 minutes in after he lowered his head and struck Miami’s Matt Merimee on a punt return. His absence shouldn’t have become such a big deal against the RedHawks, who were coming off a 3-9 season and with a roster loaded with underclassmen.
Sophomore Jack Hockaday replaced Jewell and forced a fumble on the next possession, one of three Iowa recovered. But the RedHawks found all kinds of room to run against Iowa, setting up a passing game that produced 266 yards and two touchdowns.
“We definitely rallied around him, for sure, gave him some advice,” junior linebacker Bo Bower said of Hockaday’s increased role on the defense. “If something bad happens, he needs to know it. That’s for everybody, me included. I wasn’t perfect today at all.”
That was true of the entire defense, which allowed 25 first downs. Jewell will return next Saturday against Iowa State, but the players around him need to perform much better as well, or it won’t matter.
Mabin in the middle
Mabin knows that opposing offenses are going to come after him all season. That’s the price of playing the opposite side of the field from All-American Desmond King. Mabin had a pass breakup to end Miami’s initial series, and then things went south for him.
Miami burned him for a 67-yard gain in the first quarter. He was out of position in the third quarter on a 29-yard touchdown pass. In all, 152 of the RedHawks’ 266 passing yards came on plays directed Mabin’s way.
“That definitely irks at us. We got the win, but it was a sloppy win,” Mabin said. “I pretty much expect (teams to throw passes his way). I’ve got 11 mores games of that. That’s not going to be anything new. I’ve just got to go back, look at the film and correct my mistakes.
“A lot of room for improvement. I made some plays here and there, but not enough to truly make an impact.”
Sophomore Jay Scheel sat out Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury, delaying his long-anticipated starting debut for at least a week. Fellow sophomore Jerminic Smith started in his place and was outstanding, both in blocking and receiving. Smith caught three passes for 51 yards and his first career touchdown on a bullet from Beathard at the goal line.
Senior wideout Matt VandeBerg also continued to show his rapport with Beathard, leading Iowa with four catches for 99 yards, including one in such heavy traffic that you wondered why Beathard would even attempt such a pass. Chemistry, is the answer. He and VandeBerg, author of 65 catches a year ago, clearly have it.
But Iowa used only those two plus senior Riley McCarron at wide receiver for most of the game. McCarron caught one 14-yard pass and dropped another that was initially ruled a fumble and a touchback for Miami. The Hawkeyes were fortunate that call was reversed.
Ronald Nash was the fourth receiver in eventually, and caught one pass for six yards.
That was it for the wide receivers. The tight ends, led by the senior Kittle (six touchdown catches a year ago), were never a factor. Kittle should have had a short touchdown on a perfect throw from Beathard late in the game, but couldn’t hang on.
Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting were brought into the game primarily for blocking purposes.
Beathard insisted that there was nothing to read into the lack of tight end production.
“We were running the ball well on those guys, it seemed like,” Beathard said. “It wasn’t something that we went into the game thinking that we weren’t going to get them the ball. It’s just the way the day rolled out.”
Kicker in a comfort zone
Duncan’s day consisted of six extra points and one field goal from about the same distance (22 yards). He was perfect and no doubt left feeling very good about his college debut.
Maybe that was Ferentz’s plan, to not put Duncan in any position where he risked missing. Still, it was curious to see the notoriously cautious coach take a gamble on a fourth-and-6 play from the Miami 12-yard line in the third quarter. It worked, Iowa won, and all is well.
But next Saturday my guess is Iowa does kick if given that same situation. Duncan looks like he’s ready.