Iowa postgame mailbag: Were the Hawkeyes too conservative on final offensive possession?
The last time Iowa played in Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes suffered a devastating 24-7 loss to Purdue that snowballed into a poor performance the following game at Wisconsin.
On Saturday, the feeling leaving the field was much more exuberant.
The Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 27-22 for their seventh straight win in the rivalry. But more important than retaining the Floyd of Rosedale trophy yet again are the implications surrounding Iowa's win in the grand scheme of the Big Ten West:
- Iowa (5-2 in Big Ten) beat Minnesota, giving them a third conference loss
- Ohio State beat Purdue 59-31 to give them their third conference loss
- Wisconsin beat Northwestern 35-7 to improve to 5-2 in Big Ten play
A four-way tie entering the day is ending with just Iowa and Wisconsin at the top and vying for a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game.
"One of three things are happening (in November)," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You're ascending, tanking or just getting through it. In a lot of conferences, this is when things get decided. What are you going to do to hit the gas pedal?"
So far this month, Iowa's won both games. Their path to Indianapolis is two-fold: Win out and hope Wisconsin stumbles in the final two weeks. With that, there's plenty to talk about out of Saturday's win so without further ado, your Week 10 mailbag:
What was the strategy on the last offensive possession?
Let's set the scene: Up 24-22, Iowa's defense forces a turnover on downs and the offense takes over on Minnesota's 3-yard line with exactly two minutes remaining. You would assume Iowa would go after the knockout blow and score a touchdown to put this out of reach.
One minute, 19 seconds and three conservative calls in a row, Iowa kicked a field goal to make the score 27-22 with 41 seconds left in the game.
What was the thinking there?
Ferentz explained post game.
There's two possible outcomes: Score, go up two possessions and force Minnesota to score, get an onside kick and score again or bleed the clock out for as much as you can and leave Minnesota with little time to score a touchdown to win the game. Ferentz opted for the latter.
For what it's worth, Minnesota did burn their last timeout during that sequence. Overall, it sounds like the same practice from the Northwestern game: Make the other team drive the length of the field without any timeouts and with as little time on the clock.
It's worked two weeks in a row.
Because Iowa won, it's nothing more than a head-scratching moment for some. But I'd continue to expect Ferentz to trust his defense in situations like these.
Illinois outrushed Minnesota: Can the Iowa defense stop Illinois run offense?
Ferentz said after the game that it felt like Minnesota ran it for 400 yards. They recorded about half of that: 189. Iowa's next opponent, Illinois is fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (just behind Minnesota) and will look to establish the run just as the Gophers did.
How was Minnesota so successful? There's more than one reason for that.
To start, Minnesota has the biggest offensive line that Iowa's seen this season (average size is 6-foot-5 and 332 pounds) and the most experienced in the country (215 combined starts). That alone will make life easier for any running back, even if it's the fifth and sixth guy on the Gophers' depth chart.
Another part of it was schematic. Ferentz and players admitted that Minnesota showed several looks that the Golden Gophers don't normally feature. Then there were plays like that toss sweep that was so effective that's a staple play that they try to execute to perfection. In the first half, they did to the tune of 139 first-half yards on nearly five yards per carry.
It didn't help that it was another poor tackling day for Iowa's defense. Runs that should've been stopped for negative or short gains were chunk plays throughout the game. As a result, Minnesota dominated time of possession finishing with over 40 minutes.
But the Hawkeyes had a better showing in the second half, allowing only 50 yards.
"That's going to start with the fundamentals," Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said. "Things like eye discipline, correctable things. Looking back, we need to get off the field a little bit quicker but we fought for those 40 minutes."
Concerning Illinois, the reason why they rushed for so many yards while limiting Minnesota is because of their hot start to that game. Illinois led 14-0 early in the game which forced Minnesota out of their comfort zone and allowed Illinois to run the ball throughout the game. Iowa and Minnesota played a much closer contest, therefore Minnesota worked freely within their playbook.
Iowa's prioritized starting fast throughout the year. The best way to stop Illinois' rush offense is to never allow them to get going. Start fast, force them to pass (which the Ilini don't do well) and let the secondary cash in on opportunities.
How did the offense perform in Alex Padilla's first start?
Iowa's struggling offense has been a touchy topic all season. The irony in Saturday's game is that their 19 minutes, 41 seconds of possession is by far the lowest of the season. But it was one of their best performances of the season.
"I felt like this was our best game offensively so far as far as just moving the ball," wide receiver Keagan Johnson said. "When we had it, we produced when we needed to. I think this was well-needed and we can grow up from here."
The numbers don't lie.
Take away defensive touchdowns against Indiana and Iowa State, and the Hawkeyes' 27 points is their third-highest point total of the season. And unlike past games, they did it without any turnovers from the defense setting them up in favorable positions. Their average starting field position on scoring drives (minutes the late field goal) were their own 31-yard line.
Let's get into more raw stats: 5.7 yards per play (highest of the season), zero sacks allowed, a perfect 2-for-2 in the red zone and perhaps the most impressive stat is Alex Padilla's 18.7 yards per completion. Iowa's coaching staff was not afraid to challenge Minnesota's No. 8 ranked defense down the field and that shows the trust they have in Padilla.
"(Alex) did a really good job," Ferentz said. "He made some good throws. Would have been nice if we could have hit that last one to Arland Bruce down there, but we'll see it on tape. Good decisions. The ball security part, played clean football."
Of note on the offensive line, I believe this is the first game all season where the five starters played wire-to-wire without substitutions (DVR Monday will confirm). Zero sacks allowed and only three tackles for loss allowed without the starting left tackle — Ferentz will take that any day.
The running game struggled to find consistency. Running back Tyler Goodson had a few good runs in the beginning but cooled off. Then the drive with a little over five minutes remaining when the offense couldn't string enough runs together to salt the game up 24-22.
That aspect of the game will continue to be a work in progress. Goodson had a few moments where a Minnesota defender got him in a one-on-one situation; breaking those will lead to long runs. But the good news is that the line looks to be cohesive. Maybe that will lead to better unit blocking and more big plays.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.