Can Iowa's offensive line bounce back vs. Minnesota? Logan Jones dissects areas of improvement

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Iowa's football team took a step forward toward its goal of a Big Ten West title by beating Wisconsin 24-10 last Saturday, but one position group took a step back: the offensive line.

After positive results against Northwestern and Purdue in the weeks prior, the unit allowed six sacks and 11 tackles for loss to the Badgers. There were a few good moments sprinkled in, Iowa's offense converted two red zone opportunities into touchdowns and executed a late-game field goal drive that consumed nearly five minutes of clock, forcing Wisconsin to use its timeouts.

However, center Logan Jones said on Tuesday that the group wasn't pleased with their performance overall. He acknowledged that the group regressed Saturday, and will need to put forth a better showing this week against Minnesota (3 pm on Fox) if the team is to extend its three-game win streak.

"We took a step back as an offensive line and we know that," Jones said "But if we can just learn from this past because we've seen a lot of great defenses this year, I think we can just use these lessons and apply them to the next game and we'll be successful."

The process of getting back on track began on Sunday with film review. Jones attributed many of the offensive line's miscues to communication errors and mental mistakes. Wisconsin's defense by design allows its four linebackers to attack from anywhere at any time, that unpredictability mixed with the offensive line's inexperience with odd-man fronts presented significant challenges. Head coach Kirk Ferentz echoed that sentiment, then offered further analysis of the issues after watching the film.

"They had some movement involved and did some things maybe we didn't anticipate," Ferentz said. "Usually little things add up to big things and that was certainly the case. Then the other element I would throw in there a couple of sacks that were a little disappointing, just in that I thought we could do better there and we're going to have to do better in there. Most of it on third down but just losing some one-on-one matchups that I think that we can do better at."

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Schematically, Minnesota likely won't offer the same challenges Wisconsin did. The Golden Gophers play a base 4-3 defense with an under front (meaning the nose tackle is aligned to the tight end's side) which is very similar to a recent opponent in Northwestern and Iowa's base defense as well. Despite familiarity, there's always a chance for new wrinkles. Jones noted there's been an emphasis on overcommunicating in practice to make sure they're fully prepared for the game. For Jones specifically, there's one area where he's continuing to work: timing with snaps. Misfires have been a consistent issue for Jones, who began playing center for the first time during spring practice.

"It's just on me," Jones said. "Sometimes I'm a little late, sometimes our guys are jumping it, I just got to be better at getting it down because I should be the first guy off the ball every time. (Offensive line coach George Barnett) is telling me to keep working at it, that's all you can do. (Quarterback Spencer Petras) tries to help me out with it too, sometimes I'm doing it and sometimes I'm not. I think it's just a confidence thing sometimes, I just have to keep working at it."

Iowa's offensive line allowed six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in it's 24-10 win over Wisconsin.

Petras noted that Iowa's offense isn't one that's predicated on a clap to snap the ball, it's more rhythmic. In that regard, Jones' biggest challenge is gaining more confidence in anticipating snaps so they're not late.

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"As the center gets more confident, they want to anticipate the snap count as much as possible," Petras said. "Because that's our advantage. There's certain situations where he maybe snaps it late sometimes and it's not like an egregiously late snap, it's just I like it early. And he likes it early too. I think he's learning how much of an advantage that is, but it just takes time."

Elsewhere on the line, there's a bit of reshuffling. Starting right guard Beau Stephens likely won't play due to an injury suffered against Wisconsin, moving Nick DeJong to the first team and Gennings Dunker back into the two-deep as his backup. Dunker has been out recently to an injury himself but Ferentz confirmed that he'll play in some capacity Saturday and described him as a good prospect. Starting right tackle Jack Plumb, who particularly struggled against Wisconsin, limped off the field late in the game, but Ferentz anticipates him playing, and playing better.

"(Plumb) has practiced both days," Ferentz said. "He'll be in there unless something happens. He's had a good week so far and he'll bounce back."

After two steps forward and one step back, Jones said offensive line coach George Barnett's message was simple: There were too many instances where the unit lost their fundamentals and didn't play as unified as previous weeks. Jones emphasized that they'll have to be sharper in both areas on Saturday and beyond in order to get the team potentially back to the Big Ten championship game.

"In the run game just giving our second foot in the ground and getting vertical," Jones said. "In the pass game, just punching these guys and staying as square as possible or if we're doing (combination blocks), making sure we're working together, having our eyes on where the (linebacker) is, and just make sure we're communicating."