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Point/Counterpoint: Which position was most responsible for Iowa's loss to Northwestern?

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 16, 2010 7:20 AM

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Defensive line

As Dan Persa scrambled around a collapsing pocket during Northwestern's Nov. 13 game against the Hawkeyes, he continually was able to escape Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Mike Daniels, and Broderick Binns.

Even though the Hawkeyes registered four sacks on Persa, make no mistake — the Iowa defensive line is to blame for the disappointing loss.

Late in the game, when Northwestern was rallying and driving down the field, the defensive line looked gassed, and the players' body language on the field and sideline suggested they had given up.

In 2009, Clayborn finished the season with 70 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one very memorable blocked kick and touchdown return in Beaver Stadium, and the Orange Bowl MVP Award.

This season Clayborn's numbers have paled in comparison with his junior season. With two games still left in the regular season, he has 42 tackles with only seven tackles for loss, a measly 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one blocked kick.

In the fourth quarter of Saturday's game at Ryan Field, Clayborn stood dejectedly on the sidelines as a spectator instead of being the dominating force Iowa fans are used to seeing week in and week out.

Maybe Clayborn is busy thinking of what he can buy next year with his millions of dollars from being a first-round NFL pick in April, or maybe he realizes a Big Ten championship is no longer a reachable goal and he is mailing it in. Maybe he's sick of being held and constantly double-teamed.

Whatever is going on through his head, it is Clayborn's and the rest of the defensive line's fault for the loss in Evanston.

Daniels' emergence this year was supposed to keep the line fresh for late-game situations and more versatile against opposing defenses. But the defensive line has been embarrassed ever since the loss against Wisconsin.

The same line that lived in Penn State's backfield on Homecoming is no longer performing at a level on par with their collective talents.

This unit needs to play to its capabilities or it will be embarrassed on Saturday by Ohio State's mobile quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

— by Ben Wolfson

Quarterback

Entering Saturday's game at Northwestern, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi was the front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year.

After the Wildcats' 21-17 victory, Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa would get my vote — if I had one — if it was taken today.

Stanzi is most responsible for Iowa's loss because he did not play up to the level we have been accustomed to seeing this season. Statistically, the Iowa quarterback had his worst game of the year. Stanzi had his second-lowest completion percentage of the season, completing only 56 percent of his passes. He also recorded his lowest passer rating of the season.

His biggest mistake, though, came early in the fourth quarter. Leading 17-7 and with the ball in Northwestern territory, Iowa had a chance to put the Wildcats away. Overlooking an open Marvin McNutt, Stanzi threw deep for Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, but the ball was intercepted by Northwestern's Brian Peters. This interception turned the tide of the game and set the stage for Persa to lead the Wildcats back from a 10-point deficit to win.

With a chance to drive down the field and pull the game out, Stanzi couldn't come up big. Only five of his 13 passes on the final drive were complete, and only one gained more than nine yards. In all three of Iowa's losses, the Hawkeyes had the ball at the end of the game and have been unable to pull out the win. This fact is an indictment of Iowa's end-of-game offense, and not just Stanzi.

Stanzi's play was not terrible. In fact, he played a pretty decent game, throwing two touchdown passes. On another day, it might have been enough. But with the opposing quarterback playing his best game of the season, Iowa's senior quarterback just didn't make the plays — especially in the fourth quarter — needed to win the game for the Hawkeyes.

— by Ryan Murphy

Linebacker

Iowa overcame struggles endured early on to eventually seize a 17-7 lead over perennial fun-killers Northwestern.

Although the defense struggled at times to contain quarterback Dan Persa, and the offense struggled to put together a solid drive, things looked up in the third quarter when the Hawkeyes put up 14 unanswered points.

Then the fourth quarter came.

Following a Ricky Stanzi interception, the Wildcats got the ball — and a chance to drive the field and make it a game again.

How did the Iowa defense respond? It bent. And bent. And then it broke. Persa completed seven of eight passes. The majority of his completions were over the middle on inside routes that linebackers are responsible for covering.

If you look at the defensive statistics, the initial inclination is to argue that the linebacker corps played fantastic. Jeremiha Hunter got a pick. True freshman James Morris made 13 tackles.

But the stats are deceiving.

The brainiacs at Northwestern exposed Iowa's most vulnerable defensive unit.

Middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has struggled with an injury all year, though he did receive considerable playing time on Nov. 13. Junior outside linebacker Tyler Nielsen missed the game with a neck injury.

Although Morris made lots of tackles and Hunter got a pick, the linebacker corps struggled against the spread. Persa was able to go over the middle to his receivers at will and even run the ball. The linebackers were too far back to protect against the short pass. They were too far back to stop the run. And they weren't talented enough to get into position and make adjustments.

It's to be expected, though. Morris is young, and the team is dealing with too many key injuries to overcome.

The linebacker corps will likely improve, but with a potential Rose Bowl bid off the table, it's too late.

— by Jon Frank


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