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Hawkeye offense continues to struggle on the road

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa offense is an explosive unit that can sprint up and down the field and put up 40 points seemingly at will. Its quarterback can do no wrong, avoiding turnovers and routinely throwing long touchdown strikes to wide-open receivers.

Until it leaves Kinnick Stadium, that is.

The Hawkeyes are undefeated in their five home games. They scored more than 30 points in all five, and more than 40 in three of them. They're averaging more than 39 points and 431 yards per game in Iowa City.

But that high-octane attack has often fizzled on the road, where the Hawkeyes are winless in three tries. And players and coaches aren't sure why.

"We just haven't played well enough to win on the road," head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday, three days after Iowa lost to Minnesota in Minneapolis. "I don't think there's anything mystical or magical about it. Haven't played well enough on the road."

Wide receiver Marvin McNutt didn't have any more insight than Ferentz.

"You can't really explain it," he said. "We just haven't been able to execute on the road."

Iowa's offensive output as a visitor falls to 21.6 points and 354 yards per game. Without the three overtimes Iowa played at Iowa State on Sept. 10, those averages are 16 and 337.

Michigan State and Minnesota are the only Big Ten teams to suffer a larger road drop-off than Iowa in yardage. And only the Spartans see a bigger reduction in scoring.

"I don't think there's a different feeling [on the road]," quarterback James Vandenberg said. "I think we haven't played as well on the road. I don't know if it's because it's on the road, but we haven't played as good as we could have."

Vandenberg, who is still in search of his first career road win, has looked especially uncomfortable away from Kinnick Stadium. He's throwing for 273 yards per game at home and, despite more passing attempts, just 184 on the road. Fourteen of Vandenberg's 17 touchdowns have come at home. His passer rating is 178 in Iowa City, 118 elsewhere.

Penn State and Minnesota were each able to bother Vandenberg with blitzes this season. Penn State sacked the Keokuk native four times on Oct. 8. In the fourth quarter, with Iowa trailing 6-3 and in Nittany Lion territory, Vandenberg was sacked and fumbled.

Penn State's recovery set up a touchdown that put the game out of reach for the Hawkeyes.

Minnesota, which ranked 118th out of 120 in the nation in sacks going into its game against Iowa, took Vandenberg down three times on Oct. 29. One of those sacks forced a red-zone fumble, and receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley called the play a turning point in the game.

Vandenberg said the team is recognizing opponents' blitzes before the snap. But he acknowledged that crowd noise has made it difficult to call for different protection schemes at the line of scrimmage.

"It definitely makes it a little harder to communicate to everybody what's going on," he said. "But we practice with noise. And we've been in a lot of road games. So it's not like it should be a huge surprise."


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