Offensive miscues lead Hawkeyes to 28-17 loss at Northwestern
Iowa’s 28-17 loss to Northwestern on Oct. 27 wasn’t as close as the score appeared. Iowa showed poor clock management in both halves and made too many miscues on offense.
Quarterback James Vandenberg went 24-of-38 for 214 yards through the air. His 63 percent completion rate was 7 points higher than his season average. Running back Damon Bullock returned to the lineup and rushed for more than 100 yards on 22 carries, behind an offensive line with two new starters.
But the Hawkeyes only managed two touchdowns — and the Hawkeye offense itself was the biggest reason for the few scoring opportunities.
Despite racking up 107 yards, Bullock wasn’t able to break free from a pressing Wildcat secondary for a big play. His longest run was for 9 yards. No receiver had a catch and run longer than 20 yards.
Iowa didn’t get in the end zone until 22 seconds remained in the third quarter. Both Hawkeye touchdowns came on 1-yard quarterback sneaks from Vandenberg, perhaps proving the oldest play in the book is the most reliable for Iowa’s struggling offense.
“We didn’t execute on drives that we moved the ball well,” Vandenberg said. “They’re going to score points. You’ve got to get 7 when you get those opportunities, and we didn’t do that well enough in the first half.”
Northwestern set up another scoring opportunity early in the third quarter when the Wildcats blocked a punt deep in Iowa territory. Linebacker James Morris appeared to miss a block on the play.
“It didn’t help,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of the play. “Anytime you give up a blocked punt, the odds of you coming out on top really diminish … We didn’t communicate well enough, and they had a guy get free.”
On just the fourth play of Iowa’s first possession — a drive usually scripted before the game by coaches — the Black and Gold were flagged for delay of game.
The Hawkeyes again used too much time at the end of the first quarter, when they were ready to go for it on fourth down. The penalty forced Iowa to punt.
Strangest of all was the third and final delay of game for Iowa, which came with two minutes left on the clock. In its hurry-up offense, Iowa committed delay of game. The infraction pushed Iowa back to third-and-9 and resulted in a turnover on downs.
Ferentz said the numerous delay penalties happened because the clocks on Ryan Field were hard for his staff and players to see.
“The placement is unusual,” he said. “It’s very different at both ends. I thought at least in two of those situations we had enough time to get the ball snapped.”
The opportunities for Iowa’s offense to find its rhythm in the remaining four games are dwindling, but the Hawkeyes themselves said it isn’t time to fret, not yet.
“No, I’m not worried,” wide receiver Keenan Davis said. “We have work to do. But we were starting to move the ball at the end there. We’re going to get better.”
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