Third-down performance plagues Hawkeyes in fourth-straight loss


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Iowa had some momentum late in the first quarter against Purdue on Nov. 10 after picking up 43 yards in four offensive plays. But then the Hawkeyes went from second and 2 at the Purdue 32 to fourth and 5 at the 35.

Iowa failed to convert the fourth-down attempt, and the series underscored an issue that has plagued the Hawkeyes all year, on both sides of the ball:  third down.

The Black and Gold is converting on just 36 percent of its third downs, the 10th-worst rate in the Big Ten. Those struggles were particularly highlighted in the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 loss on Nov. 10. They moved the chains just four times in 16 tries on third down against the Boilermakers, and quarterback James Vandenberg said falling into third and long situations was a key factor

“We did little to no positives [on Saturday],” Vandenberg said. “We were terrible on third down, got negative plays on first and second down. We didn’t make the little plays that were there. You’ve got to make sure you make those plays when you’re there for you.”

Vandenberg’s struggles have been accentuated on third downs this year. The senior’s efficiency rating is a measly 95.4 on third down, compared with 119.3 on first down plays.

The Iowa defense hasn’t fared any better this season, and it had just as much trouble getting off the field on Nov. 10 as the offense had staying on it. Purdue converted 9-of-16 third downs, including five on plays that gained 16 yards or more.

Linebacker James Morris said the Boilermakers were patient throughout the game, despite getting some big plays.

“They spread us out,” Morris said. “Trying to get one-on-one matchups, and they did that. We were playing not to give up the big play. And basically, they took what we gave them.”

It wasn’t a new issue for the defense, though. The Hawkeyes are the worst third-down defense in the Big Ten, allowing conversions on 42.3 percent of their opportunities. Cornerback Micah Hyde said the first step to correcting that is by making tackles and making third downs less manageable for the offense.

“If we would have made the tackles, we would have put the offense in third and long situations, second and long,” he said. “First down, we missed tackles and gave up 8 yards a pop. It’s difficult to play defense when you’re doing stuff like that.”

Morris also said it comes down to execution and stressed the fine line that lies between success and failure.

“It’s not simple to execute, but it’s that simple to identify the problem,” he said.

Defensive lineman Steve Bigach said something has to change, and soon, for his team to get the two necessary wins to qualify for a bowl game.

“Obviously, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” he said. “And we’ve got to make some sort of changes, because we’ve got to start winning football games.”

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