The Rosster: Same old song, but a different band is playing the tune

BY BEN ROSS | SEPTEMBER 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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Let me just start off by saying Iowa played a good football game Aug. 31 in a 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois. There were only two lead changes, but the game was back-and-forth, and both sides featured quality football players. Northern Illinois’ playmakers came in the form of quarterback Jordan Lynch — who finished seventh in the Heisman voting a year ago and torched the Hawkeyes through the air for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Iowa had a few big plays through the air but was most solid on the ground, amassing 202 rushing yards, with quarterback Jake Rudock adding another 256 yards and a score in his first-ever start as a college football player.

In the end, Iowa netted 458 yards of total offense. That’s a lot, and should be enough for Iowa to beat just about any team it faces. And that number could be a large reason Iowa has been so putrid on the field as of late.

The last time Iowa sniffed 450 yards of offense in a game was on Oct. 22, 2011, in a 45-24 win over Indiana. That was 675 days and 20 games ago. It was a simpler time. James Vandenberg was serviceable, Marcus Coker was still a Hawkeye, and Vodka Samm was most likely a character in a Chelsea Handler novel.

The Aug. 31 loss was also the first time I was thoroughly entertained by an Iowa football game, start-to game-ending interception, since I don’t even know when. Which means Iowa must be on the up, right?

Iowa did many more good things than bad against the Huskies. It executed 80 plays, which is a pretty solid number of offensive snaps. It held Lynch to just 56 yards rushing, which is about half as many as he gained against Iowa last year. But most importantly, this year’s Iowa team would beat the snot out of last year’s. That’s not saying much, but it’s a good start.

The front defensive seven looked solid, swarming to the ball and shedding blocks. Iowa lacked a pass rush against the Huskies, but it looks as though that was planned, with containing Lynch a point of emphasis for the defensive ends. James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens all played within themselves at the linebacker positions, and Kirksey made a play that should have made the “SportsCenter” top-10 plays over the weekend.

Hitchens got burned a few times covering wide receivers, but he was covering players much faster than him. That was more a product of Iowa refusing to play in nickel pass coverage, which is how Lynch killed the Hawkeyes on the ground a year ago.

But still, despite all the good things Iowa did, too much was reminiscent of 2012. Iowa overthought its play selection, calling passes on two key third-and-1 situations. It fell victim to complicating matters, forcing Rudock to throw an out-route to the left side three times. The final out route resulted in an interception and sealed the deal for the Huskies’ victory.

Iowa was largely inept on special teams, with Jordan Cotton proving ineffective as a kick returner and Kevonte Martin-Manley showing timidness in fielding punts. The Iowa punt-return unit also gave up a fake punt to the Huskies on a fourth down late in the third quarter. At least half a dozen reporters in the Kinnick press box said the fake punt was coming seconds before the snap.

And that was 2012 in a nutshell: Iowa not adjusting to the obvious. Here’s to hoping 2013 is something different.

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