Yards after catch crucial proponent to Iowa's offensive success


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MINNEAPOLIS — Damond Powell had barely lined up on the far left side of the line of scrimmage on Sept. 28 in TCF Bank Stadium before quarterback Jake Rudock called out to him, telling him to move to the far right.

After Powell did, Rudock stood alone in the backfield. The quarterback stomped his right foot, signaling to his center to start the play. Powell took a stutter-step forward before stepping back behind the line of scrimmage, where the ball hit his hands.

He took off, as quarterback Jake Rudock described it, “like a cannon.”

Offensive linemen Brett Van Sloten and Andrew Donnal blocked the opposing defender, and Powell was gone, streaking 74 yards into the end zone, where he stopped and looked at the scoreboard, which read 16-0.

This is exactly the type of play that offensive coordinator Greg Davis wants from his offense.

“I didn’t think anybody was going to catch me,” Powell said.

The junior-college transfer referred to the play as “just a screen pass.” And that’s exactly what Iowa fans have seen since Davis took over as offensive coordinator in 2012.

“Anytime a guy can run after catching, it helps your passing game a lot,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Sept. 28.

While Davis’ offense features play-action and slot passes, and a lot of running from running back Mark Weisman, the screen is crucial. It’s an offense that requires speed, and Iowa has plenty of that on its roster, with such receivers as Powell, Tevaun Smith, Jacob Hillyer and Kevonte Martin-Manley. Davis frequently emphasizes the importance of yards after catches in practice.

“Coach always stresses to ‘get what you can get,’ ” Powell said. “But you have to look the ball in first. That’s our job: Just to look the ball in and get what we can get.”

Powell wasn’t the only Iowa player to have a big play on a short pass. Rudock found fullback Adam Cox wide open to his right in the flat during the second quarter for a 35-yard gain, a crucial play in ended being a drive for a touchdown.

“It’s one of those where you work on it during the week, and you might have worked on it in August, and then all the sudden Coach [Davis] pulls it out,” Rudock said. “But he tells us: ‘This is in the game plan; we might throw it out there.’ ”

But that’s not to say that every screen pass was successful against the Gophers. On a crucial third and 11 late in the fourth quarter, Rudock found tailback Damon Bullock to his left for a complete pass that went for minus-2 yards.

It’s the nature of the beast that is Davis’ offense. Passes that went for 1 or 2 yards were a common sight in 2012’s 4-8 outing. Every pass will not be as successful as Powell’s, but there have been more third-down conversions so far in 2013.

“That comes from working,” Powell said. “Coach Davis is a great coach; he knows what he has [to work with] with his receiving corps. We just have to continue making plays, and everything will be good.”

Powell’s play was a tunnel screen pass, reminiscent of what Iowa football once was. But Rudock was mum on saying the name of the play. When Ferentz was asked postgame about the play, he said that it reminded him of former wide receiver CJ Jones.

Rudock said Davis also emphasizes that quarterbacks understand the meanings of the plays. Davis wants him to understand why he’s calling the play and what he’s thinking for the offense when he calls each play, he said.

“It helps so much to be able to give [Powell] a short little ball and have him maybe run 20 yards, and today he got what, 60 or something? That’s what we want,” Rudock said. “When receivers can get the ball and get into space, that gives them better opportunities.”

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