Iowa Notebook: Iowa is lucky to have the bye week come when it did

BY BEN ROSS | OCTOBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa suffered quite a few injuries throughout the course of its 26-14 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 5. Guys who have been prone to getting hurt, such as Mark Weisman, missed the majority of the game, but stalwarts on the Iowa roster of years past such as Dominic Alvis and Kevonte Martin-Manley missed almost all of the game against the Spartans as well. Even Carl Davis, Brandon Scherff, and Christian Kirksey missed a couple of series because of getting banged up, but they all returned.

While anything injury-related is usually never good, Iowa could not have asked for its bye week to come at a better time. It takes on the best team that side of the Mississippi in Ohio State next week in Columbus, and if Iowa is to have any chance, all of its players have to be healthy. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said his team would face even more adversity if it had to compete in a game this upcoming weekend.

“We’ll be cautious,” he said about the injuries sustained on his team. “We’ve been really fortunate this year thus far, at least. … But I guess we’ll continue along that line, so the fact that all the guys have a chance to be pretty good by the end of the week. If we were playing Saturday, we’d probably be in trouble. But hopefully, by the end of the week, early next week, we should be good.”

Upping the Tempo

Iowa still has a bit of an identity crisis on offense, employing a bruising running back in Mark Weisman who can dictate the pace of a game, while still wanting to keep the tempo up on offense and run upwards of 80 plays.

Iowa didn’t get 80 plays off on Saturday against Michigan State. It got off 62 snaps, a season low.

But part of the beauty of the personnel on this Iowa team, offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, is the flexibility he has between keeping the clock churning with running the ball on the ground or employing a hurry-up offense that runs to the line of scrimmage after each play. He said that he can institute such offensive philosophies in and out on a game by game basis.

“I think we have played more up-tempo,” Davis said during Tuesday’s press conference. “But I think each game is a little bit different. … We had some success with the up-tempo the other day, the other afternoon against Michigan State. So it’s something we’ll continue to do, but we’re not going to become just a team that runs to the line and tries to snap it. We do want to play fast, faster than we have. I think we have done that. But each ball game will be a little bit different about how we approach it.”

Nickel and Dimed

Similar to its counterpart, the Iowa defense has subbed in different schemes throughout each game, particularly to when it comes to how it handles passing situations.

In the first game against Northern Illinois on Aug. 31, Iowa largely stuck to its 4-3 base defense and used linebackers to cover receivers in the slot. But since then, the Hawks have been subbing a linebacker — usually Anthony Hitchens — out and bringing in another defensive back for its nickel formation.

Iowa hasn’t found much success with either defense on plays in which the opposing offense is showing pass. The Hawkeyes gave up passing touchdowns of 46 and 37 yards against the Spartans last week in nickel formation, while it gave up passing scores of 40, 21, and 33 yards to Northern Illinois in its base defense.

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker talked about what determinants he uses to employ one defense over the other, and how he uses blitz packages on certain downs and distance calls.

“If you’re short, you’re going to keep your base in there. It’s going to be a short one, probably a run play. Third, four, five and six, sometimes you already kind of know what they like to do,” Parker said during Tuesday’s press conference. “You kind of like the guys to go up front a little bit more.

Sometimes you pressure when it’s a little bit longer, and sometimes you just go ahead and play coverage with a little bit of extra pass rush going.

“It’s definitely determined on what they do, and what we think their routes are going to be and what their pass percentage is going to be and who they like to go to. And sometimes you want to keep your nickel base, a nickel in the game or you want to go back — or stay with your base. To me it varies. It’s hard to take Anthony Hitchens off the field, because he is one of our better players. That’s something that we always talk about.”

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