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Iowa lacking in the big play department

BY JACOB SHEYKO | SEPTEMBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa football team has issues, and after the season’s first three games, those issues have come to the forefront.

The linebackers struggle to cover running backs out of the backfield, the kicking game is inconsistent, and a running-back corps once lauded for its depth can’t seem to find its footing.

An issue that hasn’t received as much attention is the Hawkeyes inability to strike big on one play. In this regard, Iowa is not just one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, it is one of the worst in the country.

“We need to keep finishing runs, finishing plays,” running back Mark Weisman said following Iowa’s 20-17 loss to Iowa State. “We need to break a big one once in a while. We haven’t done that yet, and it needs to happen.”

After three games — two wins and one loss — Iowa has executed just five plays of 20 yards or more, which ranks 123rd in the nation out of 127 teams.

Only three teams in the nation have fewer plays of 20 yards or more than Iowa. There are also 47 individual players in the NCAA with the same number or more plays of 20-plus yards than the entire Hawkeye football team.

Take away the Northern Iowa game, and the Hawkeyes have managed just two plays of 20-plus yards.

“That’s a tough question to answer right now,” quarterback Jake Rudock said when asked about the offensive funk. “We want to play really well, obviously. We want to move the ball … we want to score every time we get the ball.”

Big-play threats — such as Derrick Willies, Damond Powell, Tevaun Smith, Kevonte Martin-Manley, and Jordan Canzeri — have all proven they are capable of gaining big chunks of yardage on single plays.

But the issue isn’t a lack of playmakers. Rather, the problem is the lack of plays for those players.

Against Iowa State on Sept. 13, Willies and Powell — two of Iowa’s biggest playmakers — weren’t targeted all game. Canzeri carried the ball only three times, although that may be more because of a sore hip on his end.

One reason is that Iowa has not been a school synonymous with big plays during Kirk Ferentz’s tenure. Last year, the team ranked 102nd in the nation in plays of 20-plus yards — they had 45, to be exact. The year before that, they ranked 118th.

The Hawkeyes also have a quarterback in Rudock who tends to throw to shorter routes and a running back corps that relies heavily on consistency and power rather than explosive plays.

Weisman didn’t seem too worried about if the big plays would ever occur; he spoke specifically about running backs. He also provided a possible solution to the problem, albeit one that’s easier said than done.

“Everyone needs to finish plays,” he said. “Whether it’s me breaking a tackle, whether it’s a receiver blocking downfield, or a receiver making a big play, it’s all in the finishing. We need to finish better and find a way.”

In any case, if Iowa hopes to bounce back from its first loss of the season, it wouldn’t hurt for the team to start implementing more explosive plays into the planning.

“Just keep working,” wide receiver Jacob Hillyer said. “It’s a long season, and we’re not playing our best football yet. But big plays will come when we need them.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis of the Iowa football team.


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