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Fourth down is go-for-it country

BY CODY GOODWIN | SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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Faced with fourth-and-1 on Pittsburgh’s 15-yard line, down 3 points in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s eventual 24-20 victory on Sept. 20, most figured the Hawkeye offense would leave the field and allow placekicker Marshall Koehn to come on and make a short field goal.

After all, a field goal at that point in the game evened the score at 20.

Nope. Not this time. Head coach Kirk Ferentz opted to go for it. The offense lined up, and quarterback C.J. Beathard plowed ahead for 2 yards to the Pittsburgh 13. First down, Iowa.

It seemed like a simple decision to make at the time. But historically, Ferentz hasn’t been the type of coach that allows his offense to try to convert fourth-down attempts.

This year, however, Iowa appears on pace to attempt — and convert — the most fourth downs in the Ferentz Era.

“It’s going to be week to week and will change with the game, too,” Ferentz said.

The Hawkeyes have converted six of seven fourth-down attempts so far this season — which, through four games, is more than Iowa converted all of last season (five of 17 in 13 games).

Even more, Iowa has converted three fourth-down attempts in each of its last two games. In Ferentz’s previous 189 games as coach, the Hawkeyes had just three games with three fourth-down conversions.

Iowa’s 85.71 fourth-down conversion rate is tied for the second best in the country. The Hawkeye’s six converted fourth downs are also the fourth most nationally. Seven teams have converted seven or more fourth downs.

It’s easy to point to the struggling kicking game as part of the reason Iowa has gone for it more on fourth down. Koehn and true freshman kicker Mick Ellis opened the season making just 2-of-6 field-goal attempts, missing from distances of 29, 35, and 37 yards (twice).

Each of the Iowa’s seven fourth-down attempts has come on the opponent’s side of the field, and six have come inside the opponent’s red zone.

“It’s been part of the game plan,” wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “It keeps the drive going and just ups the chances that you’ll put points on the board.”

For the Hawkeyes, it’s not so much chance as it is certainty. They have scored points on each drive during which they’ve moved the chains on fourth down.

Against Pittsburgh on Sept. 20, Iowa converted another fourth down just four plays after Beathard moved the chains with a quarterback sneak. Two plays after that, the Hawkeyes scored the go-ahead touchdown, which put them ahead, 24-20.

Earlier in the game against the Panthers, Iowa faced a fourth-and-2. Starting quarterback Jake Rudock executed a play-action pass and found tight end Henry Krieger Coble for a touchdown that tied the game at 7.

Against Iowa State, on Sept. 13, running back Mark Weisman rushed for 2 yards on a fourth-and-1 in the first quarter. Nine plays later, Weisman scored a touchdown from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to give Iowa a 7-0 lead.

And against the Cyclones again, Rudock hit wideout Jacob Hillyer for a 10-yard reception on fourth and 8 in the second quarter. Iowa scored a touchdown three plays later.

While going for it more on fourth down is part of the plan, the offense isn’t certain which fourth downs it’ll stay on the field and which ones it won’t.

If the players had it their way, though, they’d go for it every single time.

“Coach didn’t really tell us,” wide receiver Tevaun Smith. “We just looked to the sideline, and they called another play in. They didn’t bring the kickers out, and we kind of just went with the flow.
“We want to go for it more. We know we can get the first downs.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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