Predictability spells L-O-S-S for Hawkeyes
|By Brian Campbell|
Hawkeyesportsnews.com Senior Writer
IOWA CITY – An off-season of planning, strategizing, preparing and practicing to be more diverse and less predictable on offense worked for 58 minutes, 33 seconds Saturday in Iowa’s season-opener against Northern Illinois.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, the game is 60 minutes long.
With one play, NIU cornerback Jimmie Ward helped erase months of work and a possible Iowa victory by intercepting Jake Rudock with 1:17 to go that led to the winning field goal in the Huskies’ 30-27 victory at Kinnick Stadium.
And just like Iowa’s last six opponents who jumped on mistakes to hand defeat to the Hawkeyes, Ward knew it was coming.
“Throughout the game they were doing a lot of end routes and out routes,” Ward said after the game. “I jumped on one of them earlier in the game, but the ball was too high. When they tried it again, I knew I was going to get it.”
Coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis had pledged to give the Hawkeyes a new look this season, and for most of the opening game it seemed to be working. The Hawkeyes wanted to improve on their 19.3 points and 62.5 plays per game from last season, and they finished with 27 points and 80 plays using an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. They wanted more big plays and touchdowns from their quarterback, and Rudock completed several long throws, threw for 256 yards and one touchdown and ran for another in his first game. They wanted to open holes and create space for the running game, which netted 202 yards on the ground. And they wanted to limit the mistakes, the predictable play-calling, penalties and mental errors that resulted in a mediocre 11-14 record the past two seasons.
Three out of four ain’t bad, it’s just not good enough to win against quality opponents.
“We were trying to complete a pass and move the ball down the field,” Ferentz said of Ward’s interception. “I thought we had a good situation there, I really did. The turnovers are tough to overcome, and we had three of them today.”
Those turnovers overshadowed some good individual performances. Rudock looked confident in his first college start. Mark Weisman rushed for 100 yards, and Damon Bullock added 76. Linebacker Chris Kirksey had 14 tackles and scored Iowa’s first touchdown when he stripped the ball on a tackle and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown.
“There were a lot good individuals that did a lot of great things,” Ferentz said. “They also had some bad plays, and those are the things that we are going to have to get smoothed out.”
The Hawks have been trying for three years to get those things “smoothed out.” Fans caught a glimpse of what this year’s team is capable of, but inopportune breakdowns sabotaged Iowa’s chances of victory once again: A 16-yard punt by Connor Kornbrath led to a Huskies score; a defensive holding penalty on 3rd-and-16 led to a touchdown and misplays in the secondary twice resulted in wide-open touchdown passes for Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch. But perhaps the most obvious was a fake punt and 42-yard gain by NIU when the Hawkeyes were lined up in “punt safe” coverage near midfield..
“Was it a surprise?” Ferentz said. “No. These guys fake punts, fake field goals. They’ve run plenty of them the past couple years. We had our punt safe team out there. They made a play, we didn’t. That’s a bad thing. It’s hard to win football games doing that, too.”
It’s “safe” to say the Hawks will be hard-pressed to win many games until the predictable mistakes come to an end.