The downward slide continued for Iowa State and Iowa, as both of them took another loss and both now sit at 3-3. With the season at the halfway point, both teams are probably out of the running for their conference championship games. The Cyclones are now 0-3 in the Big 12 and the Hawkeyes sit 1-2 in the league.
Both teams are still performing very well on defense, but the offense continues to leave something to be desired, and as we get deeper into the season, more teams will exploit this disparity if Iowa State and Iowa don’t get it corrected. Here are a few things we learned from last week’s action.
Chase Brown Wore Iowa Down
The worry going into this game after Michigan used its great running game to keep Iowa’s defense on the field was that Illinois would try to do the exact same thing. The Illini couldn’t replicate the strategy perfectly because they didn’t have the passing offense needed to turn third downs into conversions, but they did enough with Chase Brown to get themselves in a position to win the game.
Giving Brown the ball 30 times against Iowa’s run defense was a great way for Illinois to bleed the clock and keep Iowa from doing much of anything when it had the ball. The Hawkeyes are at their best when they’re desperate, so this was absolutely the wrong kind of game for their style of play. Illinois had the ability to win the battle in the trenches and keep Iowa from doing much of anything, and when the opportunities did arise, the Illini cashed in their chances.
This was a great job by Illinois coach Bret Bielema of turning the tables on Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and refusing to let the Illini beat themselves. Illinois played a conservative game, knowing that it had the running back necessary to make that work. Iowa has to find a way to counter that strategy, or the Hawkeyes are in trouble.
Chase Brown pic.twitter.com/YhtLUH0H5o
— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 9, 2022
Offense? What Offense?
We’ve said it every week this season, but this was a new low for the Iowa offense. Scoring six points is bad enough, but it’s the way that the Hawkeyes got to six that really made this a disastrous showing for Brian Ferentz’s unit. In one stretch of three drives in the second quarter, Iowa turned nine plays into negative-21 yards, punting twice and kicking a field goal because Illinois had handed the Hawkeyes the ball on their own 5-yard-line.
And Iowa still couldn’t cash in for more than three points when all it needed was five yards. The defense more than did its job by forcing three Illinois turnovers, one of which should have been turned into seven points and not three. The defense almost got a fourth that would have been the winning score if the officials hadn’t ruled that Illinois quarterback Artur Sitkowski’s arm was going forward for an incomplete pass. Iowa’s offense couldn’t have asked for more from the defense.
But they did nothing with it, and the real reason for despair in Iowa City is that Kirk Ferentz isn’t about to fire his son. The common link has been Brian Ferentz, who appears overmatched as offensive coordinator and isn’t getting anywhere near enough out of his players. The Hawkeyes have talent, but they are doing nothing with it on that side of the ball.
It’s been 5,089 days since @IlliniFootball defeated Iowa.
The Fighting Illini just defeated the Hawkeyes, 9-6. pic.twitter.com/BQUfN9dTc2
— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) October 9, 2022
A Stressful Bye Week
The bye comes at the perfect time for the Hawkeyes, because they have to fix what has gone wrong with the offense if they’re going to become eligible for a bowl game. Right now, it’s hard to see more than three wins for Iowa, and that’s taking an optimistic look at things. Nobody expects the Hawkeyes to do much of anything at Ohio State in two weeks, and Iowa never manages to figure out Purdue’s vertical passing attack.
That leaves four games to find three wins, and that won’t be easy. Northwestern at home must be a win if Iowa expects to go anywhere this postseason, and given how Wisconsin has looked this year, there’s really no excuse for not beating the Badgers either. That leaves the Minnesota and Nebraska games, both of which could be challenging with the way Iowa plays. The Golden Gophers can be very explosive under PJ Fleck, and with Scott Frost no longer in Lincoln, Nebraska isn’t prone to the kind of head-scratching mistakes that Iowa has made a living off of for the past seven years.
The Hawkeyes have to buckle down and figure out something this week so they can put themselves in the best position to win these games and at least salvage something from this season. A 6-6 or 7-5 season wouldn’t be what Iowa’s used to achieve, but as long as Hawkeye fans can watch Iowa football play in December, they’ll be OK with getting ready for 2023. Missing a bowl game, however, especially with such a quality defense, would go down as a disaster in Iowa City.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) October 9, 2022
Big Plays Killed Iowa State
The Cyclones’ defense is easily the most valuable part of their team, and for most of the contest against Kansas State, Iowa State’s defense completely locked down the Wildcats. However, one long pass proved the difference, and it could have been worse. Adrian Martinez came up with an 81-yard touchdown strike to Philip Brooks for Kansas State’s only touchdown, and only forcing a Malik Knowles fumble on a 68-yard pass kept the Wildcats from extending the lead to two scores.
That cannot happen again if Iowa State is to find the wins it needs to reach a bowl game. The Cyclones have built their living on their defense, and that means they need to keep the big plays from overwhelming them. Teams like Texas and Oklahoma State are perfectly capable of hitting big plays and scoring from anywhere on the field, and Iowa State really doesn’t have the horsepower to come back on offense if it finds itself trailing early.
Other than that, the Cyclones did what they had to do on defense. Adrian Martinez has so many ways to hurt his opponents, and the Cyclones didn’t allow it to happen in this game. They kept his running ability in check and forced him to go to the air, and other than two big plays, that proved ineffective.
The Cyclones’ defense wasn’t the problem for most of this game. In fact, O’Rien Vance was one of the top 3 highest-graded defensive players of Week 5. they just need to keep the shot plays from ruining their chances.
Highest graded defensive players from Week 5:
1. Princely Umanmielen, Florida: 93.3
2. Nathaniel Watson, Miss State: 91.9
3. O’Rien Vance, Iowa State: 91.5 pic.twitter.com/bkLmsNGaHs
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 4, 2022
The Cyclones Played It Safe — Maybe Too Safe
On one hand, you have to give Iowa State credit for going up against the Kansas State defense and not turning the ball over once. Iowa State has now faced two incredibly opportunistic defenses in Iowa and Kansas State, and it didn’t turn the ball over either time. That’s a lot of progress for Matt Campbell’s team, as the Cyclones have a long history of trying to do too much with the football and giving it away against good defenses. Clearly, Campbell preached discipline and took what the Wildcats were willing to give them.
But safety only gets a team so far in a game like this, where points were at a premium. At some point, Iowa State probably needed to be a little more aggressive, given that the Cyclones never crossed the K-State 15-yard-line. You can’t fault them for taking three points in a game that they were trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, but Iowa State probably needed to be a bit more aggressive elsewhere in the contest. You can only keep Adrian Martinez from hurting you for so long, and eventually, Iowa State’s defense was going to bend just enough for the Wildcats to get a go-ahead field goal.
It’s hard to be too hard on the Iowa State play-callers here because Iowa State has swung too far in the other direction far too many times under Campbell, and Hunter Dekkers has made several freshman mistakes this season. But this game was there for the Cyclones to win, and they couldn’t manage anything against the K-State defense. A bit more aggression might have helped.
IOWA STATE (+1) PUNCHES OUT WHAT WOULD BE A KANSAS STATE TD
— Barstool Sportsbook (@BSSportsbook) October 9, 2022
The Ground Game Is a Real Worry
The thing that Kansas State’s defense does very well is cause turnovers. The Wildcats force teams to beat themselves by trying to push too hard against their defense, and to their credit, the Cyclones resisted that temptation.
But the Wildcats’ defense is not known for shutting down the run, and yet it did exactly that against Iowa State. The Cyclones had Dekkers throw 38 times because Jirehl Brock wasn’t going anywhere against the Wildcats’ front seven.
Iowa State couldn’t find much of anything on the ground, and this was a run defense that allowed 220 yards to a collapsing Oklahoma. Kansas State’s run defense is good, but it’s not great, and Iowa State has to face better run defenses in West Virginia and Oklahoma State. If the Cyclones can’t get moving on the ground, Dekkers will have to grow up in a hurry to get to six wins.
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) October 11, 2022
Credits on Featured Image: Xavier Hutchinson with his third 100-yard receiving game this year and second consecutive. (@CycloneFB)