Saturday, November 23, 2013

8 Thoughts on Iowa vs. Michigan

Thoughts going into this game: Mostly fear. I can't believe Iowa is 6.5 point favorites. Of course, I have been much higher on Michigan this entire year. Even when they were struggling with Akron and UConn, I still felt they would pull through. I still think Devin Gardner has some great tools to be successful, but that Michigan offense has not been able to put it together.

1. Obviously, the first Rudock interception was bad. Michigan had a perfect call for that play, but had they had a different call, Hamilton was running open for what probably would have been close to a first down. But yeah, that Favrean interception was not fun.

That second interception from Rudock actually looked worse than the first when I watched it live as it looked like he threw it to three Michigan defenders. It was obviously bad, but it is a mistake that a lot of quarterbacks make. He expected Countess to hang with Hamilton, but since he drifted back, he was right in the passing lane for Rudock. It's bad, but it's also a mistake that he can learn from.

The third interception was another play where he thought he could get the ball off, but he got hit just a split second too early. I thought it was going to get overturned, but I don't see this as a big worry going forward.

Outside of that, I really liked some of his decisions. He was willing to wait in the pocket to attack downfield which is not something I had seen enough of early on in the season. It really paid off as he threw some deep (by Iowa standards) balls down the sideline. He also made some quick throws where he made the proper pre-snap reads. You can tell he's getting more comfortable as a quarterback. Before, it was clear that when he had a thought of running, he made the decision to run. On that first touchdown, he ran hard to the outside, but turned his body and delivered a nice ball to Fiedorowicz. Early in the season, he runs that ball, and I think he may have gotten a first, but highly doubt he would have made it into the end zone.

2. I'm falling in love with Jordan Canzeri. He has shown an excellent ability to find the best running lane and just squirt through holes to turn no gains into 3-4 yards.

3. That being said, it's also still fun to see Mark Weisman rumbling down the field. He is basically Mike Alstott in that he is a downhill runner who will always fall forward and offer very little else.

4. That Iowa defense was swarming to the ball. The thing that really helped was Iowa trusting their secondary to make plays. This allowed them to blitz which caused happy feet from Gardner and a lack of space for their running game. Gardner was able to get away a few times and do some damage, but overall, I thought they played very well.

5. Desmond King is definitely my favorite Hawkeye. He sticks to receivers on intermediate routes. He is not the most athletic guy, so he can get beat deep, but his aggressiveness is really paying off. He may not be betting interceptions, but he is breaking passes up and helping to get the defense off the field. The way he was able to hang with Jeremy Gallon was very impressive.

6. Devin Gardner has some talented players around him, but he just can't get the job done. The offensive line is below average in pass protection (worse in run blocking), but I don't think they are awful in handling a regular four-man rush. Fitzgerald Toussaint is a very poor running back. He has all the physical tools, but he is incredibly indecisive in every decision he makes. I like Gallon as a receiver as he knows how to get open. He's not a top prospect, but he's a guy to use a late round pick on and use as a third or fourth receiver to have a reliable option for the quarterback.

7. That final offensive play before Iowa downed the ball was a thing of beauty. Iowa went out and won the game instead of trying to avoid losing. Running on the first two downs was smart, but they had the option of burning 40 seconds of clock or not giving Michigan any chance of winning the game. They chose the latter and it paid off. I was one of the biggest Greg Davis haters last year, and I can fully recognize that he is a good offensive coordinator for Iowa. Kirk puts the shackles on any offensive coordinator, but he has learned to complement the running system with some option-based passing plays. I'd still like to see more passing down the field, but they did go down the sidelines 15-20 yards today, so it was a positive step forward.

8. The Iowa offensive line is fun to watch. That is the number one reason that Iowa is better this year than last year, and I feel like they do not get nearly enough love. One huge reason is that Scherff is a monster. There are so many plays you could point to of him dominating the defense to spring a big play. On the first play of the final Iowa possession, Scherff made it to the second level and sealed off the outside linebacker. Since he's such a huge human being, he also stopped the middle linebacker from being anywhere near Weisman as the running back had an easy 22 yards. An underrated aspect of Iowa's offensive line is that everyone is good. There is no weak link. No team can depend on getting consistent pressure from a basic four-man rush, and they have opened up holes for a variety of running backs all year long. Yes, the stretch left is always going to be the number one play, but the fact that teams can't overload that side in fear of getting destroyed going to the right is crucial to Iowa's success on the ground. Only nerds watch offensive line play, but it is still pretty damn fun to watch Iowa plow forward. 

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