September 2, 2012

Hawkeye Report Card

It wasn't pretty, but at the end of the day, a win is a win and the Hawkeyes picked up their first victory of the year coming from behind to defeat Northern Illinois, 18-17 at Soldier Field in Chicago. With the dust settled on the first game of the 2012 season, it's time to grade the Hawkeyes performance and see which positions did well and who needs to show improvement.

Quarterback

If you look purely at the numbers, James Vandenberg had a pretty solid day, completing 21 of 33 throws. Anytime you can connect on 64% of your throws, that's a positive. Having said that, the yardage total of 129 was a bit on the low side. That comes out to an average of four yards per attempt. After the game, Vandenberg said the short throws were by design because the Huskies defense limited over the top throws. Iowa really only took one or two shots down the field all day. Vandenberg was sacked six times and a couple of those were partially his fault for not moving up in the pocket when pressure came from the outside. He also struggled in the red zone to find receivers which led to a couple of drives that stalled out. Grade: C

Running back

With all of the worries coming into the game about Iowa's situation at running back, it was actually a very good day for the Hawkeyes on the ground. Iowa rushed for 139 yards and that total is higher if you factor in that Vandenberg's sacks resulted in -25 yards. Damon Bullock outperformed expectations with 150 yards on the ground and one touchdown on a gutsy call by offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Bullock carried the ball 30 times, which was much more than anyone expected and averaged five yards per carry. Greg Garmon had four carries for eight yards and really didn't get much of an opportunity. Fullback Mark Weisman was another pleasant surprise with two carries for eight yards and looked very good in short yardage and blocked very well all day long. Grade: A

Wide Receiver/Tight End

It was a pretty good day overall for the receivers. There were a couple of drops, but for the most part the entire receiving corps did a nice job given the coverage and shorter routes that they were running. The only issue of note was Iowa's receivers really had a tough time creating separation and getting yards after the catch. One thing that should be noted in defense of the receivers, the Soldier Field turf was less than ideal for good route running. Kevonte Martin-Manley appears to be the favorite target of Vandenberg with six receptions for 31 yards. Keenan Davis had a team high 41 yards receiving. Don Shumpert finally picked up his first career catch and had two receptions for the day. It was encouraging to see that Shumpert could take a hit and hold on to the ball. C.J. Fiedorowicz looked good in his receptions over the middle. Grade: B

Offensive Line

The good news, Iowa's offensive line did a real nice job in the run game. James Ferentz was terrific all day at center and they used him to pull on some plays and he opened up holes on the edge. If you take out the sack yardage (we will get to those in a minute), Iowa averaged 4.4 yards per carry on the ground, which is a very nice number. The bad news, the pass protection was not great. Vandenberg was sacked six times and had a couple of hurries by the Huskies. Iowa struggled with the edge pass rush and there were communication issues on stunts by the Northern Illinois linemen. Those are issues that Iowa will have to address moving forward. Grade: B-

Overall Offensive Grade: C Iowa moved the ball between the 20's pretty well, but with the exception of the touchdown drive in the 4th quarter with a short field, they really fell apart on the red zone. The play calling was a bit disjointed and Iowa seemed to lose their tempo. While Iowa got points on all but one of those drives, as the season moves forward, they are going to have to find answers in the red zone and the pass protection has to get better.

Defensive Line

While this isn't a young group, it's certainly inexperienced and it showed early on. Iowa's defensive line had trouble early on, but they really picked it up in the later stages of the first half and played very well in the second half. Joe Gaglione was a big time player up front for the Hawkeyes and gave Iowa the edge rushing threat that they need. Darion Cooper was solid in the middle and Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat has positive moments. Steve Bigach was really solid on the end and Dominic Alvis looked like the player he was becoming before his knee injury last year. Grade:B

Linebackers

This group had their moments on Saturday. Some good and some not so good. James Morris took a bad angle on what turned out to be a 73 yard touchdown run by quarterback Jordan Lynch. He got caught up by the line and Lynch was off to the races. There was some spotty tackling early on from the linebackers, but this group really played very well for most of the games. Morris and Anthony Hitchens led Iowa with eight tackles. Christian Kirksey was very active, even though he had just three tackles. Grade: B -

Defensive Backs

One bad moment and that's about it. Tanner Miller was Iowa's last line of defense on Lynch's 73 yard touchdown run. Miller took a bad angle and it was off to the races. The Huskies tried picking on Micah Hyde for a bit. They picked up a very questionable pass interference call on Hyde. Other than that, Iowa's defensive backs were pretty solid. Hyde made a terrific read on a pass play late in the 4th quarter and leveled NIU's Martel Moore. Greg Castillo stepped in for B.J. Lowery, who left with bruised ribs after Carl Davis fell on him. Castillo did a really nice job in coverage. When he was in there, Lowery was flying around and finished with five tackles. Tom Donatell had six stops and one forced fumble. Grade: B

Overall Defensive Grade: B It didn't start off too well with NIU moving the ball easily against the Iowa defense. In the first quarter, Iowa had trouble wrapping up on tackles and the Huskies rushed for over five yards per carry. After that, other than Lynch's dash to the end zone, the Hawkeye defense played very solid, allowing about one yard per carry. The Iowa pass defense limited the Huskies to just 54 yards through the air.

Special Teams

Iowa's special teams came up big and really made a difference in this contest. Frankly, Iowa might not win this game if not for special teams. Mike Meyer connected on four of five field goals, including a 50 yarder into a swirling wind. Perhaps the play of the day came from John Wienke. The former quarterback turned pooch punter, dropped a perfect kick inside the NIU five yard line in the later stages of the 4th quarter. Iowa turned that field position change into their only touchdown of the game and more importantly, put the Hawkeyes into the lead. Coverage was outstanding on punts and kicks and the return game was adequate. Grade: A

Overall Grade: B- There's a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, but the bottom line is the scoreboard. There were several moments of frustration for Iowa fans, especially in the red zone and with tackling early on. But, Iowa got better as the game moved along and that's a sign that this young team was getting better with more experience.

Stat of the Game: 38:42

The Hawkeyes controlled that ball in this game for 38 minutes and 42 seconds. That's a huge number. Iowa's defense had 3 three and outs in the second half and held the Huskies on 4th down on their final drive of the game. Three and outs are going to be big for this Iowa defense. On the other side of the equation, Iowa only had two three and outs on offense in the entire game.


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