First things first: The week leading up to the Iowa State game was a very sad one for Hawkeye fans. First we lost Tyler Sash, one of my favorite all-time Hawkeyes who, in a four year span, won the Outback Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Insight Bowl and the Super Bowl. Then just days later we lost Roy Marble, Iowa Basketball's all-time leading scorer and only member of the 2,000 point club. Iowa City needed a positive story to talk about. Enter Brett Greenwood:
Brett was Tyler Sash's partner in crime in the defensive secondary. A classic Kirk Ferentz story: The in-state walk on kid who becomes a (really really good) starter with realistic NFL hopes. We all know what happened to Brett. He wasn't supposed to be able to walk again or ever be able to do stuff like this. This felt good.
We know what a Pat Narduzzi defense is capable of. It will probably take a year or two to get his players and his system to resemble what he built at Michigan State, but between Iowa's still-raw offensive line and Narduzzi's surgical and relentless blitzing, this game could have been a lot uglier than it was. Iowa mustered 105 very gritty rushing yards, good for only 3.6 yards per carry, with C.J. Beathard getting 39 of them. LeShun Daniels was very limited coming off last week's injury. Jordan Canzeri lead the team in rushing with only 49 yards. The running game didn't blow anybody away, but it allowed Ferentz to play his ball control game while being just good enough to allow Beathard to have a decent night through the air. Not many teams are going to be able to do whatever they want on the ground against Pitt this year.
The passing game was more dynamic than it has been in a while. Tevaun Smith continues to be a down-field threat, something we haven't seen enough of in the Greg Davis era. The tight ends finally made an impact in the passing game as well. Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle combined for 7 receptions and 55 yards. It will be interesting to see how this unit will take shape when Duzey comes back. This contest also turned out to be a pretty favorable matchup for Davis' horizontal passing game. There weren't any explosive plays, but Pitt's heavy blitzing left a lot of loose single coverage on the outside that Iowa was able to exploit pretty easily for solid yardage. Give Narduzzi credit for not letting the horizontal passes cause him to take pressure off of Bethard. He made Iowa grind out plays of 4 and 5 yards instead of giving Beathard time to take more shots down field. Norm Parker would be proud.
Iowa's defense took another step forward on Saturday. Pitt had 3 touchdowns in this game. One came from a Beathard interception returned deep into Iowa territory. One came from a blocked punt. Only one Pitt touchdown was earned by putting together an effective drive against the Iowa defense. Tyler Boyd was the brightest star on Pitt's offense and Iowa was never able to slow him down as much as they should have. Pitt's passing numbers looked respectable (21/31, 227 yds, 2 TDs), but they were forced into passing the ball by Iowa's vice grip on the run game. Pitt had 5 runners (if you include QB Nathan Peterman's stats) combine for a mere 55 yards on 27 carries, good for about 2 yards a pop. Yes they had James Conner (one of the top 5 running backs in the country) sitting this one out, but to hold a bowl-caliber power-5 team to those kind of rushing numbers is impressive no matter how you look at it. Iowa was able to do all of this with Drew Ott getting limited reps after bending his elbow the wrong way last week. Oh yeah, and someone named Desmond King had two interceptions (we uh, we might be watching him play on Sundays next year instead of Saturdays). One more thing, so far this season Iowa has allowed:
- 51 yards rushing per game, 4th best in the country
- 1.9 yards per rushing attempt, 6th best in the country
- 0 rushing touchdowns, tied for 1st in the country
- 18.3 points per game, tied for 35th in the country
Ok so Iowa had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown against the new shield formation. 5 rushers came at 3 blockers and the punter never stood a chance. It was troubling, and Iowa was lucky that it had no bearing on the final outcome this time. Kirk Ferentz loves his punting, so I have every confidence that it will be cleaned up by next week. Let's move on: Marshall Koehn has a howitzer for a leg. The game was bookended by a 64 yard Koehn punt and a 57 yard Koehn field goal. Pitt was only able to log a single kick return for 20 yards. Apart from the block, special teams looked crisp and effective.
The final drive was one Hawkeye fans are going to remember for a while. 2014 Ferentz would have called a couple of safe runs and played for overtime. 2015 Ferentz knew he had 2 timeouts he couldn't take with him and that overtime was for suckers. Marshall Koehn used the free play Narduzzi gave him to line up his kick, and he put the real attempt straight down the middle with distance to spare. C.J. Beathard basically got Iowa into field goal range all by himself (with his legs), and had the awareness to hit the deck and use the last time out before the game ended.
On his last scramble, CJB said he was watching the clock the whole time. Said he wanted to get down with three seconds left.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 20, 2015
Iowa hasn't had a true leader of this caliber at quarterback since Ricky Stanzi. CJB might look like Macaulay Culkin, but his bag of tricks goes a lot deeper than throwing paint cans at Joe Pesci and irons at Daniel Stern. Hindsight is 20/20, but comparing CJB's stronger arm, faster legs, stronger leadership and better swagger to Jake Rudock makes you wonder what took them so long to make the change. The last 5 years have taught me to be to be cautious with my Hawkeye optimism (Hawktimism?) so I'm nowhere near ready to declare this team a reincarnation of the 2009 squad, but each game gives me more and more reason to think this will be a special year. Maybe Ferentz 4.0 is a real thing after all.