Craig has the Scout - Iowa 2018

Nov 15, 2018

Coming Up

Who: Iowa Hawkeyes

When: 2:30 pm - November 17, 2018

Where: Home Sweet Home

How: BTN

Opponent Primer:

Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz. Another year, another Kirk Ferentz matchup for the Illini. Ferentz is in his 20th season in Iowa City, and this has been one of his middling seasons there. Ferentz continues to work the system Hayden Frye setup, and executes it just south of Wisconsin. Ferentz is having a bad year, in a year Iowa really should have made something of the season. That said, he is right on pace for 7 wins again.

Offensive Style: Pro Style. Brian Ferentz is in year 2 as the OC in Iowa. Iowa is really struggling to move the ball this season, and honestly they have had the issue since Brian took over as OC. The normal dominating Iowa run game from prior years has escaped them, and Nate Stanley has shown himself to be merely capable as a QB. Ferentz is running a shotgun spread similar to Minnesota, with less success.

Defensive Style: 4-3. Phil Parker is still the DC at Iowa. The Hawkeyes utilize a base 4-3 defense, running primarily Cover 3 and mixing in a little Cover 2 behind it. Parker prefers Cover 3 with the Strong Safety playing robber in the middle zones. The Hawkeyes rarely go Nickel, and will utilize a good mix of blitzing in the front 7 to go with the softer back end coverages.

Specialists: Iowa has one of the worst punting games in the B1G. They net only 34 yards per punt, and in a game where the coaches are unafraid to punt this could be a big advantage for Illinois...assuming they can field said punts.

Three Things to Watch

  1. Illinois DTs vs. Iowa interior linemen. Against Minnesota, the Illini DTs were very disruptive. Against Nebraska, they were schemed around and struggled to make an impact. The Illini DEs have been better lately, but the interior will need to hold up against the Iowa rush attack.

  2. How many catches Noah Fant records for the day. Fant is a VERY athletic TE. And surprisingly, Iowa has pretty much given up on throwing to him recently. Fant had a single reception for no yards last week. Illinois has struggled to cover good TEs (see South Florida), and Brian Ferentz will be looking to get Fant more involved after last week's horrible showing.

  3. AJ Bush pass attempts. Bush is at his best in the run game. Illinois needs to limit his passing attempts to have a chance at victory.

Scouting Review - Offense

For years, Iowa trotted out pretty much the same offense. The Hawkeyes used a version of the pro set, utilizing TEs and FBs all over the field. Then Greg Davis finally retired and Brian Ferentz was allowed to shine. Under his tutelage, the Iowa OL has struggled to open holes for the running backs. As a result, Iowa's run offense is grinding out 3.82 yards per attempt. That is good for 102nd in the nation. Younger me never would have imagined Iowa's rushing attack has fallen to this.

Maryland and Iowa State both brought blitz heavy schemes against Iowa. Penn State had the elements in their favor, also slowed down the Iowa rushing attack. Northwestern played base D pretty much the whole game, and the Hawkeyes got behind. As a result, they were twice as pass heavy. The Ferentz play calling right now is quite absurd.

Using the Illini defense as a guide, I think Ferentz is going to simplify the plan and get the ball to the playmakers. The first play the Hawkeyes utilize will be an ISO play out of the I-formation. The Illini LBs are going to struggle in the ISO game, and with the struggles of the interior line holding up at the point of attack, Iowa should use this frequently.

The Iowa FB is a really stout blocker, and I would imagine Iowa runs this to the weak side at Jake Hansen as often as possible.

The next plays Iowa will run will all be based on a small set package. It is an outside zone play. The first version of the play is a weak side outside run.

The Iowa offense uses some motion to generate a numbers advantage at the point of attack. If you remember, Maryland did this with great success.

The next version is the same play, run to the weak side, out of the I-formation.

The Hawkeye fullback did a great job of sealing the edge. The Illini have struggled with edge contain this season, and the use of the fullback assists with added numbers play side.

The next iteration of this is naked boot out of the same set.

This is the Kurt Kittner special play. Iowa used to run the hell out of this play, but Brian Ferentz seems opposed to it on some bizarre philosophical level.

The previous 4 plays will probably encompass 30 of Iowa's 60 plays. And if they don't, Brian Ferentz should be fired Robb Smith style after the game. Iowa has an advantage on these, and Illinois has really struggled to contain this style of play all season.

The single back formation is one they may utilize in addition to the I-formation. Iowa may use this more than needed just to get Noah Fant involved in the offense. The primary play they run out of this set is the inside zone.

This is the Wisconsin staple play, and Iowa runs it fairly well. Illinois slowed this down against Wisconsin.

The same formation yields an outside zone run as well

I don't think they Hawkeyes will run this as much against Illinois. The Illini DEs recently have slowed this down recently, and it runs away the DTs.

Utilizing the same formation, the Hawkeyes run an old school sweep play as well.


The pulling guard really helps set the edge, and the Hawkeye backs remain patient in this run formation.

Nate Stanley is the QB, and is mobile enough the Hawkeyes will run him. Since I believe the Hawkeyes are going to pound the Illini LBs in the passing game, it would make sense to run him in any 3rd and medium to long situations.

Stanley is just good enough as a runner to create havoc for the Illini, but not so good as to be a point to watch in the standard run game.

I have convinced or deluded myself into believing that Ferentz is actually going to utilize his best players this weekend. The best athlete on the Iowa offense is Noah Fant. The TE position is one that Illinois has struggled to contain this season. The first play is a quick hitter and one Iowa has not used much, but makes sense in this game.

This is a pure bubble screen, and gets the best athlete in space.

Ferentz does have some pretty basic passing concepts that he runs out of base formations. The one utilized most is a hitch - out route tree (although the TE here ran something between an out and a corner).

The "Out" is the primary read for the QB, with the Hitch being the dump down. Against zone it is particularly effective.

Iowa utilizes the screen game quite often. In year's past, they would hit it with the tailback. Staying with the over-emphasizing the Tight End though, here is the play using the TE.

The Hawkeyes will be happy to work the middle of the field. I mentioned that Martinez from Nebraska was not great at throwing over the middle. And in traffic, he is not. Martinez was much better on the perimeter than Stanley. Therefore, I expect more routes that challenge the middle of the Illini pass defense.

Here is the Hawkeyes favorite play over the middle, a post being working against Cover 2 shells like Illinois will run.

The Iowa Offense is struggling to meet Iowa standards this season. As the offense has struggled, the Hawkeyes have fared poorly. Iowa started the season 6-1, and have now dropped three straight. The offense hasn't broken 400 yards in the streak. Illinois hasn't given up less than 400 since the Rutgers game. It will be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes attack the Illini.

Scouting Review - Defense

As mentioned previously, Iowa is a 4-3 Cover 3 scheme primarily. While no team runs a single defensive backfield scheme, Iowa is the closest to staying with a single scheme. The Hawkeyes try to ensure they keep their 3 LBs on the field at all times, and use the athleticism of them to try and match up with opposing slot receivers.

Against the outside zone run, here is the Hawkeye front.

The Illin have a strong run game to the perimeter and the Hawkeyes will be unafraid to bring pressure off the edge.

This clip is illustrative of their assignments though. With the Will LB coming on the blitz, the safety rolled out of his normal robber position and came hard to the edge. The bubble screen, which Illinois uses in the RPO is snuffed out.

The Hawkeye defense is very assignment sound, and does not beat itself. The Illini will have the opportunity to break big plays, but the Hawkeyes will get Illinois behind the chains often. Illinois has the best opportunity in the game when playing with a lead, as they can negate pressure Iowa to make some changes to their scheme.

What does it mean?

Iowa is in a rut on offense. Illinois has been a cure for offenses unable to move the ball. As a result, I think Iowa will get into the right gear and move the ball against Illinois.

Illinois on offense has been putting up big numbers on offense. The Iowa defense is designed to contain plays and keep everything in front of them. The Illini explosion will be greatly limited this week giving the Hawkeyes an advantage. If they can avoid turnovers, they should control the game.

For Illinois to Win:

AJ Bush has to have another big game. And he has to avoid crippling turnovers. Yet, AJ is not the key to the game. The Illini run defense is the key. If they can get Iowa behind schedule, they can force punts. Illinois has to keep Iowa off the field and dictate scheme to Iowa.

For Iowa to Win:

Iowa has to get the run game on track, and mix in the intermediate passing game. The explosive nature of the Nate Stanley passing attack has been schemed out by opponents and I believe Illinois can do the same. Fant and a strong run game is something I don't think Illinois can slow down though.

Illinois +14.5

Iowa has done much better this year on the road vs. at home. Illinois is killing teams with the run, but Iowa will be one of the few teams that will stay in the 4-3 to slow down the Illini rushing attack. I don't think Illinois can score enough points to cover this, and will give up mid-30's against the Hawkeyes.

YTD Against the Spread:



illini_in_stl on November 15 @ 08:35 PM CST

Good stuff as always! Would be great to beat Iowa, but doesn't seem possible. Also, side note: Robert -- I know you look at the comments to monitor traffic to the site. I would leave more comments, but I have to re-login to the site each time I'm here for some reason, which makes it a pain. I don't think it's my browser, as other sites don't seem to have this issue. Just letting you know in case there's an easy fix on the technical side.

uilaw71 on November 16 @ 06:56 AM CST

Agree completely re the login issue. Unless it’s by design, needs to be remedied.

illiniranger on November 15 @ 10:22 PM CST

Iowa runs the weak side inside zone from 21 personnel as well as anyone. That is as pure a football play as exists. Maybe the Army fullback dive trumps it.

Think we match up well with Iowa. If we can shake a couple long runs loose early, watch out.

CraigG on November 16 @ 08:09 AM CST

Agree, that is a beauty. The kinds of plays that made me love football as a younger man. I agree that Illinois matches up with Iowa. That defense is just very stout. I'm hoping Illinois can force Iowa to make more mistakes than they the Illini make themselves. I would love a shootout in this game.

illiniranger on November 16 @ 12:09 PM CST

we have a dangerous QB in AJ, but he does not take great care of the football. If AJ were a more efficient player, i think we'd have a great chance to win this game. the reality is that Iowa is one of the most assignment sound teams in the country. At some point we will be in a passing situation, AJ will be under duress, and will throw a really bad pass right into the numbers of an Iowa defender.

Despite the gaudy numbers, our offense is very inefficient. Even by S&P+ we are only barely in the top half of the country despite a phenomenal rushing offense. If the O is going to take a big step forward next year it will come from efficient Quarterback play.

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.