Craig Has The Scout - Iowa 2019
Who: Iowa Hawkeyes
When: 11:00 am - November 23rd, 2019
Where: Kinnick Stadium
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz. The dean of B1G coaches, Ferentz is still solidly churning out mid-level B1G teams. Ferentz always has his team ready to play, and they are solid in most aspects of the game. No one will mistake Iowa football for being fun, but wins are a reward in their own right, and Iowa will consistently crank out 7-8.
Offensive Style: New Pro Style. Brian Ferentz is calling the plays for Iowa, and they have somehow become more offensively stale. Ferentz is what happens when the offensive line coach becomes offensive coordinator. The surprising part is the struggles the Hawkeyes have in the run game. Iowa will mix between Shotgun Spread, 2 TE Ace formations, and traditional I-formation looks.
Defensive Style: A 4-3 Cover 2 primarily, with Cover 3 Robber sprinkled in. Phil Parker is working to modernize his defense to account for the increasing use of spread tactics in the B1G West. The defense has to account these days for the RichRod offense at Illinois, the hurry-up spread of Scott Frost, and the Brohm offense at Purdue. It's no longer the plodding offenses of Wisconsin and Northwestern. Parker has started doing more work in the Cover 2 shell vs. his beloved Cover 3. He also has begun to abandon his extreme adherence to 4 down linemen and 3 LBs at all times. They will occasionally stand up a DE now, and use a hybrid safety at times. Niemann still plays the overhang LB position well, but the WLB is a weak spot this year and is being exploited.
Specialists: Nico Ragaini is one of the better punt returners in the conference, and may challenge Blake Hayes' incredible punting this season.
Three Things to Watch
The Illini Run Defense against the Iowa Rushing Attack. Ferentz will stay disciplined and grind out yards against Illinois, hoping to wear out the Illini front 7. Illinois gave up 170 yards to Elijah Collins the last outing, and I'm not sure he would play for Iowa.
Can Illinois avoid the early deficit? Illinois fell behind and came back against the Spartans. Iowa got up early and held on against the Gophers last week. If Iowa can grab a lead, they will eat clock early and often. The Illini cannot rely on the Hawkeyes to keep them in this game.
AJ Epenesa. The Hawkeye DE is the best player on the field Saturday and will challenge the Illini OTs. Parker has struggled with fully utilizing the skillset Epenesa brings, but he will still make things very difficult all day Saturday for Illinois.
Scouting Review - Offense
An offense as exciting as a bowlful of Werther's Originals. For anyone who wonders what a Jeff Fisher offense would look like in college football, watch Iowa. They are 10 games into the season and have just finally announced their explosive freshman tailback will get his first start. Mainly because the prior starter, Sargent, was stable and protected the ball. All while leaving points on the field.
Normally, the Iowa offensive line is the highlight, particularly the interior. This Iowa group needs help. Linderbaum at center is athletic and moves well as a puller, but struggles in pass pro. The guards Schott and Paulsen struggle to consistently get to the 2nd level in the zone run game. As a result, Iowa has been running a lot more outside zone. They also use the FB as a 2nd level blocker more often to help secure the linebackers. The tackles are both legit and set great edges on the outside zone.
Nate Stanley might be the most NFL ready QB in the B1G. He is a solid pocket passer and will be getting a top receiving option back this weekend. Stanley is basically a Brandon Peters / Shea Patterson quarterback. Either of them would put up similar, if not better numbers in this offense. The Hawkeye signal-caller can make all the throws and is very poised, but he lacks the ability to take over games. He is a slightly improved version of Alex Hornibrook.
On to the plays. As mentioned above, the Hawkeyes have moved to the old Wisconsin offense and have gone full zone blocking. This is primarily a function of two guards that do not meet the standard Iowa template. I suspect the Hawkeyes will attempt to help with this by adding tight ends and therefore gaps the Illini have to defend. The two TE set will bring the safeties into play more. Here is the two TE look
The Gopher safety was blocked by the Hawkeye wideout, and the LBs and corner were both slow to react to the zone blocking. The Hawkeyes don't run RPOs often, and I didn't see them do it out of outside zone blocking once. The Illini D should be able to read this quick and react.
Iowa took on the Michigan and Wisconsin D's with a FB for most of the game. Every other game they have changed formations more aggressively. If they walk away from the 2 TE look, here is the same play using a FB to lead.
If the Illini defense is getting strong run support from the safeties, the Hawkeyes will spread the field to change the numbers in the box.
The impressive thing here is the guard is reach-blocking the DE play side. This allows the TE and Tackle to wall off any flow to the play from the 2nd level. The Illini DEs cannot allow themselves to be reach blocked like this.
If the Hawkeyes roll with the FB for most of the game, they will run a lot of isolation and FB blocking on the 2nd level. Here is a pure isolation play from the Hawkeyes to the weak side.
The weak side run on this is more likely since it allows the guard and center to double the 1 technique.
The Hawkeyes like to use the Strong I and Weak I formation often. They will run a straight lead on these plays, and this might cause the Illini trouble.
The Hawkeye interior struggles to open gaps here consistently, but the numbers allow Iowa to grind out 3-4 yards every time. Ferentz will take it every time.
The historical Iowa offense utilized a lot of inside zone, and this year they still run it. It is the only set that Iowa runs RPOs out of this season, and maybe a half dozen times. (It is also possible those times were a cluster of a play as well). The Illini defense has struggled to defend this, especially when mixed with read-option looks. First is the pure inside zone run.
Goodson can be very dangerous in this look as he is a smaller, shiftier back.
The offense has the same blocking scheme as well, utilizing some read-option opportunities.
The Hawkeyes are reading the Nickel here, and I'm not sure how strongly Stanley is reading this. Here is a look where they are reading the LB.
Stanley is not very interested in keeping on these. The Illini cannot sleep on him keeping though, because he will.
Stanley is not a strong runner, but like Peters can be very lethal when he chooses to pull it. The Hawkeye offensive line is well-coached though. They execute an X block on play side here, with the guard kicking out, and the tackle pulling through to get to the second level. The tackles are more likely to make the block, and this is a call made at the line that is well executed.
Iowa's guards are not very mobile, and it has hampered the traditional Iowa playbook. Iowa has gotten creative to keep the playbook expanded. Historically, Iowa has run a toss sweep pulling both guards to the perimeter. Iowa has modified this year to run the same play using the Center and Tackle.
The Hawkeyes run this about 2-3 times a game, and I think they are running it to keep teams from run blitzing them.
They also have a nifty little counter play. The standard counter uses backside pulling guards and tackles, and the Counter Trey uses both. The lack of mobility at guard has moved the Iowa offense to keep them in line, and the tackles are both solid but not exceptional moving. Instead, they are using the center to run the counter.
Illinois might see this more than normal to control the DTs in the run game. For the limited number of times they ran this play, they had a great deal of success with it.
It wouldn't be Iowa if they didn't run a Z-motion sweep.
Iowa religiously runs this at least once per game. Ferentz has added a wrinkle to the play this year though to give it a twist.
Nick Holt had the Boilers selling out on the sweep, and Iowa stuck them on this play. Ferentz does do a nice job with these one-off plays of taking advantage of defensive lapses. For an example of why Iowa doesn't pull guards though, look at this play. The guard is slow to the hole and blocks air the entire play.
The part of the Iowa attack that scares me most for Saturday is the passing attack. Iowa's receivers are not game-breakers, but they do a very nice job of reading defenses and adjusting routes.
Iowa actively puts pass defenders into conflict with their route trees. One set they run in particular are layered out routes. Once the flat defender bites on a route, they drop a second deeper out route in the space opened by the defender.
Wisconsin burned Tony Adams with this until he grabbed a pick on a similar concept. I believe the Hawkeyes will continue to attack the Illini short pass defenders with this concept to open up the Illini pass defense.
Iowa also runs a lot of 60 protection off of play action for deep shots on the pass defense. Here is a play-action pass off the ISO run look.
Minnesota's safety came downhill like a bat out of hell and left the deep in routes open once the LBs didn't get the correct depth. The pass blocking was a little off on this play, and I see it on occasion with blitzes. The OL struggles with handing off rushers from the 2nd level, which means you will see quite a few head-on rushes at Stanley picked up by the RB, while the G or T block no one.
Iowa's scheme does a nice job of isolating LBs on their TEs. Iowa lost two 1st round draft picks last year, and the talent level is lower this season. The TEs are still a weapon though.
Iowa crosses the twinned receivers on the top of the formation, and that means a LB is going to be isolated on one of the receivers. The route combo from the two receivers of a deep In along with a Seam route will force the Cover 2 Safety to pick a route. The In route pulled the safety here, and the LB lost the TE down the Seam. Like the first passing play above, the Hawkeyes will option route teams like this to challenge the zones.
Another Iowa classic is the Naked Boot Play Action pass. Ron Turner would be proud of this.
If the Illini LBs sell out on stopping the outside zone, the initial read will take them away from the boot and leave an open receiver.
It wouldn't be Iowa without an HB screen
Illinois has been pretty stout in stuffing these all year. Iowa will run it, because Iowa.
The Illini defense has not been particularly amazing at stopping teams. They have been phenomenal at big plays. As a result, Iowa will play VERY conservatively. Should Iowa get an early multiple score lead, they will be content to eat clock and muck up the game.
Scouting Review - Defense
The Illini rushing attack will utilize a lot of read-option looks this weekend. Teams have had success one of two ways running against Iowa, pounding the ball down their throat (Wisconsin) or stretching the Hawkeyes sideline to sideline. The blocking on the runs to the sidelines relies on tackles who can control the DEs.
I suspect Illinois will use the blocking TEs quite a bit.
Bringing the blocker across the formation allows a read on the DE for the back, and allows a clean set of blocks for the OL.
Iowa State inverted the look as well with the read-option. Golston is not the best at defending this.
Peters may have a big run off of this as the DEs begin crashing hard on this.
As mentioned earlier, Iowa has been using a lot more 2 high safety looks, and Cover 4 in particular. The new-look pass defense means QBs have to wait for routes to open up. Here is the pass defense look.
As seen here, to put more pressure on the OL, the Hawkeyes are using a tackle twist. Illinois will most likely see this look. It gets pressure in the face of Peters, which is a knock on him. It also allows the CBs to pass to the safeties and double the Illini explosion pass plays. When Iowa really wants to pressure, they will bring the house.
As Parker has evolved, he has started mixing up the blitzes he brings. One new item is the zone blitz dropping a DE.
Golston is athletic enough to cover blocking TEs, and the look is confusing the reads of the QBs.
Iowa State took advantage of the weak DTs and strong DEs by bringing a lot of counter against the Hawkeyes. Iowa was running more Cover 3 then, and have moved to Cover 4 to help support.
Illinois has the guards and tackles to get to the 2nd level defenders. The Illini will need to seal the backside DEs on this to make it work.
Minnesota did a nice job running against the Hawkeyes running outside zone against this D.
In the first video, the Gophers showed the same counter look as above and gave the read to the back on a cheating Epenesa. It was a good design to take the DEs out of the game. The second shows how the Gophers ran Golston to the sideline and eliminated him from the play.
The Hawkeye defense is solid, but they lack the crazy athleticism they had at LB before. The secondary is less talented than in past years. All in all, the Hawkeyes are solid but not spectacular. Yet, very efficient. They are top five nationally at preventing touchdowns on drives.
What does it mean?
Iowa was solid against Minnesota last week. The offense is not flashy, but Stanley is the second most poised QB in the pocket Illinois has seen this season (Glass), and he reads coverages really well when given time. The Hawkeyes lack a legit playmaker on offense, but Stanley keeps them dangerous. Goodson is the more dangerous back for Illinois, they need to contain the offensive stretch plays. Iowa's offense is extremely good at generating first downs, which is fine. Illinois needs to stop 3rd and long conversions forcing Iowa put together long drives.
The Iowa defense has a little Lovie in them. They continue to give up yards in big numbers. The Gophers threw for over 300, while the Badgers ran for 300. The defense makes just enough big plays to keep the Hawkeyes in games.
The Hawkeyes will not be in a hurry, and Illinois is playing at the 100th adjusted pace in FBS this season. The low number of plays should keep the game close, meaning turnovers will be crucial. Illinois leads the country in forcing turnovers. Iowa is 9th in protecting the ball.
For Illinois to Win:
Illinois absolutely needs to move the Iowa defense sideline to sideline. The defensive ends for the Hawkeyes are rock solid but can be attacked with outside zones and forced reads. The linebacking corps is not the normal solid Iowa corps and can be exploited. Peters has to be careful with the rock as well.
The Illini cannot allow Stanley to have a clean pocket. He is deadly accurate when he can stay in the pocket. When he rolls out he is less accurate. The Hawkeye tackles are stout, but the guards struggle to contain penetration. The Illini DTs will have to be very disruptive on the zone blocking to slow the run game.
For Iowa to Win:
Iowa has to protect the ball. They have 9 turnovers on the entire season. Stanley is very smart with the ball when he is not being pressured, so the Hawkeyes will need to keep him clean in the pocket. Iowa will need to get the run game going without using the fullback, so the tackles will have to control the Illini DEs in the run game.
The Hawkeye defense needs to prevent Illinois explosive plays. The Illini really struggle in the red zone and are 93rd in offensive drive efficiency. Iowa is 7th in preventing points per drive. Illinois averages more points than average per play, which is the easiest statistical indicator showing the Illini score on big plays when they score, and one of the worst FBS offenses in 3 and outs. Iowa needs to keep the Illini offense in front of them.
Another big line, and another that is growing. Iowa is at home, and they are always tougher at Kinnick. Laying over two full touchdowns is tough to swallow. Iowa has struggled to blow out opponents. The teams Iowa beat by more than 15 are Middle Tennessee St., Rutgers, Miami OH, and Northwestern. The oddsmakers are putting the Illini in the Miami OH and Northwestern bucket, not a Purdue/Iowa State bucket. Taking away turnovers would make this line more understandable, so I think the oddsmakers believe Iowa protects the ball Saturday. In my decision to have the Illini be on the wrong side of the spread, I'll take the Hawkeyes to cover by protecting the ball. An Iowa cover will give Robert flashbacks.
YTD Against the Spread: