Iowa film room: Why Nate Stanley and the run game struggled at Michigan State

IOWA CITY, Iowa — No, watching the replay of Iowa’a 17-10 loss on Saturday to Michigan State wasn’t any better than watching it live.

But several things stood out, especially with the run game and quarterback Nate Stanley. If the Hawkeyes are to stop their two-game losing skid, those two issues must be addressed.

Let’s break it down.

Running on empty

Iowa’s run problems aren’t new. Penn State put together a blueprint to contain running back Akrum Wadley and neutralize the offensive line.

Michigan State followed it.

Running lanes were hard to come by as Iowa rushed 25 times for 19 yards. That is one of the most shocking stat lines of a Kirk Ferentz-coached team at Iowa. The Hawkeyes averaged 0.8 yards per carry, and Wadley didn’t gain more than 9 yards on a touch.

The Spartans sold out to stop the run. Blitzes were common, and there were plays with eight, even nine defenders, in the box.

Linebackers and safeties sprinted toward the line of scrimmage upon the snap, taking away rushing lanes before they opened.

Teams aren’t respecting the pass, and it’s making it harder to run. But Iowa’s problems go way beyond that.

Third-and-12 is a passing situation, even when the Hawkeyes are on their 9-yard line. Michigan State treated it as such, putting only six defenders in the box against a three-receiver look.

The Hawkeyes still lost yards on the run.

Michigan State linebacker Joe Bachie ran untouched straight to Wadley. An inability to gain a yard in an obvious passing situation says more about the running game than anything else from Saturday.

The Hawkeyes need to run the ball to win games. It’s how the team is constructed.

It’s going to be hard for the Hawkeyes to get back on track without their rushing attack. It’s fair to ask how big of an issue health is up front. Should offensive lineman Boone Myers sit down and give his injured ankle time to rest so he returns healthy? Is offensive tackle the best position for Sean Welsh? Do any other changes need to be made?

Each is a legitimate question right now, and Iowa needs to find an answer. The offense isn’t going to function properly without its backbone.

What is going on with the passing game?

Iowa’s aerial attack was better than the ground game. But not by much.

Stanley was 16 of 31 for 197 yards, but that’s nothing to write home about. The fan base’s biggest gripe with Stanley is the deep ball. He is connecting on touchdown passes of longer than 20 yards, but he’s not converting enough of his throws downfield outside of the end zone.

The issue popped up again with the Spartans.

Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg got behind the Michigan State secondary on a first-half play-action pass. Stanley threw it 4 yards beyond him.

Yes, VandeBerg would have jogged into the end zone if the throw were on target. But the miscue didn’t cost the Hawkeyes points. Iowa scored its only touchdown on that drive.

VandeBerg needs to work on his passes 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, but that wasn’t the biggest problem on Saturday.

Stanley didn’t have time to throw. His accuracy was a little erratic, even on shorter passes. Receivers didn’t easily get open, forcing Stanley to throw the football away several times. Each problem added to the ineffectiveness of the passing game.

Stanley did connect with wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Nick Easley on plays of 30-plus yards, but those kinds of plays were too infrequent.

The talk of the deep pass is a constant, and it overshadowed something Hawkeyes fans need to monitor. Ball security became an issue again. Stanley dropped a snap and was stripped of the ball on Iowa’s final possession.

We haven’t talked yet about Stanley fumbling as he tried to throw a pass in the red zone.

This fumble is bad luck. Nothing more than that, but the number of times Stanley put the ball on the turf brought back memories of the Wyoming game.

Holding onto the football needs to be a priority this week.

Josey Jewell shows up yet again

The start for Iowa’s defense was bad. Michigan State wide receiver Felton Davis and his 2 touchdown receptions were a big reason why. The defense rebounded after a slow start.

Series Yards Allowed Points
First three 121 10
Rest of game 168 3

Josey Jewell was central to the defensive renaissance. He put together another stellar performance. For the second straight week, he recorded 16 tackles. He added 3 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and 0.5 sack.

One of his most impressive plays didn’t stand out in real time. On second-and-1, Jewell stepped up to the line of scrimmage on a run play. He shrugged off a fullback and stood up Michigan State running back LJ Scott for no gain, ensuring the play didn’t go for a first down.

This wasn’t a sexy play, but it sums up why Jewell is so good. He does his job when asked.

Iowa isn’t winning games right now, but Jewell is playing very good football. Don’t overlook it.

Putting the special in special teams

The most interesting play was the fake field goal. It started with the last thing anyone expected. Kicker Miguel Recinos motioned into a wide receiver. The Hawkeyes ended up in the shotgun formation with holder/punter Colten Rastetter at quarterback. He rolls to his right and throws back to his left, finding defensive end A.J. Epenesa.

Epenesa leaked out downfield from his spot on the line after the snap. The play went for 15 yards. If Rastetter had led Epenesa, it probably would have been a touchdown.

This nifty play and showed the creativity of the coaching staff.

Short fields a big problem

Punting is a problem. It was the last few weeks, but against Michigan State, it was a direct factor in the outcome.

On Iowa’s second punt, the Hawkeyes, pinned near their end zone, needed a big kick from Rastetter. Instead, he booted it about 40 yards in the air. An 11-yard return set up the Spartans with great field position.

The bad punt ensured Michigan State only needed to move the ball 31 yards for a touchdown. Three times, Michigan State ended up with the ball in Iowa territory after Rastetter punts. The short fields resulted in 10 points.

The last thing the Hawkeyes need with their offense struggling is to make it easier for the opponent to score.

At a minimum, the Hawkeyes need to make it an open competition between Rastetter and freshman Ryan Gersonde this week. The recent punting is unacceptable.

Final thoughts

A second viewing confirmed what stood out on Saturday. The running game and ball security were major factors in the inability of the offense to move the football.  Both can be overcome, but until each one is, the offense will look a lot like it did on Saturday.

The post Iowa film room: Why Nate Stanley and the run game struggled at Michigan State appeared first on Land of 10.

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