Iowa’s offense requires jump-start after it struggles vs. Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. — Fourth down. 1 yard to go. Iowa needed to gain 36 inches to keep alive its hopes for a potential game-winning touchdown in the final 95 seconds.

But the opportunity ended before it started after offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs jumped offsides. The penalty forced Iowa to settle for a field goal. It forced overtime, but delayed the inevitable.

Iowa struggled to move the ball against Northwestern, and the inability of the offense to keep drives alive was the biggest cause of the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 overtime loss Saturday.

“That’s embarrassing,” running back Akrum Wadley said.

It starts up front

Everything with the Hawkeyes revolves around the run game. At least, it’s that way for the offense.

When the rushing attack is a threat so is the offense. Iowa churns out first downs, the play-action pass opens and points rack up.

When it’s stuck in the mud so too is the offense. Saturday proved it. The Hawkeyes rushed for 89 yards. They gained only 312 total yards.

“We are a better football team when we can run the ball efficiently,” coach Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa averaged 2.7 yards per carry. “It’s always been that way. That is our plan. It will continue to be our plan. We’ll to try to do a better job there.”

A better run game is a necessity. The only time Iowa showed consistency was in the first quarter, when the rushing attack was at its best and holes opened up for Wadley.

Quarter Rush Att. Rush Yds Yds/Att Total Yds
First 13 53 4.1 128
Second 4 3 0.8 110
Third 7 8 1.1 16
Fourth 9 25 2.8 58

One big pass play accounted for 61 of the 110 yards in the second quarter. The third quarter was a disaster, and the only positive takeaway from the fourth quarter was the drive to tie the score.

Neither of Iowa’s scoring drives came in the first quarter, but the blueprint for any future success resides there.

If the Hawkeyes are to turn things around after losing three of their past four, they need to run it better. So how does Iowa fix things?

“I don’t know the answer right there at this second,” Ferentz said.

Kudos to Ferentz for his honesty.

But here is the thing. The Hawkeyes need to find an answer sooner rather than later. Iowa is 0-9 when it fails to rush for 100 yards since 2015. It’s going to be more of the same until the run game improves.

Good, but not good enough

It wasn’t all bad for the offense, but each positive moment comes with a qualifier.

Stanley found tight end Noah Fant for a 7-yard touchdown.

But Iowa never got near the end zone again.

Stanley connected with wide receiver Matt VandeBerg on a 61-yard reception on the team’s only touchdown drive. It was the kind of deep pass the fan base was waiting for.

But Iowa couldn’t replicate it Saturday.

The offense looked good early, moving into Northwestern territory on its first two possessions.

But it failed to score. A missed field goal and turnover on downs kept the Hawkeyes from grabbing an early, giving the Wildcats an opportunity to stay in the game.

There were good moments but not enough to sustain a team for 60 minutes.

“When we get into the enemy’s territory, we have to put the ball into the end zone and we didn’t do that a couple of drives,” Fant said.

Iowa and its second-half blues

More than just the running game went wrong. Stanley threw an interception. The offensive line wasn’t consistent in pass blocking. Receivers dropped too many passes.

But with Iowa the run game is the catalyst. It’s hard for the rest of it to matter when the down marker isn’t moving 4 or 5 yards every handoff.

Northwestern shut it down, and the offense collapsed in the second half. Take a look at the second-half drive chart.

Drive Plays Yds Result
One 5 14 Punt
Two 5 9 Punt
Three 3 -2 Punt
Four 3 2 INT
Five 11 39 FG

Overall, Iowa had four three-and-outs. Four other drives lasted five plays or less and ended in a punt. This isn’t Iowa football, not winning Iowa football, anyway.

“Very frustrated,” Wadley said. “We shouldn’t be losing like this, especially to that team.”

The chances were there to save the Hawkeyes from a difficult defeat. The final one came on was fourth-and-3 in overtime.

Iowa called the same play Fant scored on. Just like with the touchdown, Fant stood wide open. Just this time, Fant dropped the pass.

It was that kind of day.

The post Iowa’s offense requires jump-start after it struggles vs. Northwestern appeared first on Land of 10.

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