Michigan State vs. Iowa: View from the other side
VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Marc Morehouse, who covers Iowa for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, breaks down the Hawkeyes for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Iowa-Michigan State game. You can follow him on Twitter @marcmorehouse.
QUESTION: How difficult will it be for Iowa to bounce back from the loss to Penn State on the final play?
ANSWER: I'm not sure the emotional element will factor as much as the physical. For six Iowa defensive players, Penn State was a 100-snap game. Count star linebacker Josey Jewell among those six, and also include all four members of Iowa's secondary. Covering Saquon Barkley was a marathon. This probably doesn't shift personnel, but blocks are harder to shed with half of a battery life.
Q. Has Iowa’s offensive identity changed much under first-year coordinator Brian Ferentz?
A. No. Iowa remains intent on running the ball, shortening the game, controlling tempo. If Iowa gets into a comfort zone with its running game, that's game over. The problem for Iowa is the running game has sputtered. The offensive line lost right tackle Ike Boettger, a three-year starter, in Week 2 against Iowa State with an Achilles injury. Senior Boone Myers, also a three-year starter, has been limited to a rotation at guard because of an ankle injury. Center James Daniels has missed time with a minor knee injury. The O-line's uncertainty coupled with a first-year QB and a passing game that has been basically rebuilt has allowed defenses to chuck bodies at the line of scrimmage. Last week, Penn State blitzed somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 percent and took away Iowa's inside zone.
Brian Ferentz has made gains in the passing game. His play-calling against Iowa State was exactly what Iowa needed. There might be a point where he's forced to push buttons in the passing game that he's not sure will work. It might take that to back opposing defenses off the line of scrimmage.
Q. Quarterback Nate Stanley has started just four games but has a Big Ten-best 12 TD passes. How impressive has this four-game stretch been?
A. Stanley has been a good decision maker. He hasn't gotten enough credit for the fact that he's unleashed maybe five balls that were in danger of being intercepted and has had only the one pick off a tipped ball.
When you filter his numbers through the competition Iowa has seen, the big numbers come back to earth, but lots of Big Ten teams are in that mode. Iowa hasn't been afraid to call 20-plus pass plays, but Stanley has had big TD misses, including four at ISU that almost cost Iowa the game. That's really the only time where you can pin “cost Iowa the game” anywhere near Stanley's name.
The patience and poise he showed against Penn State's defense should serve him well vs. Michigan State. A small mountain of dead plays are headed Iowa's way. The patience could pay off. It almost did vs. PSU.
Q. Is there any way to neutralize linebacker Josey Jewell?
A. Yes. Sign Barkley as a free agent. Beyond that, spread Iowa's defense and make Jewell run. He's on the field for every personnel group, from prevent to dime. Penn State's simple passes to Barkley in the flat kept Jewell chugging all night. That took some air out of Iowa's defense. Plus, Barkley ruins attack angles with the turn of an ankle. It was simple and money on those plays for PSU. Get Jewell tired, get him out in space. The opponent's best bet is to drain his battery, something he's extremely conscious of showing signs of.
Q. Does the Big Ten title game loss still linger and if so, how much will it serve as motivation for the Hawkeyes?
A. It does and these guys are human, so it should. On one hand, that game is almost two years old. On the other, a lot of important Hawkeyes on the 2017 team played in that epic, including Jewell. Jewell said this week he still goes to sleep thinking about plays from that game. Myers said it's something you never forget.
Does that put gas in their tanks? Iowa isn't big on living off emotional elements going into games. Still, yes, there will be some flickering memories. Iowa did also watch that film again this week. They say it’s standard operation, and I'm sure it is. Probably a little column A for whatever tendency is left to glean from a 2015 game and a little column B for whatever motivational pulse the players put on it.
HAWKEYES TO WATCH
■ Josey Jewell, LB: The senior is the anchor of the Hawkeyes defense, piling up 126 tackles in 2015 and 124 in 2016. He has 42 tackles through four games this season to lead the conference and was named co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after 16 tackles, including 11 solo stops in last week’s loss to Penn State.
■ Akrum Wadley, RB – The senior is second in the Big Ten and sixth nationally averaging 166.3 all-purpose yards a game. He leads the Hawkeyes in rushing yards (338), receiving yards (227) and touchdowns (2 rushing, 2 receiving). His 2,836 all-purpose yards rank 16th in program history and he needs 128 rushing yards to move into 10th place all-time.
■ Nate Stanley, QB: The sophomore quarterback leads the Big Ten and is 12th in the nation with 12 passing touchdowns and ranks sixth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency at 164.4. No quarterback in Iowa history has thrown for more touchdowns in their first four games. His season has been highlighted by 333 yards and five TD passes in a win over Iowa State.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Big Ten title chase: Michigan State is 6-4 in conference openers under coach Mark Dantonio and has won three of the last four meetings against Iowa, including the last meeting, which was a victory in the 2015 Big Ten Championship game.
■ League leader: Sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke is averaging 319 yards a game in total offense, the most in the Big Ten. He also ranks third in passing yardage per game with 250.3. However, he’s also lost two fumbles and thrown a pair of interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
■ Familiar faces:The Hawkeyes have plenty of experience, especially at the linebacker position. The three starters have combined for 96 career starts — Josey Jewell (35), Ben Niemann (31) and Bo Bower (30). The three also rank one, two and three on the team in tackles.