Iowa Football Notebook: Tyrone Tracy Put Wildcats in Spin Cycle
EVANSTON, Ill. – It was a career day in the Chicagoland suburbs for redshirt freshman Tyrone Tracy. The Indianapolis native would not be denied on his way to 88 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Coach Ferentz said after the game that Tracy, who came to Iowa as a prospective running back, has grown more sophisticated as a route runner.
“It’s all about learning (for Tracy),” said Ferentz, “You learn to play football in my opinion… the whole idea is for guys to keep pushing themselves.”
Iowa knew it would need guys like Tracy to step up in the absence of Brandon Smith, who left last week’s game with an injury. Tracy, who practices at all receiver positions, filled in for Smith at the “X” spot on Saturday.
It was Tracy’s touchdown that set the tone for Iowa’s 20-0 shutout of Northwestern. After a slow start that saw the Hawkeyes unable to capitalize on field position opportunities, Iowa found itself facing third and 10 from midfield on the third play of the drive. Then, Nate Stanley hit Tracy with what looked like a typical first down throw- until Tracy broke away from two tacklers and followed his blockers into the end zone.
Teammates said after the game that the 50 yard touchdown play allowed the team to settle in and find its bearings. And they did, methodically adding points to the board as the defense pitched a stifling shutout.
Tracy’s day didn’t end there, as Stanley connected with him on a 38 yard bomb to set up Iowa’s final score of the afternoon. He also hit the block that sprung true freshman tight end Sam LaPorta’s 41 yard reception. It was the step forward Iowa needed from the former running back.
Offense Gets the Job Done
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Kirk Ferentz couldn’t have drawn up a more boringly effective outing if he’d tried. There’s no doubt that Iowa was conservative on Saturday, but when the offense puts enough points on the board to double the spread prediction, we get to use more positive words like “methodical.”
Fans were frustrated to see Iowa punt on fourth and short twice to end the first half. But the coaching staff was playing with the confidence that the Wildcats couldn’t score on the Hawkeye defense without the aid of good field position or Iowa mistakes.
So the Hawks punted twice, won the half 10 to zip, and did the same thing in the next half. As often as Ryan Field has been a tripwire for Iowa teams, the strategy was to get in and out with tight ball control and to let the defense do the rest. That’s what happened.
That isn’t to say there weren’t fun offensive plays in Evanston. The aforementioned Tracy plays, a few nice runs from Tyler Goodson (including a +30 yarder called back on a questionable penalty), and the surprising involvement of LaPorta were a reminder of the exciting young talent that is already working its way into the mix. LaPorta was targeted on another deep ball in the first half that was ruled a 34 yard catch before being overturned on the review.
Best of all, Iowa ran the ball at a good clip, picking up 123 yards on the ground, and protected Stanley from the onslaught of sacks he faced earlier in Big Ten play. Brian Ferentz (who picked up one of Iowa’s few penalties on an unsportsmanlike conduct call) knows his unit needs to be competitive in the trenches if they want a shot against Wisconsin following the Bye week.
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Praising the defense has become a weekly occurrence in these notes, as the unit continues to earn its top ten status. Particularly nice to see in Week Nine: five sacks.
The unit brought pressure, and other than occasional missed holding calls that allowed Aidan Smith to get away, the Wildcats had no answer. Chauncey Golston hauled in 2.5 sacks, Daviyon Nixon had two of his own, AJ Epenesa is credited with half of a sack, and redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Evans even got in on 1.5 sacks.
They even forced a third down interception early as a ball thrown under heavy pressure was tipped by Stone and picked off by Golston at the NU 21 yard line.
And if the Iowa offense was conservative in its ball control efforts, then the defense made Northwestern pay for its aggression. On top of the pick, Phil Parker’s pack forced a perfect four fourth down stops. That’s a recipe for success… and even a shutout.
Fans learned just before the game that tight end Nate Wieting wouldn’t dress due to injury. Ferentz confirmed afterwards that the senior leader was injured during practice on Wednesday.
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“It didn’t look like much,” said Ferentz, “But it was a strain so he couldn’t go.”
Lineman Justin Britt also didn’t dress for today’s game, and linebacker Kristian Welch remains out with an undisclosed injury suffered during the loss to Penn State. Brandon Smith is expected to remain out for three to five weeks with a right leg injury.
It may not have seemed flashy, but Iowa dominated Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats were searching for their first four-game win streak over Iowa since the 1920s, and they were emphatically denied as Iowa choked them out with the exact game plan they had drawn up.
Credit to Coach Fitzgerald, who had a winning home record against Iowa coming into the day and still has a winning record against the Hawks overall. The defending Big Ten West champs are no longer the doormat of the conference (cough, Rutgers, cough), and much like last week’s win over Purdue, it was a much needed outing for fans who hoped to see equilibrium restored to the series.
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With six wins, the Hawkeyes are now bowl eligible. Which bowl they find themselves in will be determined by the remaining portion of the season. One thing is for sure: if they want any chance at a trip to Pasadena, they’ll need and a productive Bye week before “it’s on” with Wisconsin.
-Iowa has four shutouts in its last 11 conference games
-Kirk Ferentz has 94 Big Ten Conference wins, one shy of tying Joe Paterno for number five in conference history
-Chauncy Golston recorded his second career interception (he had one in the 2019 Outback Bowl)
-Nate Stanley has started in 34 consecutive games, the second longest streak by a Hawkeye QB (Chuck Long, 74)
-Sargent’s one yard rushing touchdown was Iowa’s tenth rushing TD of the season, and their fifth from the one yard line
-Ihmir Smith-Marsette passed 1,000 career receiving yards. He is the 42nd Iowa receiver to hit that mark
-Iowa is bowl eligible for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons.