A lot is said and written about Iowa’s offense being ‘too simple’ or ‘too predictable’ through the years. I believe I have said as much.
But I will say that oftentimes, it truly does come down to execution. Football CAN be a simple game and big plays typically come from set ups and ‘simple execution’, and the cat and mouse game that coordinators play.
This all came to mind to me the other night as I was replaying the first quarter of Iowa’s 40-10 win against Nebraska from the 2016 season. Why was I watching it again?
AKRUM WADLEY’s 75-YARD TD RUN
This was a thing of beauty and I won’t suggest every running back out there could have turned this into a 75-yard romp. A lot of Big Ten running backs would have gotten 10 yards out of this for how well things were executed at the line of scrimmage and the simplistic beauty of the play design.
First, look at the top of the LOS. Iowa had twin tight ends line up, Peter Pekar and George Kittle. Both of them take outside releases and quickly move into their blocking assignment. Then, the Iowa offensive line shifts to the left in their concert zone blocking motion. This motion brings the entire Nebraska defensive line with it, as well as both linebackers. The Huskers appear to be in some type of Cover 1 here, with man on man coverage on Iowa’s obvious receivers and one of the linebackers is responsible for Wadley were he to become a receiver. Given how Nebraska’s linebackers suck up to defend the run, and how well Iowa’s tight ends do in their assignments, Wadley has a 10-foot wide hole in which to beat the linebacker on a juke and then outrun the safety who did get deeper on the snap, but not deep enough to have an angle to catch Wadley.
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This play does come with an asterisk. Beathard called an audible on this play, getting Iowa into it. In the post game, he said it was not blocked up the way it was drawn up, so he referred to it as a lucky play. Perhaps Iowa should write up a new play where they block it just like this.
RILEY MCCARRON’S 77-YARD SCORE
Iowa lines up in a three wide, one-back set. This is the very next Iowa play from scrimmage following Wadley’s score. Iowa’s offensive line fires out as if they are blocking for a running play, but you will notice that after a couple of steps, they fall back into pass pro. CJ Beathard sells the play fake to Wadley, who sits in the hole to block. Iowa’s top side receiver stutter steps at the line for a full second and a half then releases to the outside, occupying the cornerback’s attention the entire time and he winds up turning his back to the field.
Nebraska’s defensive line once again comes downhill following the lead of Iowa’s offensive line. You will then notice all three Nebraska linebackers come downhill as well, selling out to stop what looks like a running play. A Cornhusker safety also comes down into the box, biting as hard as anyone of the run-motion of this play.
There are a number of things that have to happen for this play to break long, one of them being the linebackers sucking up to the LOS so far that it gives CJB a perfect passing lane and area with which to get the ball high enough and over the linebackers, who had read pass too late and began to fan out flat at the wrong time, like Moses parting the Red Sea. The DB who was lined up on McCarron gave him a 13-yard presnap cushion and while McCarron ate into this cushion a few yards on the snap, the DB drops back too far for the play that was called.
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Iowa didn’t pass over the middle all that much last year, so the Cornhuskers didn’t likely see enough of that on film to be shading McCarron to the inside. So when McCarron did break inside and caught the pass from CJB in stride, the DB was not deep enough and was back on his heels, caught by surprise and he had a horrible and flat angle of pursuit with which to catch McCarron…which he did not do. The bottom CB was run of the play by a decoy fly route and was not a factor.
These are ‘simple’ plays, but plays that are set up by other plays and weeks that came before. The McCarron play was a surprise for most of us watching the game, as we had not seen that very often this past season, if at all.
I am hopeful that Brian Ferentz will exploit the middle of the field more than Greg Davis did when it comes to play calling, and we have another year of Akrum Wadley’s ankle-breaking talents to enjoy as well.
Football does not need to be ‘exotic’ to result in big plays. A team like Iowa just needs to execute at the little things, and when all 11 men do that and the opposition makes a misread, or is fooled into seeing something that really isn’t happening, wonderful things take place.