Howe: Hawkeyes Pound Maryland into Submission
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa’s passing game entered Saturday’s action flying high. Mother nature showed up at Kinnick Stadium and grounded it, however.
The strong wind gusts would have disrupted lesser teams reliant on an aerial assualt. The Hawkeyes adjusted, providing another indication that this team is developing into something special.
Maryland loaded up against the run and they didn’t flinch. They pounded at Terrapins and the defense shut down the visitors’ vaunted rushing attack in a 23-0 victory.
While the 90 combined points scored the last two weeks esthetically pleased, Saturday’s ground-and-pound play showed Iowa can morph into whatever is needed. And it looked comfortable in doing so.
Simply put, the Hawkeyes are very good, among the best outfits in the Big Ten right now. And that’s because they’re really well-rounded.
“I think it shows that we play good team football,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Everybody is on the same page with what we want to do and sometimes that changes during a course of a game.”
Stanley won just about every weekly award for which he was eligible after tossing six touchdowns in a 42-16 win at Indiana last Saturday. On this day, he managed the game, completing 11 of 22 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown against an interception.
Weaker-minded signal callers would have forced the action but this just was not a day to throw the ball. Maryland completed just 6 of 16 passes for 47 yards. Stanley knew what it was going to take and carried out the game plan.
The Terrapins arrived at Kinnick with the Big Ten’s third-rated rushing offense. They ranked among the country’s best in explosive plays.
Well, it’s tough to rip off large gainers when you don’t have the ball. For the game, Iowa held a 40:55-19:05 time-of-possession advantage. It ran 86 plays to Maryland’s 47 and out-gained the visitors, 310-115.
The Hawkeyes set the tone right away. It enjoyed a 22:49-7:11 bulge in time of possession in the first half. Maryland ran just 16 plays and recorded only three first downs. The Terps wore down as Iowa converted 7 of 11 times on third and fourth down before the break.
“Our objective is to get off the field on third down,” Maryland linebacker Tre Watson said. “We understand when those long drives happen that we failed to do that. You play that many plays, it’s going to wear on you no matter how well conditioned you are. They made some plays in some crucial situations that we failed to make and that puts you in a bad spot.”
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The Hawkeyes’ final four first-half drives lasted 8, 17, 11 and 10 plays, respectively. That demoralized the Maryland defense. And as Watson said, they delivered clutch plays when needed.
Stanley hit receiver Nick Easley for 12 yards on a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he connected with tight end Noah Fant for seven yards on a fourth-and-3. Those drives ended in field goals.
On a third-and-9 late in the second quarter, Stanley raced 13 yards on a designed draw. That would set up a acrobatic nine-yard, one-handed touchdown catch from receiver Brandon Smith right before halftime.
While they converted other important pass plays, everything was set up by the ability to run the ball, at times with eight and nine Terps in the box. They would just not be denied.
The offensive line bowed up against a Maryland rush defense that was ranked fifth in the conference at 126.3 yards per game. The Hawkeyes pounded forward for 224 on 52 carries (4.3 YPC).
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“No matter the situation, down and distance, the offensive line did a great job. And when we did throw the ball, they did a great job of giving me time to make throws. They played extremely well today. I don’t think it’s any surprise with how they prepare,” Stanley said.
The precise, physical blocking stretched beyond the linemen. The running backs, fullbacks, receivers and tight ends all committed to blasting through a Terp defense selling out to stop the run.
“When I think about that, I think of Jake Hillyer in 2015. He was a guy that didn’t have a lot of touches, but he was out there busting his butt making blocks that turn 10-yard gains into 30,” center Keegan Render said.
“I think the coaches have done a good job emphasizing that these blocks are big. The O-Line starts it but they take it to a bigger play. You see a lot of pride out there from these guys putting it on the line knowing we have guys coming behind them making a play.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz continued showing his maturation during his second season in the position. He mixed in the passing game after setting things up with the run. They were low-risk throws where Maryland was leaning the wrong way off play-action.
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The ball-control offense allowed a well-rested defense to clamp down on the opponent. It played disciplined, assignment football against a team trying to move it out of position with deception and misdirection.
“We had great communication and an understanding of our responsibilities and setting the edges,” safety Amani Hooker said. “Our main thing was the communication. We all wanted to be on the same page so we could not give up big plays.”
It looked like old-school Iowa football – run the ball down the opponent’s throat and strangle its rushing attack. Then, deliver in the clutch and execute on special teams.
Kicker Miguel Recinos performed admirably in punching three field goals through the wind and punter Colten Rastetter knocked both of his punts inside the Terps’ 20. The coverage teams eliminated big returns. Oh, and the Hawkeyes weren’t penalized, the first time that’s happened since ’06.
“That what it seemed like,” said safety Jake Gervase in regards to it being a classic Hawkeye performance. “The wind played into that. We didn’t throw the ball near as much. (The offense) did a great job managing the game and sticking to our game plan. It was a great team win, offense, defense, special teams. This one feels good.”
It’s an unselfish group with each member willing to give up personal glory for the good of the team. When we see that around these parts, special seasons occur.
“Everybody is bought in 100 percent and they’re going to do whatever they can to make sure this team is successful,” Stanley said.
The competition stiffens the next two weeks with road games at Penn State and Purdue. It won’t be easy, but these Hawkeyes are showing they’re up for the challenge.