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Rutgers v. Iowa Monday Morning Quarterback

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Iowa
The trench battle was not as one-sided as expected.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Rutgers was defeated 30-0 by the hosting Iowa Hawkeyes.

Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s dive in.

Expectations coming into the Iowa game

  1. Nate Stanley would capitalize on the inexperienced defensive backs with excellent timing throws. (Result: Yes.)
  2. Iowa’s offensive line would be able to get significant push against the defensive front of the Scarlet Knights. (Result: Not really.)
  3. Rutgers would have some success going four wide, and isolating running backs on Iowa linebackers. If the game was not close in the second half Rutgers would be able to move the ball and at least get first downs and points on the board. (Result: Not at all.)
  4. Rutgers’s defensive weak link on defense would be at defensive tackle and safety. (Result: Yes)
  5. If Rutgers won the field position battle, they would keep this one close. (Result: No)
  6. McLane Carter may start locking on to Raheem Blackshear. (Result: initially looked like yes, but further review not really)

Initial reactions during the game

  1. Iowa’s run game wasn’t very impressive. (Film verdict: Correct)
  2. Scarlet Defense wore out by the second quarter. (Film verdict: Incorrect)
  3. Special teams was awesome. (Film verdict: Absolutely correct.)
  4. McLane Carter was still better than Art Sitkowski. (Film Verdict: Correct)
  5. Iowa’s pressure came mostly from an occasional breakdown in protection and very few pure 1 on 1 wins at the line. (Film verdict: Correct)
  6. Damon Hayes stop grabbing people! (Film verdict: annoying, but his flag in the end zone may have saved a TD. Being beaten by a slower tight end was disappointing though.)

Sunday-Monday morning quarterback

  1. About the breakdowns in the secondary, the first touchdown was clearly a miscommunication between Avery Young and Malik Dixon who was on the other side of the field. The safety on that side of the field (I think Jarret Paul) took the intermediate out route when probably should have taken the deep man and passed that shorter route to Young OR just let the linebacker who was right there also have it. Paul looks like he’s going to be a good player, but had at least two poor choices in coverage in this one. The only other complete breakdown was a ball Nate Stanley overthrew luckily. The linebackers were not great, but better in pass coverage than a week ago.
  2. We had an Iowa commenter say no way if the teams switched quarterbacks does Rutgers win this game as I had proposed. After re-watching, I’m sticking to my guns. The Iowa run game was not better than RU until the Knights’ defense was completely gassed. I expected to see some real push from the Iowa offensive line which did not happen for a long time in this game. The QB sneak from their own 3 yard line and one run with 6:50 left in the second quarter were the only plays were I thought RU was blown up at the point of attack. The big runs in the second half didn’t even come from big boy football, they came on stretch plays because Iowa knew they couldn’t just drive Rutgers back.
  3. Julius Turner had a nice bounce back game and Jaohne Duggan is a serviceable backup at nose guard against the run game. The bigger problem was that Willington Previlon played well, but no one in reserve could make any sort of impact at his defensive tackle spot. Brendan Bordner on what may have been his first play of the game was completely driven back on that QB sneak that went for 8 yards. They need to find someone who can spell Previlon. Mike Tverdov really looks small and is nothing close to his late season form last year and was used at the position in obvious passing situations. The defensive ends for the Scarlet Knights were unimpressive. They did ok in the run game, but once they realized it was a pass, had no juice to turn on some speed and get any sort of pressure on the quarterback. Tijaun Mason is going to need to play more.
  4. Rutgers offensive line did better than everyone made them out to be. The Knights were opening some holes and not getting driven back in the run game. In retrospect, offensive coordinator John McNulty could have called more runs. Instead he tried to leverage the threat of the run by calling first down pass plays (much like last season) and despite time for the quarterbacks, we saw incompletion after incompletion on first down. Then Rutgers was not getting enough run yards on second to set up third and shorts. Then on obvious passing downs, Iowa pulled a lot of the same pressure schemes we saw from Jay Niemann two years ago to get a free rusher. The offensive line wasn’t being beaten man on man as much as I originally thought.
  5. Bo Melton did not have a great game, though none of the RU receivers did much. Melton was very open on Art’s interception and didn’t come back to catch a ball thrown a little short earlier in the game. The Iowa defensive backs played WAY better, especially in man coverage than they did last week. That being said, the way to beat them was still those deep sideline and seam routes which Rutgers hit on just twice all game (one from each QB). Iowa was playing zero high safeties or just one quite often, with the linebackers covering the zones underneath. They dared RU to throw deep which they failed to do exactly like last season. I think the Rutgers coaching staff told McLane Carter to be more careful with the ball which backfired big time.

Rutgers opens itself up to opponents playing the same defensive style against them, because by keeping linebackers in short zones they can limit those big runs from Pacheco and Blackshear. This also led to Blackshear being covered up as a primary check down. Fans were criticizing Carter locking on to Blackshear, but I saw that only once maybe twice when rewatching the first half. The other times no one else was open, Blackshear WAS open, or Raheem was the correct hot route/check down receiver. So the read was correct. It wasn’t like guys were running around wide open and Carter failed to see them. Art Sitkowski can’t throw deep, so if he's in the game, the same tactics apply.

Surprise Stat

Rutgers threw for only 41 yards, which is not surprising. It’s the eighth time in the Chris Ash era they failed to reach 50 passing yards which is absolutely abysmal.

Initial takeaways from BC’s win over 45-13 win over Richmond

  1. BC took care of business as expected after defeating a P5 opponent in Week 1.
  2. The Eagles carried 50 times for 346 yards, wow. Let’s see if that continues in Week 3.
  3. BC quarterback Anthony Brown was a ho-hum 8-14 for 163 yards and 3 TD. Rutgers really needs to come up with a better way to defend play action or they are in deep trouble.
  4. The Spiders did run for 215 yards on 49 attempts, so Rutgers may be able to get something in the run game.
  5. Iowa’s talent and BC’s is not that much different, only a tad above Rutgers. That being said we saw Buffalo, Army, etc stick with vastly more talented teams, so this comes down to execution.

Final Conclusions

As mentioned last week, nothing is wilder than week 2 in college football because those initial week 1 reactions either go nuclear or are quickly forgotten. In RU’s case, they were completely forgotten on the offensive side of the ball. The talent gap with Iowa was glaring only at quarterback and the fact that Iowa had A.J. Epenesa who did disrupt two Rutgers third downs.

Of course, it’s just one game albeit a terrible one game. I hate to harp on one position, but quarterback play was the single decider here, with Rutgers lack of a pass rush outside of obvious situations a very distant second. I thought McNulty’s play calling in the moment was worse than it actually was at second glance. If your quarterback can’t complete throws you either call first down pass plays to try to get confidence / yards or abandon the pass entirely other than select third downs (basically like an option offense). So fans want Rutgers to just run the ball, but not run an option offense? That makes no sense to me. I like the pro-style because when run right it gives you more ways to beat an opponent and tailor your attack than a spread, but the limited concept within a spread or either to become competent in. Right now, RU is not competent on offense but I have more hope than last year.

When this game ended I felt a loss to BC and Maryland were guaranteed. Upon re-watching I still do not expect RU to win those games, but there is a chance Rutgers can turn the corner and be competitive. I hate when coaches say the team is “close” because we heard that a zillion times last year and it simply was not true. This game though, the first against a Power Five opponent was not nearly as bad as what we saw against Kansas and Buffalo last year, both of which are much lesser teams than this Iowa club. And if Rutgers does ultimately make a coaching change at some point, the cupboard is not bare.