In college football, a win isn’t always a “win”. When it comes to FBS-FCS matchups, a “win” is the expectation for the FBS team. The Hawkeyes opened the season at home against South Dakota State of the FCS. Despite the 7-3 final score, a touchdown did not appear on the stat sheet. The offense for the Hawkeyes was largely non-existent, but they gained an advantage in a way that has been the norm of recent years. The defense and special teams were able to put the Hawkeyes in a spot to capitalize on field position and escape with a win against the Jackrabbits.
A Slow First Half
The first half was nothing to be impressed with offensively, taking the locker room tied at three points. The only reason that Iowa was not losing this contest at the half was a result of the impeccable performance on special teams and on defense. Tory Taylor punted four times, each pinning the Jackrabbits inside the 20-yard line. South Dakota State started each drive of the first half inside their own 22 except for one following an interception. The Hawkeye defense played at a high level all afternoon in Iowa City, allowing just 120 yards all day. Iowa limited the Jackrabbits to 2.1 yards per play, and essentially shut down Mark Gronwoski’s dynamic quarterback abilities all day.
Field Position Victory
The field position game remains the differentiating factor for this Hawkeye football team. Despite the 3-3 tie at the half, the Hawkeyes had a 23-yard advantage in starting position. They were able to keep the Jackrabbits out of Hawkeye territory for virtually the entire day. South Dakota State only entered Iowa territory just one time. It came following a Spencer Petras interception in the first half. Otherwise, the Jackrabbits had seven three-and-outs and averaged just 4.9 yards per drive.
Taylor was the difference maker inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. He punted the ball 10 times for an average of 48 yards. Seven of his punts were pinned inside the 20 yard line. They were the contributing factor to four of Iowa’s seven points on the day. The seven points in the Hawkeyes’ home opener may look like the offense came away with a score. In reality, the offense was not involved in the outcome. The Iowa defense recorded two safeties and was consistently in the backfield of the Jackrabbits.
Preseason All-American Jack Campbell recorded a team-high 11 tackles and scored two of Iowa’s seven points. His safety gave Iowa the 5-3 advantage in the third quarter and was one of the few momentum jolts of the afternoon. Joe Evans, another one of Iowa’s premier linebackers, recorded the second safety of the day, putting the game effectively out of reach. The elusive, dual threat of Gronwoski was limited to just 87 yards.
One of the limiting factors of the Iowa offense was their offensive line. Last season, this group was very young. Other than the experience of Tyler Linderbuam at center, the group was relatively inefficient and didn’t give the quarterbacks much time. The trend continued in week one against the Jackrabbits. Iowa’s offensive line allowed two quarterback hurries and two sacks. Petras under pressure was not efficient, putting up 109 yards and recording one interception. He had three passes north of 15 yards, two of which went to Arland Bruce IV. Bruce finished with five receptions for 68 yards.
Another interesting stat from today’s game was Iowa’s second down positioning. On 18 second down plays, Iowa averaged 8.8 yards to gain. As a team, the Hawkeyes averaged just 2.7 yards per play, and their first down efficiency hindered this team. Being in a position to get a first down is essential to being efficient in college football. When second down attempts require more than eight yards to gain, it’s difficult to have success as an offense.
Hawkeyes Escape with a win against the Jackrabbits
At the end of the day, the Hawkeyes escaped with a win against the Jackrabbits. Even though a win isn’t necessarily a “win”, there were some positives to take away from today’s game. Iowa’s defense held a potent passing offense to just 87 yards in the air and 120 total yards. On special teams, Iowa was able to efficiently put South Dakota State in disadvantageous spots offensively. The Jackrabbits started their drives at their own 16-yard line on average. Scoring was almost never a threat from South Dakota State, and all the credit goes to the defense and special teams units. The Hawkeyes move on to week two against Iowa State with areas to improve offensively. However, the defense appears to be another one of the more stout units of late.