Tale of Two Halves for Iowa at Ohio State

Iowa’s 44-point loss at Ohio State appears to have been a cruising victory for the Buckeyes. What’s unbelievable is that Iowa showed some of their better defensive prowess this season in this game. It was seemingly a tale of two halves for the Buckeyes. Iowa’s defense limited the top-ranked Buckeye offense to just three of 13 on third down, forced two turnovers, and scored a defensive touchdown. Unfortunately, three interceptions, three fumbles, and 158 total yards by the offense did nothing to support the other end. The Buckeyes’ offense began to hit their stride in the second half and never looked back. Iowa scored just three offensive points in a 54-10 loss to Ohio State in the Horseshoe.

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Two minutes into the game, Joe Evans knocked down the Heisman-hopeful quarterback CJ Stroud, forcing the ball loose. Evans scooped it up and gave the Hawkeyes a 7-3 lead early in the matchup. The spark from the defense would set the tone for that side of the ball for the majority of the afternoon.

Iowa’s offensive turnovers gave Stroud and the nation’s top offense the ball inside the Hawkeye 35-yard line on four occasions in the first half. Ohio State was only able to turn them into four field goals. On those possessions, the Buckeyes were 0-5 on third-down tries. Iowa gave the Buckeyes confusing looks and forced two first-quarter timeouts inside the red zone on those possessions. At the half, Ohio State had 133 total yards and 26 points. Seven of those points came on a pick-six thrown by Spencer Petras late in the second quarter. The score wasn’t indicative of the defensive performance by Iowa in the first half. It was Ohio State’s worst first-half production in their five seasons under Ryan Day

On Ohio State’s five scoring drives in the first half, they had a mere 197 total yards available. That’s an average of just 39 yards available per possession. Not counting the pick-six, Ohio State scored just 19 points on Iowa’s defense in five tries despite needing less than 40 yards to reach the end zone per drive. Given the position that the Hawkeye defense was in all afternoon, they did almost everything a team can ask of them. Yet, Iowa was never in a position to win this game because of the continued ineptitude of the offense.

Play Calling Nightmare

The Hawkeyes had two weeks to put together a playbook for their trip to Ohio Stadium. On the first play from scrimmage, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz drew up a sprint-out pass to the left-hand side of the field. The play call targeted the tight end on an out route. The throw was never there. Petras delivered the ball directly into the hands of the Ohio State defense. Not only does this kind of play call eliminate half of the field as an option for Petras, but it also gives the defense a clear indication of the target. It’s just not the right play to give to a struggling quarterback in a raucous environment. His options were next to nothing, and it ended in disaster. 

Later in the first half, Iowa was in the midst of their only meaningful drive of the game. Petras led the offense 44 yards into Ohio State territory. On a crucial third and long at the Ohio State 30, the Hawkeye offense was moving with a legitimate chance to find the end zone. Instead, the play call was a screen pass to the outside, two yards behind the line of scrimmage. It resulted in a loss of one yard and forced a field goal. The risk-reward of this play is just not reasonable. At best, the throw gains a few yards on the outside and sets up a field goal. Worst case, the negative-yard throw pushes Iowa out of field goal position or results in a turnover. Luckily, Drew Stevens had the leg to punch it in from nearly 50 yards. But this kind of play calling, seen week in and week out, gives no indication of a sense of urgency or a “want-to” notion from the coaching staff.

Depleted Quarterback Room

It’s unfortunate that Petras continued to shoulder the downfall of the Iowa offense to this point of the season. The scheme, offensive line, and execution are not at a Power Five level at this time. Petras is continually put in a position where he, and the offense, cannot succeed. After Jack Campbell’s athletic interception near mid-field to begin the second half, Iowa took over in plus-territory. 

It was then, that Alex Padilla heard his name called for the first time in the season. The quick turnover, great field position, and quarterback change gave a glimmer of hope for the back half of the game. That would be short-lived. On his first snap of the season, Padilla fumbled the exchange and Ohio State took over. The Hawkeye defense did force a punt, but Padilla proceeded to throw an interception on the ensuing possession. Three offensive plays and two turnovers began the downfall of the rest of the game. Ohio State scored touchdowns on their next four possessions. Their 54 points were the most given up by the Hawkeyes in the Kirk Ferentz era.

The Downside is Coaching

Going back to the offensive coordinator’s comments last week regarding Padilla’s “upside”, it is easy to think that maybe there wasn’t any upside to Padilla. However, Padilla wasn’t ever in a position to succeed in this spot. He hadn’t seen the field for one snap all season. That’s despite the struggling quarterback, and offense as a whole, in Iowa’s six previous games. Building quarterback depth requires game experience. Not giving Padilla any reps on the season is not setting him up for success in a real game. Not to mention it being a competitive game situation inside Ohio Stadium at the time. When you couple this with Ferentz’s “what’s the upside [to Padilla]” comments, it’s detrimental to a quarterback’s confidence. This continued failure on offense with the change at quarterback doesn’t fall on the guy taking the snaps. This is a major shortcoming that should fall into the hands of the coaching staff.

Tale of Two Halves for Iowa at Ohio State

It’s difficult to find new ways to discuss the struggling Hawkeye offense every week. On 15 drives against Ohio State, three ended with an interception, three ended with a fumble, three with a turnover on downs, and five with punts. The one outlier was a field goal in the second quarter. 10 of the 15 possessions produced less than 10 total yards each. The Hawkeyes were one of 13 on third down and never reached the red zone. The six offensive turnovers were the most given up since the six they gave up against Indiana in 2009. Iowa will need to win three of its next five games to reach bowl eligibility. They return home next week to play a stingy Northwestern. It’s a team that’s given the Hawkeyes fits over the last handful of years, and it won’t be any different this time.