This is likely not to be a regular column but one that is only presented when I feel there was something worth noting from the prior week(s)' performance; whether it be good or bad.
So let's start with this question: is it too early to start wondering what Courtney Messingham is doing?
Before you immediately answer that we need to start reading a little bit between the lines to discuss what the offense is doing well, what it's not doing well, and what it's doing terribly. It's hard to criticize an offense that racked up 441 yards of total offense against Tulsa and 342 against Iowa in Kinnick Stadium. At this point the only real argument that I have is that this team lacks something that the early 2011-12 men's basketball team did: a killer instinct.
In both games this season the offense has shown an innate ability to allow other teams to hang around as the game wears on. The 3rd quarter of the Tulsa game was used to establish the run but when Tulsa scored early in the 4th quarter we were just begging for that play that would seal the deal. Instead we got two punts from midfield and the icing touchdown that was set up by Deon Broomfield's interception return inside the Tulsa 10.
Again on Saturday it appeared this team should be blowing the doors off Kinnick Stadium but the result was three three and outs in seven drives in the 2nd half. Two other drives resulted in turnovers in the red zone and the other two were punts from around midfield. Naturally it can't be expected to come away with points on every drive, so let's just focus on the two drives where we should have had points but gave the ball away instead.
Our offense made it so easy for Iowa to cheat inside the 10-yard line that it allowed for the three turnovers to happen in the first place. The play calling was conservative (rush, rush, pass nearly every time), lacked creativity (most runs inside the 10 were read plays), and all together incredibly predictable. The two fumbles can be directly attributed to Iowa cheating on the run and being in the backfield almost immediately after the hand-off. Even Shontrelle's fumble can be attributed to being pressured immediately and strung out to the sidelines. Jantz's 4th quarter interception was all too easy for Iowa. After shutting down the run the first two plays they knew a 3rd down pass would be coming and linebacker James Morris sat underneath and watched Jantz's read the whole way.
This isn't all on the play calling though. There was more than one play where James White took a hand-off designed to go between the center and guard and tried to take it off tackle. Even Chuck Long called him out on a hand-off inside the 10 that he had a window for a few yards, ignored it, and lost two yards going off tackle. White fumbled on the very next play.
So where do we go from here? It's easy to sit here on Monday morning and pick on something like the play calling but when a fundamental piece of the equation is missing I think it doesn't take Bear Bryant to comment on it. That fundamental piece: the play action pass. It existed between the 20s and sometimes resulted in beautiful plays like Jantz's pass to Aaron Horne on the sidelines. With Iowa committing seven, sometimes eight, to to stop the run in the red zone it was imperative to make them pay with a little play action. Especially to a match up problem type of guy like Ernst Brun. But we never saw it.
Let's be fair to Messingham though. This early in the year I feel he is an upgrade over Tom Herman largely because of how efficient the offense has looked at times and how Jantz has developed over the off season. Both games I felt that Messingham had a solid game plan and made adjustments where necessary. The route running and routes in general have clearly improved under receivers coach Todd Sturdy. The offensive line bought Jantz so much time in the first half on Saturday that had one of those deep passes hit this game would have been a blow out. I felt the play calling between the 20s on Saturday was good most of the game and even great on certain drives. Even the conservative, McCarney-ball type of rushing in the 4th quarter isn't enough to make me take away from how this team came out on the first drive and moved the ball down field while taking intelligent strikes while in one-on-one coverage.
I still have concerns with how this offense will fare against Big XII competition but at this point the offense needs to perfect the little things in certain parts of their process and with the bye week looming there will be no better time to reevaluate and fix.
All this hand wringing about the offense, so what about the defense? No news is good news here. The defense once again looked like it could be a bear in some games this season. Jake McDonough looks like he could be a force in the middle and the defensive line rotation is again paying dividends late in the game. Iowa did a good job with screen passes and getting the ball away quickly, but Wally and company adjusted to take away the former. Credit to Greg Davis for the short, quick passes on the final drive to help keep James Vandenberg upright.
Jake Knott. There's no comment to make.
The secondary once again showed their continued improvement despite their relative lack of starting experience. Jansen Watson was rarely beat and stripped the ball the one time he truly was. Both Durrell Givens and Jacques Washington are doing great sitting in center field, which can only be accomplished when the front seven are playing as well as they are.
Don't worry about Edwin Arceo. That missed extra point was just an awful kick. I think he's still going to do more good than bad for us this season.
It really is hard to nitpick things when you're 2-0 and having a good outlook for the rest of September but if this team hopes to compete seriously in the Big XII they have certain areas to improve on. They can take a big step this week by jumping on Western Illinois early and not letting off until late in the game. Looking forward to it and hopefully I won't be writing one of these columns next week.
Hopefully I'm not off base in my evaluations, so please feel free to provide your insights from the past two weeks in the comments.