|Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports|
Defense: 4-3 Over (Under mixed in) mostly 2-high safeties as it's always been.
The offensive line seemed inconsistent to me. They really struggled to seal the back side of the play to allow RBs to cut back and get vertical consistently. The front side was a little more productive, typically the left side being better than the right side for obvious reasons, but even then they missed a few targets and allowed LBs to flow pretty cleanly.
Pass protection was typically solid, but Pittsburgh wasn't blitzing a lot due to the run heaviness of Iowa.
I really don't think Rudock got any help from his receivers. His INT was just about a perfect throw, he also had a TE drop one that hit him in the gut. I thought, for the most part, his accuracy was good, arm strength was good enough. Where he struggled, IMO, was his eyes and getting to the right spot in his progressions on time. Missed a open bench route that should have been his first or second read in his progression (based on defensive key) that lead to Iowa's first punt, for instance.
Beathard might have a little bit better arm strength, though his ball wobbles a bit more. But where he separated himself to me was that he tended to see the field better. Not always on time, but he got the ball where it needed to be eventually. With such a run heavy offense, a lot of the routes will be slower developing, so at least getting it where it needs to be is a good thing, or at least a significant enough improvement.
At the end of the day, I'd have to see the two of them more regularly to make up my mind on who I'd prefer though, this is a small sample size without much separation.
Iowa lacks a burner at RB or a guy that can really make you pay in a hole. Despite that, they tend to be fairly consistent. They seem to prefer to put their head down rather than find the hole sometimes, but at the end of the day they churn their feet well and fight to get forward and extra yardage, and in such a system, that is important to maintain consistency and to stay on track with regards to down and distance.
Run Game Play Calling
I don't want to really get into the overall conservative nature of the scheme (though Iowa went for it on 4th down numerous times in this game), but instead focus on some tendencies and some areas to improve.
The first Iowa TD was a cool set up. On that drive Iowa was almost completely in 22 personnel. Twice they passed on play action with the TE and wing to the boundary. Pretty much every other play they motioned the wing from the short side to the wide side of the field and ran to the field with success. When they got to 4th down, Iowa motioned the wing to the wide side of the field and ran play action off of it. The TE went vertical as he would in a run block, the WR ran a spot route which looks similar to a crack block, as he'd do on a run play. Nice play design and a nice job breaking tendency.
When Pittsburgh got to the sideline they adjusted their front a little bit to take away some of the runs to the field. Iowa then hit them with a few boundary runs with success, where the Pittsburgh CB was forced to play Cloud force. Pittsburgh occasionally played sky force and inverted the CB and safety, but not often. Pittsburgh then went back to how they started.
And this is where I started having issues with the QBs not checking to the correct side of the formation. In Pittsburgh's alignment, they would generally have 4.5 or 5 defenders for 5 blockers to the boundary. On the flip side, they'd have 3 to 3.5 defenders to the field for 5 blockers. Both directions can theoretically be blocked, so you don't want to get into a game where you're always checking to advantaged numbers, because then Pittsburgh can simply slant you to change the numbers post snap, but you want to force the Panthers to make that call.
Iowa kept running into the boundary despite less of a numbers advantage, and they didn't pick up many yards doing so. On the flip side, they picked up yards consistently running to the field. There needs to be better communication to the QB for when he can flip the run to the field and away from the boundary on certain looks that, even if the Panthers try to slant, will still see their numbers sealed backside.
Pittsburgh was targeting SDE Mike Hardy all day, and occasionally WDE Meier as well, and both had an awful day, getting handled and pushed out easily repeatedly. Iowa really seemed to struggle against the Power O scheme, but the DEs weren't holding up to the doubles and were getting crashed inside the LBs repeatedly. On zone plays they got kicked out and lost leverage way too easily. This was a weakness that Pittsburgh attacked regularly, mostly in the direction of Hardy (or Ott when he came in) that needs to get cleaned up if Iowa wants to improve their run defense.
Carl Davis was a strong anchor at the NT position, and didn't get moved much with doubles. I thought he performed well. Trinca-Pasat I thought was much less consistent. He did a good job against zone runs getting his helmet across the blocker and under control so that he couldn't get washed down, but I thought on man blocking schemes he struggled a bit more and allowed some movement. They did look good on a TNT stunt from an Under front that got pressure on the QB on a third down.
To me, it seemed like the LBs were not playing well as a unit. For one, they really, really struggled getting off of blocks in this game, they just were not able to control blockers and shed and make plays consistently and when they weren't shooting gaps they were often catching blockers instead of initiating contact. Likewise, they often times weren't on the same page. You see flashes because they shoot a lot of gaps, but they also take themselves out of a lot of plays, shoot the wrong gaps and get caught in the wash, or don't get the correct leverage within the gap. Alston a lot of the time just seemed to stick his head in there and hope the ball would come his way. He was shooting gaps left and right and took himself out of as many plays as plays he made. They don't consistently take the right angles either, often times going way too vertical and then getting caught up in the wash when they try to fight back across. They need to understand reads better and need to work as a unit so you aren't shooting gaps and becoming gap unsound. Forced way too many safeties to have to make tackles.
Inconsistent. That's really all you can say. Flashes of great coverage, tight as can be. And flashes of poor footwork allowing receivers to get way too much separation out of breaks. It's mostly a two-high defense as it's almost always been, they understand the leverage and coverage pretty well, it really just needs to be more consistent down-to-down. Perhaps it was an opponent thing, because they were running so much, sometimes that throws you off your rhythm a bit, but it just wasn't up to the consistency level that it needs to be.