The Day After: Hawkeyes Get Through Last Two Weeks

John Bohnenkamp

Iowa's 20-0 win over Northwestern was a defensive show.

So was the 26-20 victory over Purdue two weeks ago.

It's time for the Hawkeyes, though, to begin attacking on offense, because they're going to need that in the coming weeks.

Iowa is off this week, the second bye week of the season. After that comes a road trip to Wisconsin and a home game against Minnesota. Win both, and the Hawkeyes are in excellent position to grab the Big Ten West Division title. Lose one, and it would take a rather large series of events to get to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

The Hawkeyes have gotten by the last two weeks without a lot of offensive production, but that's because the defense has been so good.

Iowa's defense already has two shutouts this season. Those came against Rutgers and Northwestern, the two lowest-scoring teams in the conference, but a shutout is a shutout.

The Hawkeyes had 302 yards of offense and a season-low 12 first downs against Northwestern. They had 362 yards of offense against Purdue.

Iowa is going to have to attack more against Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Badgers' defense had four shutouts in the first six games of the season, but allowed 24 in a loss to Illinois and 38 in Saturday's defeat at Ohio State. Minnesota's defense has allowed 24 points in the last three games after allowing an average of 27.2 points in the first five games.

The Hawkeyes certainly have the pieces to put up points.

They miss Brandon Smith in the passing game, but Tyrone Tracy Jr. made up for that on Saturday with two catches for 88 yards, including a spin after the reception of a Nate Stanley pass that he turned into a 50-yard touchdown. Ihmir Smith-Marsette is catching anything thrown his way — he had another one-hander on Saturday.

We even saw more of the tight ends — Sam LaPorta had two catches for 43 yards and Shaun Beyer had an 11-yard reception on fourth-and-8.

The Hawkeyes are blocking better. They survived a blitz on the Tracy reception, with running back Tyler Goodson picking up a key block, something his mother advised him to do.

Tracy also had a block that sprung Beyer on his reception.

Goodson got free in the second half for 56 of his 58 rushing yards. Mekhi Sargent had 46 yards on 15 carries, including a touchdown.

Stanley wasn't at his best on Saturday — he was 12-of-26 for 179 yards — but he was only sacked once, and that came on the first possession of the game.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has leaned on his defense a lot in the last two games. He's played a field-position game in both, which can be maddening to the fan base, but they have been the right calls.

The Hawkeyes will have to challenge the Badgers and Gophers. Ferentz isn't about to go all riverboat-gambler, but those games will be about making the most of opportunities.

Iowa is good enough defensively to win both. The Hawkeyes have to be better offensively.

The pieces are there.

Other takeaways from the weekend:

Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta gets away from Northwestern's Greg Newsome II in Saturday's game.
Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta gets away from Northwestern's Greg Newsome II.Matt Marton/USA Today Sports

This LaPorta fellow...

Getting back to LaPorta, Saturday may have been a coming-out party.

He had a great grab of Stanley's throw on the 41-yarder, and his run-after-catch got Iowa away from its own end zone — the play came on second-and-6 from the Hawkeyes' 6-yard line.

It's unknown how long Nate Wieting will be out with the injury he suffered in practice last week. LaPorta, at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds, is a true freshman, but there were signs on Saturday that he's going to get more playing time.

The pass rush

Iowa had five sacks on Saturday. That's a good sign for the defensive line.

It's a group that hasn't necessarily struggled. Iowa's strength against the run game starts up front, but the linemen have wanted to be more influential in the pass rush.

You're seeing that more and more lately.

Get healthy

The bye weeks have separated Iowa's season into chunks of three games, five games, and four games.

The first one, that came before the meat of Big Ten play started, helped get left tackle Alaric Jackson and defensive backs like Riley Moss healthy to the point where they can be key contributors again.

The same can be said for this bye week.

It would be nice to get middle linebacker Kristian Welch back soon, although Dillon Doyle stepped into that role and had a team-high seven tackles on Saturday.

The same can be said for Wieting and offensive lineman Justin Britt, who also missed Saturday's game.

And there are the usual bruises that are around at this point of the season — nothing serious, just nagging.

Ferentz hinted on Saturday that there would be some extra time off this week. The Hawkeyes need that.

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