Iowa Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Central Michigan Game
It turns out the whole is not always greater than the sum of its parts.
In Iowa's loss against Central Michigan the individual performances failed to illuminate the end result, which was an unmitigated embarrassment for the 2012 Hawkeyes and their beleaguered conference.
Any lingering optimism around the Iowa football program coming into the week has certainly evaporated after watching a MAC team coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons with a head coach on the hot seat celebrate in the Kinnick Stadium end zone.
The Hawkeyes got enough solid individual performances to win, but fell painfully short in crucial situations and showed a striking lack of discipline, racking up 106 penalty yards, including a 15-yard personal foul that set up Central Michigan's 47-yard game-winning field goal.
Let's break down the production Iowa received from individuals on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback: James Vandenberg
As per usual, the player bound to receive the lion's share of vitriol from frustrated Hawkeye fans is Vandenberg.
In many ways, Saturday was a microcosm of Vandenberg's entire tenure as Iowa's starting quarterback.
Vandenberg started hot, completing his first nine pass attempts, including his first touchdown pass of the season to cap a very impressive and efficient opening drive.
It didn't last.
Throughout the final three quarters Vandenberg endured many struggles that have become typical—inconsistency, erratic passes, poor reads and shaky decision-making.
On a day when the offensive line dominated and the running back averaged eight yards per carry, Central Michigan spent a lot of time in the second half stacking the box with eight or nine men in an attempt to slow the running game and make Vandenberg beat them.
In other words, the defensive adjustment was to respect a walk-on fullback and take their chances with a fifth-year senior quarterback with a full season of starts under his belt.
Perhaps the most revealing example of the passing game's struggles came on a third-and-five situation in which the coaches decided to line up in the Power I formation and run up the middle, despite nine Central Michigan defenders playing in the box.
That is not the decision of a coaching staff that has a lot of faith in their senior leader.
Emotional fans will blast Vandenberg and say he's terrible. He's not; he's just average.
Running Back: Mark Weisman
On Iowa's second possession of the game, Weisman fumbled in the shadow of their own goal post, leading to an easy Central Michigan field goal.
It would be the final time all afternoon he appeared human.
Paramount Pictures could have saved themselves about $100 million on the Robocop remake by bringing their production crew to Kinnick Stadium to simply capture footage of Weisman blowing up the Central Michigan defense. No special effects necessary.
Weisman made it perfectly clear that he deserves to be an integral part of the running game regardless of the health of the backs originally listed ahead of him. Whether it is Bullock, Canzeri, or Garmon that returns first, Weisman should at least serve as the thunder in a "thunder and lightning" dual-threat package.
The bad news is Iowa has a team capable of wasting a 200-yard effort. The good news is they found a punishing back capable of racking up 200 yards.
Fullback: Brad Rogers
It's been a weird couple weeks for Brad Rogers.
After returning from injury, Rogers lost his starting position to some unknown walk-on named Mark Weisman. Every time you looked at the two-deep roster and saw Rogers still behind Weisman you assumed he must not be completely healthy.
Turns out that Weisman character could actually play a little.
This week Rogers found himself back in his familiar starting fullback role, but he was acting as a lead blocker for the guy who originally replaced him.
Rogers played well and was a critical part of the successful Hawkeye running attack, including a great block that lead to Weisman pushing an off-balance linebacker five yards into the end zone.
There is a terribly unfair blanket of anonymity that comes with being an offensive lineman. Unfair in that it only exists in the context of a job well done. If you fail, on the other hand, everyone learns your name.
For the second consecutive week the Iowa offensive line didn't just do their job, they were exceptional. Yet while Mark Weisman rises to cult status, the offensive linemen who have given him room to operate remain relatively unknown.
There were occasional penalties, but no drive killers. Weisman averaged eight yards per carry and Vandenberg stayed upright all afternoon.
You can blame a lot of people for Iowa's loss, but not James Ferentz, Brandon Scherff, Matt Tobin, Austin Blythe or Brett Van Sloten.
Now, as is usually the case with Iowa linemen, you will probably not hear their names again until they are seen holding a defensive lineman or a jersey next to Roger Goodell.
Receivers and Tight End
This has been a much-maligned group in the early going, especially after a loss to Iowa State in which receivers and tight ends repeatedly dropped catchable passes in big situations.
The passing game saw mixed results in the loss to Central Michigan, but the performance of the receiving corp continued to show signs of life when targeted properly.
Davis caught six passes for 88 yards, many of which required him to adjust to passes thrown off-target. The game's opening play was a 38-yard pass to Davis on which he laid out to make a spectacular catch and establish early momentum for the offense.
Davis appeared to lose sight of a catchable pass in the second half, but for most of the day he ran clean routes and gave Vandenberg a great target and was rarely hit in-stride.
KMM caught five passes, one of which is Iowa's only receiving touchdown of the season. He continues to be a threat to make something happen after the catch.
He was flagged for a false start early in the game, but was otherwise strong. Perhaps his biggest opportunity was when CMU sent a blitz, leaving KMM wide open. Unfortunately Vandenberg was locked on Davis and missed what would have been Martin-Manley's second touchdown reception of the game.
Fiedorowicz remains the most difficult player on the roster to figure out. Just when it appears he is going to explode and produce results to match his physical gifts, he blends into the background.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact issues that are keeping him from developing into the player many expect him to become.
Maybe his quarterback is failing to get him the ball, maybe he isn't running routes as clean as he needs to in order to get open, maybe he is not being used properly in the overall offensive scheme. The latter is easy to presume when on a 3rd-and-long against CMU the ball was thrown to him behind the line of scrimmage.
Gaglione's play that will be remembered most by fans unable to cleanse the CMU debacle from their mind will undoubtedly be his 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty that set up the 47-yard game-winning field goal.
That his costly penalty will overshadow everything preceding it is unfortunate, because up to that point, Gaglione had played perhaps his best game in a Hawkeye uniform.
For a defensive line that has struggled to pressure quarterbacks and make plays in the backfield, Gaglione made several critical tackles, including a sack.
The validity of his unsportsmanlike penalty will be debated by fans, but a senior has to exercise better discipline in such a critical spot.
While Gaglione was having one of his finest games, Alvis didn't have his name called too often. He assisted on two tackles and didn't appear to make any glaring mistakes, but wasn't a game-changer either.
Both starting defensive linemen continue to give admirable effort and seem to be improving with every week, which is the most you can reasonably ask of an inexperienced unit that entered the season with more questions than answers.
One thing to keep an eye on will be the development of Carl Davis. The big man saw more action on Saturday and displayed some of the skill that should have him in the mix for a starting spot down the road.
Bigach contributed on one of the two sacks by the Hawkeye defense, though it was his only tackle on the day.
Trinca-Pasat was a little more active, as far as the stat sheet was concerned.
He was in on three tackles, including a solo tackle for loss in which he dropped the CMU running back three yards deep in the backfield.
WLB: Anthony Hitchens
Hitchens fought through an early injury to have a very productive day for the Hawkeye defense, leading the way with 14 tackles.
Six of his tackles were unassisted, including one of Iowa's few tackles for loss.
The Iowa defense tightened up a bit in the second half, following a 23-point first half from CMU. Hitchens was a big part of that with his open-field tackling and coming up to make plays on third down to get the ball back in the hands of the Iowa offense.
MLB: James Morris
Perhaps the best way to gauge a player's value is to see and feel the reaction of the fanbase when that player comes out of a game with an injury.
Morris is the undisputed leader of the Iowa defense, which caused more than a few Hawkeye fans to cover their eyes as he went to the sideline holding his lower back.
When he returned, Morris was his typical workmanlike self. He notched 12 tackles and contributed on one of the Hawkeye sacks as well as one of their very few quarterback hurries.
It's difficult to call any one player on a bad team indispensable, but with his toughness and leadership, Morris is the guy the Iowa defense can least afford to lose.
OLB: Christian Kirksey
Kirksey was not great, but he wasn't bad.
He missed a couple tackles, once getting juked in the open-field when a tackle could have stopped CMU from gaining the yardage needed for a first down. On the other hand, he came up and made a couple big hits in the second half which helped the defense establish momentum.
The linebackers are Iowa's greatest strength on their side of the ball, and that is due in part to the play of Christian Kirksey.
Historically, this is a difficult group to assess within the Iowa defensive scheme. The bend-don't-break style Iowa plays is generally unflattering to the individuals within the defensive backfield.
That said, CMU was beat the Iowa defense to the tune of 283 yards and two touchdowns, including one with 45 seconds remaining when senior Micah Hyde was beaten in one-on-one coverage.
The Hawkeyes defensive backfield made tackles, and came up to make a few plays around the line of scrimmage, but in typical fashion, they failed to disrupt the CMU passing game to any significant degree.
Micah Hyde - Cornerback
Before the late touchdown that put CMU in position to snake-bite the Hawkeyes, Hyde played a pretty good game. Along with Hitchens, he lead the team with 14 tackles, including one for loss. He also had a key pass break-up on third down and downed a punt at the one yard line on special teams.
The reality of his otherwise nice day is that he fell short at exactly the wrong time. He played the ball aggressively and it didn't work out. No one play loses a game like this, but I'm sure Hyde will be replaying that one in his mind for some time.
B.J. Lowery - Cornerback
It was a relatively rough day at the office for Lowery.
He was flagged for pass interference and got turned around so badly on CMU's first touchdown the BTN cameras could barely pan out far enough to see who blew the coverage.
Tom Donatell - Strong Safety
Donatell was in on eight tackles including one for loss. He didn't break up any passes, but that is not overly shocking because, well, Iowa doesn't break up many passes.
Tanner Miller - Free Safety
Miller's stat sheet looks strikingly similar to Donatell's. He was in on seven tackles and had a solo tackle for loss.