Football: Short gains lead to big plays for Iowa against Northern Iowa

The use of short plays early in Saturday’s game helped Iowa set up bigger, more explosive players later on.

There was frustration throughout the Iowa fan base during the second quarter of Iowa’s 31-23 win over Northern Iowa on Aug. 30. Jake Rudock would drop back, look downfield, check down, and throw the ball into the flat or across the middle.

Even Marvin McNutt, who knows a thing or two about explosive plays, wasn’t pleased. The former Iowa wide receiver took to Twitter to voice his disapproval with Rudock’s decision making.

“I feel like he has no trust in our receivers,” read the harshest Tweet from McNutt.

However, the junior quarterback said he wasn’t intentionally passing short. Rudock was, as he put it, taking what the defense was giving him the majority of the time.

“Sometimes they look open to everybody else but the window I have might be a little different,” Rudock said. “I’m sure there’s guys I missed. I’m sure I missed a few, that kind of happens every game.”

It was in Iowa’s longest drive of the day — a 17-play, 79-yard drive that chewed up over seven minutes — that a lot of the short passes came from the Weston, Florida native’s hand.

That drive was successful, as Rudock completed 6-of-9 throws for 49 yards. It was later in the afternoon, during another scoring drive, that the downfield plays McNutt wanted took place.

In the fourth quarter, Rudock dropped and went through his reads and threw the ball downfield to a streaking Derrick Willies. The redshirt freshman was wide open as he ran down the middle of the field because the safety covering LeShun Daniels Jr., out of the backfield collided with the defender covering Willies.

It initially looked like Rudock may have put a tad too much juice on the pass, and overthrew a golden target.

Instead, Willies used every inch of his 6-4 frame to haul in the pass for a 46-yard gain. Had he caught it in stride, he would have walked in for a touchdown, but instead stumbled to the 8-yard line.

“That was a big play, I feel like he was very confident today,” Kevonte Martin-Manley said on Saturday. “[Willies is] a good player, but it was his first time playing in that environment and that atmosphere. That was big moving forward.”

Two plays later, Rudock hit Damond Powell — another explosive receiver — on a tunnel screen for a 12-yard score. It was just one instance of the Iowa quarterback utilizing the many weapons at his disposal.

There were the two aforementioned plays, as well as Tevaun Smith’s end-around that went for a 35-yard gain to set up his six-yard touchdown grab a few plays later.

After Willies’ catch, much of the frustration turned into relief — and McNutt’s into an ‘I told you so’ moment.

“See what happens when the ball is thrown downfield,” his tweet read.

As the game progressed, those explosive plays led to touchdowns and success for the Hawkeyes. Both ways can work, Smith said.

But against Northern Iowa, the shorter gains early on set up the big ones later.

“We told [offensive coordinator Greg Davis] upstairs and he said ‘Alright, we’ll open it up a little bit,’” Smith said. “When those shots worked we continued to take more … [short passes] tend to open things up.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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