Relishing the grind

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The Daily Iowan

Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri catches a punt in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. Iowa State defeated Iowa, 20-17. (The Daily Iowan/Valerie Burke)

Jordan Hansen, [email protected]


For a team such as Iowa that’s built to run the ball and rely on the play-action game for its passing yards, gaining ground on first and second down to set up an easier third-down situation is important.The Hawkeyes average 4.9 yards per carry on first down and 6.09 yards on second down, a huge jump from the 4.06 and 4.39 they averaged on those downs, respectively, last season.

“Especially when we get pinned down with our back to our own end zone, it’s not like, ‘OK, we need to make a big play so we get out of here, get us down to score,’ ” running back Jordan Canzeri said. “It’s taking one play at time and knowing we can grind on and get the job done.”

Grinding out yards has been Iowa’s mantra all season and speaks to the basis of what it wants to do on offense — get a couple yards on first down, several more on the next play and be in a situation on third down where it doesn’t take much to move the chains. On second downs, Iowa has scored 17 touchdowns and has picked up 49 first downs — 25 by Canzeri — with its rushing attack.

In fact, it’s not a stretch to say the Hawkeyes are one of the best second-down rushing teams in the country. Those 17 touchdowns on second down rank No. 2 in the nation, while the 925 yards they’ve rumbled to on the ground ranks 11th.

“We’re just trying to hit those goals we set for ourselves, which is being good on first and second down,” center Austin Blythe said. “Getting into those third-and-shorts allows Coach [Greg] Davis to call really good plays and us to execute them.”

As Blythe said, a bonus that comes along with short-yardage third-down plays is the variety of calls it gives coordinators and coaches to make. Iowa has had a good mix this season, passing for 38 first downs on third and running for 32.

It has worked — Iowa has converted 46.75 percent of its third-down conversions, second in the Big Ten and tied for 18th nationally.
“We put an emphasis on that this off-season,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “Our goal was to get at least 4 to 5 yards on first down and stay ahead of the chains. Then when you get to a third-and-short or a third-and-medium — which aren’t too hard to get — you get a better chance of converting those than you do third-and-long.”

When Iowa does get in a third-down passing situation, Beathard and his receivers have been good.

On third and 7 or more yards, Beathard is 23-of-49 for 457 yards, 2 touchdowns, no picks, and 20 first downs. It’s not perfect, but Iowa’s third-and-long attempts are in the bottom quarter of the Big Ten, a good sign.

Regardless, the Hawkeyes have been winning the early downs, something that very likely is a direct contributor to their success this season.

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