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Hawkeyes have been money in red zone

[ 2 ] October 27, 2011 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — When it comes to the red zone, Iowa is … ka-ching … money-like green.

But stopping opponents on third down, it’s … oops … another day deeper in debt.

“I guess what you can say is that we’ve stopped people when it’s counted,” said defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who will try to do that again during Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game at 1-6 Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes’ confounding tale of contrasting statistics includes:

Iowa leading the Big Ten Conference in red zone offense, scoring 96.3 percent of the time the Hawkeyes are within 20 yards of the end zone. That’s ninth nationally, but …

Iowa also sits last in the conference in third-down defense, and ahead of just eight schools in the nation, with opponents converting 50.9 percent of the time, but …

Iowa is good when it counts with a red zone defense against which opponents have scored just 71.0 percent of the time — second-stingiest in the conference and ninth nationally.

“It’s nothing really magical,” said quarterback James Vandenberg, obviously speaking from an offensive perspective. “We’ve got a number of ways to get the job done.”

Iowa has run 75 plays within 20 yards of the end zone during its 5-2 season — 51 rushes, 17 passes and seven successful field goals.

“It’s about guys stepping up the tempo when we get close to scoring,” tailback Marcus Coker said. “We play harder than we ever have before when we get close to scoring.”

Coker has been Iowa’s red zone money player, averaging 3.8 yards a carry on 34 rushes for 128 yards while scoring eight of the Hawkeyes’ 17 touchdowns within the 20.

“We’ve got to finish drives,” Coker said, “and so far, we’ve done it pretty well.”

Iowa faces a defense Saturday against which opponents have scored on 17 of 21 red zone possessions.

“We’re building a program,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who replaced fired Tim Brewster. “I’ve said all along this is not going to happen overnight.”

Iowa has scored on 26 of 27 opportunities and the miss was all about generosity: The Hawkeyes ran out the clock three yards from the end zone on the final play of a 34-7 season-opening win against Tennessee Tech.

“We’ve been versatile,” said Vandenberg, who has completed 11 of his 15 red zone passes. “We’ve rushed with the backs, I’ve done a couple naked boots, and we’ve passed a little.

“That’s pretty good balance.”

Vandenberg spreads the wealth, with five of his completions landing in the hands of Marvin McNutt, three to Keenan Davis, two to Kevonte Martin-Manley, and one to tight end Brad Herman.

Red zone defense? Another story.

While the Hawkeyes are in the zone on offense, they’re out of it when opponents threaten.

Iowa has given up scores on 22 of 31 opponent red zone possessions — way too many, according to defensive end Broderick Binns.

“We can play better,” said Binns, the Minneapolis native. “We will play better.”

Opponents have run 109 plays in the red zone — including 61 rushes, and 22-of-39 passing.

The other plays have produced five field goals, two missed field goals and two Iowa interceptions.

“They’ve been moving the ball up and down the field pretty readily on us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But down there close to the end zone — we’ve been pretty fortunate there.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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