This is a pretty big season for Iowa football and head coach Kirk Ferentz. The long-time Hawkeye head man has proven in the past that he can turn things around when times are tough.
He may never have been in a tougher situation in his tenure at Iowa than he is in right now.
Coming off a 6-7 season in 2011 and then the disappointing 4-8 campaign last year, Ferentz finds himself in a sticky situation around Hawkeye Nation.
No one in and around the program truly believes that his job is in jeopardy, but it is time for the Hawkeyes to put up or shut up this season.
And one of the swing games to a successful season is right off the bat against Northern Illinois on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Here are some things to watch when the Hawkeyes take on the Huskies this weekend.
The biggest issue with last year’s abysmal offense was the passing game under new Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis. It was not all the QB’s fault, but the QB is ultimately the guy that gets most of the blame. If the Hawkeyes plan to turn things around this season, the passing game will have to compliment what is expected to be a very formidable running game.
Rudock, a sophomore, will play in his first-ever collegiate game after winning the quarterback battle against redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard and junior college transfer Cody Sokol.
“I think what you expect a quarterback to do differs based upon experience and that type of thing, what you ask a quarterback to do,” said Ferentz. “But it’s hard to play I think no matter what style of offense you have, unless you just have like 10 dominant players at the other positions. But it’s really hard to win without good quarterback play.”
The weakest link to last year’s defense was definitely the line. Iowa held leads in a lot of games last year but suffered several close losses because the defense wore down late in games.
Some of that was directly due to the defensive line not getting pressure on the opposing quarterback, which made everyone work harder on the back seven.
If Iowa’s defense is going to stop some prolific offenses that they will face this year, then the defensive line will have to perform better.
Guys like Carl Davis and Darian Cooper need to have break-out seasons, Dominic Alvis needs to bounce back from his injury and redshirt freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie need to become household names at season’s end. Louis Trinca-Pasat needs to just do what he did last year as he was one of the few bright spots up front.
“I think we’re gaining ground, but it’s going to be a great test,” Ferentz said of the matchup with Northern Illinois this weekend. “I think the one thing about Northern Illinois, if you just focus on the quarterback you’re missing the boat. There’s three years of success there. There’s more than three years, but the last three years, tough to match those numbers.
“This is going to be a quite a test. We’ve got more tests coming, too; I know that. But this one right off the bat is going to be a real challenge for our guys up front.”
There is expected to be plenty of sweat dripping off the players and coaches on the field and the fans in the stands, so battling through the excessive hot temperatures could be a factor.
The Hawkeyes should do plenty of running the football and will try to wear down the Huskies. Having the heat in the mix could only help in that process.
“Our guys have trained in heat and they’ve played in heat,” Ferentz said. “It’s a factor, but it’s a little bit like rain or snow. It’s going to be equal for us as it is for them. It’s just one of those things you deal with.”
Wrinkles on offense
Several offensive players have said this preseason that the offense will have a few wrinkles this season that fans aren’t used to seeing.
It has made its way to message boards and social media and the fans are excited to see what’s in store.
I think a big plus this season with the passing game is the hiring of Bobby Kennedy, who worked with Davis when both were at Texas. Kennedy knows what Davis wants with the wide receivers, which could allow them to throw in a few wrinkles.
The team has also hinted that they are going to try some no-huddle or up-tempo style of offense. The heat may throw a wrench in those plans, but fans should be aware that a few new things may be shown on the offensive side of the ball.
“I think all the players are very comfortable,” Ferentz said about the team’s knowledge of the offense this year. “You can talk to them today. “But I think we’re a lot further down the road on that one, and that’s a good thing.”
The Huskies quarterback is being talked about as a potential Heisman candidate after leading Northern Illinois to a BCS bowl last season.
Lynch threw for upwards of 3,800 yards and 25 scores last season and ran for another 1,800 on the ground with 19 touchdowns. He’s dynamic in true dual-threat way and could create lot of issues for the Hawkeyes.
The good news is that the projected No. 1 starter at running back – Akeem Daniels – will not play because of injury. His replacement has just one career carry.
Wide Receiver play
As stated earlier, the passing game left a lot to be desired last year and part of the issue was the lack of separation the wideouts were getting off the line of scrimmage.
With the addition of junior college transfer Damond Powell, the offense should get better. Throw in the experience of Kevonte Martin-Manley as well as Jordan Cotton and Tevaun Smith, and the passing game has the potential to be great.
Not sure what kind of role Don Shumpert plays on this year’s team. He is listed as the starter ahead of Powell, but Shumpert has had a history of dropping passes.
One thing is for sure. The position – along with a loaded set of tight ends – is loaded with talent. The only challenge now is calling the right plays at the right time to put the pass catchers in position to make plays.
Iowa fans should expect Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and LaShun Daniels to be the primary ball carriers this season, but Bullock and Canzeri also have chances to be featured in the passing game as slot receivers.
“If we had 10 it would be great, but I don’t know what we’ll do,” Ferentz said when asked how many receivers he would like to play. “I think you guys probably know the names, who’s going to be in there. It’s just how it all shakes out. It’s a little bit like everything else, depending on how they’re doing in the game.”