Yesterday was a break from looking at the Big Ten, as we gave you a look at the Bulls of USF. Have no fear though, as we’re back to talking B1G today with a look at our Heartland Trophy rivals — Iowa.
After a few years without the rivalry game, it was back to hating each other last year. For Wisconsin it was back to holding the trophy as winners, taking the first battle since 2010 in a 28-9 domination in Iowa City.
With Iowa and Wisconsin in the same division, this rivalry is about to heat up some more. So, let’s get a good luck at the Hawkeyes after this spring.
When All-Big Ten left tackle Brandon Scherff announced he would return to Iowa instead of enter the NFL draft, the prospects for success in 2014 went way up. Scherff is an All-American caliber player, but it also meant that there will be a veteran leader for this group in 2014. It also means that Iowa is going to be really, really good on the offensive and defensive lines this season.
Spring showcased just that, with Scherff being joined by juniors Austin Blythe (center) and Jordan Walsh (right guard) as returning starters. Most importantly though, Iowa found answers at right tackle and left guard this spring in Andrew Donnal and Sean Welsh.
On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa has all four starters from the end of the season returning. Oh, and defensive tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis both happen to be NFL-caliber players to deal with.
What the Hawkeyes showcased is that both lines are more than just the starters, as the second-team units flashed some brilliance in the limited amount the press was allowed to see before the spring game.
Iowa has experience at all the skill positions, but that experience may not be as quality as the rest of the division at this point. Running back Mark Weisman was a good story for awhile, but as he continued to take a pounding last season it became apparent that he needs help in order for the running game to take off.
Iowa was sixth in the conference in rushing last season, racking up 2,339 yards but only managing 18 touchdowns. That ranked as 10th in the league, showing a clear disconnect between attempts and true production.
Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri didn’t exactly set the world on fire this spring either, and Iowa needs to find some speed at running back, because Weisman can’t continue to take 25-30 carries a week and be productive. He’s best as a battering ram to someone else’s speed.
As for wide receiver, despite the experience of Kevonte Martin-Manley there was a severe lack of explosiveness in the passing game for the most part. Enter redshirt freshman Derrick Willies, who gives some hope to fans after a five reception, 142-yard performance in the spring game.
The question is, was that the best we’ll see from Willies, or is that a harbinger of things to come on a consistent basis? If the latter is true than Willies will be a true weapon for Iowa’s offense.
Biggest question mark:
What in the blue hell is going on at quarterback? It’s clear that the best passing option is starter Jake Rudock, but spring showed us that Iowa is experimenting with ways to get backup C.J. Beathard on the field.
Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette put it best when he called the quarterback situation more of a “something,” than a competition. Iowa isn’t exactly known for two-quarterback systems under head coach Kirk Ferentz, so this move brings more questions than answers.
“I’ll be clear about this,” Ferentz said. “Jake has really elevated his performance. He’s a better player than he was in January. When you have two players who you have confidence in, I think it makes sense to play them in a game. The tricky part is with quarterbacks, it’s a little bit different, but I think that’s realistic and it’s certainly something we’re going to talk about when we get back together football-wise in June.”
Iowa may have two talented quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean you will have success playing both of them. After all, the saying is — if you’ve got two quarterbacks, you’ve really got none.
Watching to see what happens with this “something” in the fall will be the most interesting part of camp leading to the season opener against Northern Iowa.
What it all means:
Most in the media will harp on the three 100-tackle linebackers Iowa must replace, but anyone who paid attention this spring saw a linebacking group that’s just fine. Iowa is going to be a very veteran team once again this fall, and that is to their advantage. What should scare Badger fans is just how deep and good Iowa is on both lines, and when that happens Iowa is a dangerous football team. This spring showed that there are also more playmakers at skill positions than the Hawkeyes had last season. Iowa won’t be an easy out; especially with this game the second of three-straight division games to end the season.