Previewin' the B1G: Iowa

By Kyle Rowland on June 29, 2014 at 6:00a
16 Comments

Just when you count Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes out, they always seem to say, “Hey, we’re still here.” In 2013, that statement came in the form of an 8-5 record, wins over Michigan and Nebraska and close losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and LSU. In a throwback to the first decade of the 2000s, Iowa is once again a favorite in the Big Ten.

The new divisional alignment has made the East top heavy and the West wide open. Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska are all contenders to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. If the Hawkeyes make their maiden voyage to Indianapolis, chances are it’ll be on the arm – and brain – of quarterback Jake Rudock.

Think Craig Krenzel. The style might be different, but the schooling is similar. Rudock, an Academic All-American, is a microbiology/pre-med major who completed nearly 60 percent of his passes last season for 2,383 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. And that was in his first season as a starter.

Experience and intelligence could set him on a path for stardom in Year 2. Iowa’s schedule sets up nicely – no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, and the two toughest games – Nebraska and Wisconsin – are in Iowa City.

Not only has Rudock settled into his role; together, he and third-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis have developed a rapport and familiarity with one another. Continuity has been a theme of Ferentz’s 15-year tenure at Iowa, contributing to the program’s multiple Big Ten titles, 11 bowl games and more than 100 victories. But rough patches in 2011 and ’12 led to staff changes.

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent
8/30 Northern Iowa
9/6 Ball State
9/13 Iowa State
9/20 @ Pitt
9/27 @ Purdue
10/11 Indiana
10/18 @ Maryland
11/1 Northwestern
11/8 @ Minnesota
11/15 @ Illinois
11/22 Wisconsin
11/28 Nebraska

Now, two years after Davis arrived, the Iowa offense is poised for a titanic leap.

“He has a great understanding of everything that is going on,” Davis said of Rudock this spring. “Nothing rattles him. He handles himself as a quarterback, and he can make all the throws. He’s just got more experience.”

The Hawkeye offense will feature more variety and a faster pace this season. A flair of unpredictability should suit Iowa well in the mundane West Division. Expect wide receiver-heavy formations, screen passes, zone scheme, pro-style – all of it. Rudock is able to compartmentalize everything and study defenses to the point where he recognizes what’s coming.

“I think we’ve all gotten more comfortable with the offense,” Rudock said. “We all understand it better. Things like route depth. Sometimes it’s supposed to be a 12-yard route. We’d accidentally run it eight yards or nine yards, and that makes a big difference.”

An area Ferenetz and Davis would like to see growth is inside the red zone. Iowa scored touchdowns on just over half their opportunities on first-and-goal from the 7-to-9-yard line. It’s a percentage that’s lacking if the Hawkeyes hope to be among the Big Ten’s best.

“Now there’s really no excuses to make mental mistakes. We should know better,” Rudock said.

One of Rudock’s favorite targets last season – and a big one near the goal line – is gone. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz caught 30 passes or 299 yards and six touchdowns, before being drafted by the Houston Texans. Left behind are Ray Hamilton, Jake Duzey, George Kittle and Henry Krieger-Coble behind.

All Hamilton, Duzey and Kittle did last season was haul in 32 receptions, 473 yards, and two touchdowns. So a dropoff in production is not imminent. All three possess size that should create matchup problems for opponents. 

“We’re all gunning for certain spots, we know they’re only going to put one, two, or three tight ends and we have more tight ends than that,” Hamilton said. “A lot of us are talented guys that we feel could help the team and get the best out of each other.”

The wide receiver corps is plentiful but unproven. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the top returner having caught a team-high 40 passes for 388 with five touchdowns. Left tackle Brandon Scherff and running back Mark Weisman (975 yards, eight touchdowns) are the remaining weapons on offense. Scherff might not accumulate stats, but his value is immense.

“Not many have the athletic ability that he has,” Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said. “He moves very well. You want to see guys who play with their feet. You want guys who play with their eyes. You can’t do anything if you don’t have good eyes.

“You could put a football player in a test tube, you’d want them to look like him.”

Defensively, Iowa has few deficiencies. The unit returns almost entirely intact, save for the loss of all three starting linebackers. The Hawkeyes were great against the run last season, limiting opponents to 121 yards per game and just five rushing touchdowns in the regular season. Then LSU had 220 yards and three scores in the Outback Bowl.

Even with that stout front seven, Iowa ranked eighth in the Big Ten with 24 sacks. It owned the conference’s second best pass defense. All areas are expected to improve in 2014, especially with a stout defensive line. 

“Our job and goal obviously is to sack the quarterback,” defensive end Mike Hardy said. “As long as we’re working our hardest and we’re pressing that pocket, making that quarterback uncomfortable – that’s good enough for us.”

Iowa hopes its quarterback remains in a comfort zone. The offense was ninth in the Big Ten last season in yards per game despite running five more plays per game than it did in 2012. The Hawkeyes figure that problem will be corrected due to the spiced up offense.

“I want to be able to come to the line and if I see something fuzzy, I want to be able to get us into a safe play where we can get something positive,’’ Rudock said. “I have to keep working.”

16 Comments

Comments

Abe Froman's picture

No Mich St, Penn St , Ohio St or Michigan makes anyone's season look favorable.

Basking in the wake of mediocrity.....

+2 HS
TheSpiteHouse's picture

Looking at that schedule, there's no reason the Hawkeyes shouldn't be bowl eligible. Heck, they should probably win 9 or 10 games.

Boom777's picture

They have a good chance of having 9-10 wins before the last two of their season. Would that schedule get them in the discussion for the playoffs?

Wherever you are, there you be!

chirobuck's picture

yeah no kidding, I think they split with Wisky and Nebby but having each of them at home its possible they win both.........we could be playing them for the B1G title

 
^ best post ever ^

mr.green's picture

That schedule is a dream. This team has a lot of possibilities. Another nice write-up. 

+1 HS
DaveStephens's picture

Nice article Kyle.

I actually had a nightmare last night that Iowa signed Hilliard and all of his buddies.  Didn't realize till this morning (last night for 11W, you really need a night crew) that it wasn't true.

 

 

The Dude abides.

allinosu's picture

Don't quit on that nightmare just yet because it could happen. Two sites this week and their experts has them the favorite. Besides having his brother there Hilliard himself said it was wide open for him. I'm glad this will be over soon. 

-1 HS
lamplighter's picture

With that schedule, they could be undefeated annd highly ranked before they meet the Badgers .  If they can avoid injuries they could be in Indy

Hovenaut's picture

I like the Hawks coming out of the West, the schedule affirms the gut feeling.

Ferentz is a good coach...you don't stay in this conference as long as he has if you aren't...I think he has Iowa poised for a very good year.

Not sure where they would stand nationally, but they hung with LSU in the Outback Bowl last season.

I don't think the West is that abysmal, though not as deep as the East.

I am not very smart, but I recognize that I am not very smart.

MN Buckeye's picture

But they might have trouble with Iowa State.

+1 HS
Habu71's picture
+1 HS
IBLEEDSCARLETANDGRAY's picture

I think that schedule guarantees Ferentz yet another B1G COY. They very well could be unbeaten going into the Wisky and Nebraska games.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

TossTrap's picture

Iowa could very well "slugfest" their way into a chance to play for the B1G title with that schedule.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

jamesrbrown322's picture

Iowa's success is always inversely proportional to their expectations. It's quite amazing.

 

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

hit_the_couch's picture

It's Iowa; 8-4.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

Findog5's picture

Imagine what we would do to that schedule. We'd get zero respect. 

NCFinn