Preview 2017: Iowa Hawkeyes
Previewing and looking ahead at the Iowa Hawkeyes season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Iowa Offense
Is there ever going to be a decent downfield pass again? How about more scoring pop on a regular basis?
The Hawkeyes were able to blow up Nebraska and Purdue, but it went bye-bye offensively against the good defenses on the schedule. They need a strong enough offensive identity to move the ball no matter what, and that’ll be the running game. Now the passing attack has to do its job.
It starts with figuring out the quarterback situation. C.J. Beathard is done, and now it’ll be a battle into late in the summer between Nathan Stanley and Tyler Wiegers to try cranking up more pop for a lifeless passing game.
The receiving corps could be okay if Matt VandeBerg comes back healthy from a foot injury and Jerminic Smith becomes more of a factor coming off a decent 23-catch season.
Akrum Wadley has the talent and experience to be among the Big Ten’s most dangerous backs if he can handle more of the workload – he could be a 1,500-yard back if he can crank out 20 carries a game. He’ll have no problems behind a line that should be fantastic, even by Iowa standards, with four good starters back.
Biggest Key To The Iowa Offense
Down … field … passing. – The Hawkeyes have almost never been fantastic over the last few years when it came to cranking a high-powered passing game, but they’ve been good at pushing the ball down the field when they’ve had their chances. Averaging over seven yards per throw wasn’t a problem over a few years, but it took a while to get there.
Last season, Iowa averaged just 6.4 yards per pass, bottoming out with a pathetic performance against Florida – its third game in the final four with fewer than 100 passing yards. That has to change.
What You Need To Know About The Iowa Defense
The defense continued to do its part last season. Even with a little bit of turnover, the Hawkeyes still managed to finish 23rd in the nation in total defense and 13th in total D.
This year’s group should be even stronger in some ways, but it has to charge on without all-star defensive back Desmond King and dangerous defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson.
The top four tacklers returns including all three of the starting linebackers. Josey Jewell is back in the middle after leading the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons, while Bo Bower and Ben Niemann on the outside help round out one of the best corps in the Big Ten.
Losing Johnson and his interior pass rushing skills is a problem, but the other there starters are back. Nathan Bazata is a tough tackle, too, and the end rotation should be able to get behind the line – at least the pressure is on to start doing more.
Even with star Brandon Snyder tearing his ACL this spring, the safeties are solid with the return of Miles Taylor and with Jake Gervase stepping in and looking the part this offseason. The corners, while they’ll need time, are big and should be physical. It’s Iowa – the secondary will be terrific.
Biggest Key To The Iowa Defense
Until the O does more, the run defense has to be otherworldly. Because the offense struggled so much to keep the chains moving, there was way too much pressure unfairly put on the defense that got better as the season went on – as long as the run defense held up.
The Hawkeyes allowed 100 rushing yards or more in each of the first six games, and just three times in the final seven. In the five losses, they held up fine in the bowl disaster against Florida, but couldn’t figure out North Dakota State, Penn State went off, and Wisconsin was okay on the ground.
When ground games cranked up four yards per pop, Iowa lost. When ground games ran for two scores or more – it only happened twice – Iowa lost. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes defensive front seven should be good enough to do the job.
Iowa Will Be Far Better If …
The offense can start to move the chains. The 2015 team that played for the Big Ten Championship dominated the clock. The offense owned the time of possession battle, was 45th in the nation in first downs, and came up with almost every big third and fourth down play.
Last year? The Hawkeye offense couldn’t move the ball on enough decent drives, controlling the clock for well under 28 minutes – coming up with third down conversions was like pulling teeth. Iowa finished 120th in the nation in third down conversions and was 118th in first downs. The D is in place to do big things, but it needs a break from an O that can stay on the field.
Best Iowa Offensive Player
RB Akrum Wadley, Sr. – The running game featured two 1,000-yard backs last year, but LeShun Daniels gaining 1,058 yards and ten scores, and Wadley leading the way with 1,081 yards and ten touchdowns.
Daniels is gone after carrying more of the workload, but Wadley was more dangerous. The 5-11, 195-pounder can catch a little, too, with 36 grabs for 315 yards and three scores, while tearing off 100 yards or more six times and three times in the last four games. Get him in space and watch him go.
2. C James Daniels, Jr.
3. OG Sean Welsh, Sr.
4. OT Ike Boettger, Sr.
5. WR Jerminic Smith, Jr.
Best Iowa Defensive Player
LB Josey Jewell, Sr. – The leader of a loaded linebacking corps, Jewell’s a 6-2, 236-pound big hitter in the middle who led the team with 124 tackles, 1.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. While he’s not massive at 6-2 and 236 pounds, he’s more than big enough to hold up on the inside, and he’s quick in pass coverage and getting into the backfield, too. An all-around playmaker, he can slide into any linebacker position.
2. DT Nathan Bazata, Sr.
3. LB Bo Bower, Sr.
4. LB Ben Niemann, Sr.
5. S Miles Taylor, Sr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Nathan Stanley, Soph. Or junior Tyler Wiegers. C.J. Beathard was a talented veteran who led the way to plenty of big wins, but the Iowa passing game didn’t go anywhere last season, finishing 118th in the nation in yards with a painfully inefficient attempt at a downfield attack.
There isn’t a clear-cut option to step into the void. Stanley – last year’s main backup – is a 6-5, 212-pound big-armed passer who looks the part, and can run a little, too, while Tigers is a … 6-5, 225-pound big-armed passer who looks the part, and can run a little, too. Iowa should be solid across the board, but forget about challenging for the West unless one of these two can become great in a hurry.
The Iowa Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins nine games, one more than last season. It’ll be tough getting through the regular season with just four losses, with Penn State and Ohio State to deal with from the East and the three biggest games vs. the West on the road, but at this point, Iowa is used to pulling off hard regular season wins.
To get to nine victories. they’ll have to be perfect in non-conference play vs. Wyoming, Iowa State and North Texas, and they can’t slip up at home against Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. Do that, and they’ve got six wins under their belt. Win two of the hard battles, take down a bowl game, have a more successful season. No problem.
It would be nice, though, to get into the West title chase with a win over …
Key Game To The Iowa Season
Nov. 11 at Wisconsin The Hawkeyes have to go to Nebraska, too, but as daunting as that might sound, the last time they had to face the Badgers and Huskers on the road they pulled it off in 2015 on the way to the Big Ten Championship appearance.
There might be other tough battles to deal with – Penn State, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, Ohio State – but lose in Madison, and the idea of taking the Big Ten West might be over no matter what else happens. Last year, Iowa lost 17-9 at home.
2016 Iowa Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Opponents 15 (lost 9) – Iowa 13 (lost 2)
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Iowa 79 – Opponents 33
– Rushing Touchdowns: Iowa 23 – Opponents 10