Following a midseason bye, the Iowa football team returns to work this week with its biggest challenge of the season.
Fourth-rated Ohio State is next on the agenda for the Hawkeyes, the start of a grueling three-week stretch in Iowa’s schedule which includes home games against Northwestern and Wisconsin.
I can’t say I am surprised by Iowa’s 4-2 start. It’s about what I expected.
Here are my midterm grades for the Hawkeyes:
There is growth on this side of the ball, much of it provided by the decision-making abilities and poise shown by sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock. He has put his teammates in position to make plays while leaning on the physical running abilities of Mark Weisman and spreading receiving opportunities across the board. Iowa’s backs and offensive line, with the exception of the Michigan State game, have performed well and the running game will lead this team to whatever level of success it eventually achieves. Iowa’s receivers have endured their growing pains, limiting the drops which plagued the group early in the season. The Hawkeyes have true speed at the position for the first time in several years in Damond Powell, but the playmaking abilities of the late-arriving junior college transfer will not be fully utilized until he gains a better handle on the nuances of the offense, a necessity. There will be more challenges ahead for this group as it faces more stout defenses in upcoming games, tests that begin this week.
There is some bite to the bunch, something which has given the Hawkeyes the ability to compete. The solid group of senior linebackers has provided stability, leadership and execution that has helped the Hawkeyes compete. The six players now rotating on Iowa’s front four have grown and provided the protection needed for the linebackers to do their thing and help the Hawkeyes build a defense which has been effective against the run. The secondary has been inconsistent, lowering the overall grade for the group. Iowa will face greater challenges in upcoming weeks than it has seen in the run game – neither Minnesota or Michigan State have the true dominant run games that Big Ten football is known for. The Hawkeyes’ ability to limit big plays over the final half of the season will determine this group’s success.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
There are a few bright spots here. Mike Meyer continues to provide Iowa with a consistent threat in the kicking game and Kevonte Martin-Manley gives the Hawkeyes a true threat in the return game. Iowa’s kickoff coverage unit ranks second in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have been burnt twice on fake punts already this season, something which will likely be tested again, and Iowa ranks 10th in the Big Ten in kickoff return average. Those areas must improve if the Hawkeyes hope to have any hope of climbing beyond the preseason projections of a fifth or sixth place finish in the Legends Division.