It’s Friday and we’ve come to the final day in our “Iowa Week.” How do you finish off a week full of talking Hawkeyes football? By finally talking to the people most closely watching and reporting on the team.
So, this week we’re talking to the great RossWB of BHGP (Black Heart Gold Pants), a Hawkeyes blog on the SB Nation network.
Let’s see what RossWB has to say about his beloved Hawkeyes then, following this spring and heading in to the fall.
Talking10: Akrum Wadley – hype or hope at running back? Sub-question…are you hopeful the Hawkeyes have a real threat in the run game?
ROSS: Can he be both? At this point, he’s clearly mostly hype — he played sparingly last year, so most of the buzz surrounding him is from one good game against Northwestern (106 yards and 1 TD on 15 carries) and a few flashes from Iowa’s open practices this spring (which often came against back-up defenders). That’s not a lot to go on. Wadley has some solid skills (most notably, better speed and change-of-direction ability than Iowa’s previous starter at RB, Mark Weisman), but until he can string together a few good performances and prove that he can be a legit threat for the Iowa offense, it’s hard to put too much stock in him just yet. But, yes, I am certainly hopeful that in Wadley (or someone on the Iowa roster) that the Hawkeyes could finally have a more reliable threat to produce big plays in the running game, which is something that has been sorely lacking in the running game for some time. It was fun to watch Weisman plow through defenders, but the running game tended to be a real grind with him. Hopefully there’s a little bit more explosion in the current crop of running backs.
T10: Kirk Ferentz and Greg Davis went all in on CJ Beathard this offseason. Will that move work or backfire on them?
ROSS: If it doesn’t work, they’ll probably be looking for new work next spring (or counting their severance checks), so they should certainly be hoping it does work. The thing is, whether this move works or backfires is dependent on a lot of factors other than CJ himself. Obviously, since he’s the shiny new QB he’s grabbing most of the attention, but his success is going to depend on how well Iowa’s offensive line manages to replace two starting tackles (including all-everything LT Brandon Scherff). It’s going to depend on how well Jake Duzey returns from a spring knee injury and the other Iowa tight ends develop into pass-catchers. It’s going to depend on whether anyone other than Tevaun Smith emerges from Iowa’s mostly anonymous wide receiver corps as a reliable threat to stretch the field or consistently run routes and move the chains. It’s going to depend on whether Iowa can generate a consistent — and effective — running game. A lot depends on how well Beathard adjusts to the pressure of being the unquestioned starter and what happens when defenses get more film on him and take away his preferred looks — but even more is going to depend on how well the multitude of other questions on Iowa’s offense get answered.
T10: Last season the defense was arguably one of the top 3 in the conference. Losing both All-Big Ten tackles could be seen as a big blow, but spring seemed to suggest this group will be fine. Are you buying or selling Iowa’s defense as a top group in the Big Ten?
ROSS: Selling, I suppose. I don’t think Iowa’s defense will be bad, but there are too many question marks right now for me to feel comfortable labeling them as a top group in the Big Ten. I’m still leery about their ability to replace Davis and Trinca-Pasat, especially with a key depth option like Darian Cooper still working his way back from an injury last year. They also need better play out of the safety position and doing that will require improved play from Jordan Lomax and a breakout performance from whoever winds up replacing Johnny Lowdermilk at strong safety. But my biggest concern is at linebacker, where Iowa simply wasn’t very good last year. The good news is that all three starters are back; the bad news is not’s yet clear how good they are. They were freshmen last year so there was a steep learning curve; the hope is that the experienced they gained last year will lead to a big leap forward in their performance this year. If that doesn’t happen, though, Iowa’s likely to have a bit of a hole in the middle of their defense — which will definitely cause problems.
T10: Name one player under the radar that you will watch for this fall in both sides of the football. Why are they going to be worth watching?
ROSS: On offense, I think tight end George Kittle is going to emerge as a very solid pass-catching option for Iowa and he’s going to emerge as one of Iowa’s more productive receiving threats. He has good hands and decent speed and I think he’s primed to make an impact, especially if Duzey’s recovery from his knee injury is slow. On defense, I’m going to go with Matt Nelson. He was one of the hot names of the spring practice period and I think he’s going to parlay his strong showing this spring into a key rotational role on the defensive line this fall — and give Iowa a much-needed boost in the pass-rushing department.
T10: It’s seems like Kirk Ferentz is on the proverbial hot seat every preseason. It’ll happen again this year…but what would it really take for Iowa to pull the plug on him as the head coach (note I’m not saying it should happen)?
ROSS: I think a season with a record below .500 leads to some real turnover next offseason. Season ticket sales are already trending downward; this year’s attendance numbers figure to be the worst at Iowa in a very long time. An under .500 season would only exacerbate that trend and that loss of revenue would probably be enough to get a change made at the head coaching position. (I don’t know whether that would ultimately work itself out as a straight-up firing or if a package would be negotiated to allow Ferentz to step aside, but the end result would be the same: a new football coach at Iowa.) If Iowa goes .500 or slightly better, would that be enough to save his job? I don’t know. It would probably depend on who Iowa loses to and the nature of those losses. Ferentz can’t afford to lose to all of Iowa’s main rivals next year and it would be hard to sell forward momentum for the program if they’re getting hammered in several losses.