Is Iowa For Real?
For a few years now, many people, myself included, have harped on The University of Iowa football's weak schedule and inability to push their win total past eight games. Well, it finally seems as though Iowa is responding to the criticism.
Kirk Ferentz has his squad playing great football, as they sit atop the Big Ten West standings undefeated at 9-0 (5-0 in Big Ten). The offense has looked great at times, and the defense is playing like the tough Iowa defenses of old. This Hawkeye team looks like a squad that is capable of earning a spot in a New Year's Six bowl. Let's take a look at why Iowa is a legitimate contender.
1. Balanced Offense- The Hawkeyes have thrown on 38% of plays this season and this doesn't include the called pass plays that resulted in a run by the QB. Why is this important? Well last year, The Ohio State Buckeyes ran a balanced offense, throwing on 37% of plays and they happened to have quite a season. While the rushing/passing splits don't mean much if the offense isn't effective, Iowa has been consistent and has shown that they have the chops to throw the ball when needed, despite having an impressive rushing attack.
Running back Jordan Canzeri carried this Hawkeye offense in the first half of the season with 698 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Against Illinois, Canzeri had 256 yards on 43 carries, but against Northwestern, he suffered a high ankle sprain which has ultimately sidelined him for a few weeks. In his place, Akrum Wadley has 426 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including a four touchdown performance against the Wildcats. This week, Canzeri is probable to return against Minnesota, so it will be intriguing to see how Ferentz uses Wadley in the offense.
2. Limited Turnovers on Offense- It's simple: if you don't turn the ball over, you win football games. But seriously, a lot of credit needs to be given to the offensive line, which has paved the way for the ground game of the Hawkeyes and gives QB C.J. Beathard time in the pocket. With the departure of QB Jake Rudock -who is now the starter at Michigan- the job fell to Beathard, and he hasn't disappointed. He hasn't blown anyone away, but he has played within the offense and most importantly, avoided turnovers (only three interceptions), which is exactly what Kirk Ferentz wants out of his quarterback.
Overall, this year's Iowa offense has been a breath of fresh air for Hawkeye fans who have suffered through seasons of predictable and inefficient play on the offensive side of the ball. However, critics wonder how the Iowa offense would do against a Michigan or Ohio State defense, and to that I say, we'll find out in the Big Ten Championship game.
3. Ability to Create Turnovers on Defense- Cornerback Desmond King has been an absolute beast and definitely the MVP of the Hawkeye defense so far this season with eight interceptions, ranking first in the nation.
As a whole, the Iowa defense ranks 12th in the nation in total defense, allowing just above 300 yards per game. No other game this year describes the dominance of the Hawkeye defense more than their game against a solid Wisconsin team, when they forced four Badger turnovers and held Paul Chryst's squad to 86 rushing yards.
The most points that the Hawkeyes have allowed this season is 27 at Indiana, but holding Northwestern and Wisconsin to ten points each are worthy accomplishments. Iowa has the makings of a bend-but-don't-break defense; teams may put together a solid drive, but the Hawkeyes will eventually force a turnover or hold them to a field goal. History has proven that defenses who can force turnovers and hold teams to field goals find themselves in contention for a national championship at the end of the year (example: Florida State in the 2013 season).
4. On the Committee's 'Good Side'- The Hawkeyes control their own destiny in regards to winning the Big Ten West. Not to mention, the College Football Playoff Committee just ranked Iowa fifth in their new poll that came out on Tuesday night. They essentially have a one game (or more) cushion on everyone below them in the standings because of the tiebreak win over Wisconsin, which has only one conference loss. It is Iowa's division to lose and with their remaining games (Minnesota, Purdue, and at Nebraska), I would be shocked if the Hawkeyes weren't playing in Indianapolis on December 5th. As we saw last year with Ohio State, nothing bad can come from having one more game against a ranked opponent in order to impress the committee (unless you lose, obviously), while other teams (looking at you, Big 12 squads) aren't playing.
So, are the Hawkeyes for real? Yes, they definitely are, and no team should take them lightly. A 12-1 record heading into bowl season would be a huge accomplishment and that is the record that most people (including myself) are projecting for Iowa. The Hawkeyes' success is huge for the Big Ten and a win from them in (what should be) a New Year's Six bowl game, would give the Big Ten some added respect, maybe even from a certain coach in the SEC who isn't a fan of the "weak" schedules in the Big Ten.
Enjoy the last few weeks of the regular season!