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Harty: No-huddle success brings new concerns

[ 4 ] September 25, 2011 |

After four nonconference games, it’s hard to know what to make of the Iowa football team as it enters into a bye week.

We know it can be explosive on offense, as evidenced by Saturday’s 45-17 victory over Louisiana-Monroe and by the unforgettable fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh a week earlier.

But we also know it can be exposed on defense, as was the case with the 44-41 triple-overtime loss at Iowa State on Sept. 10, much of the Pittsburgh game and stretches of the Louisiana-Monroe game.

Iowa (3-1) gave up two long scoring drives in the third quarter against Louisiana-Monroe. But they did little damage because each time the quick-strike, no-huddle Hawkeyes answered with a touchdown of their own to expand the lead back to 25 points.

They did bother Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, though.

“I thought we played well in the first half on defense,” Ferentz said after Saturday’s game. “Then we came out and looked a little disinterested in the first two possessions. We let them drive the ball down the field.”

By disinterested, Ferentz means out of position to make tackles in space, getting beat in pass coverage, failing to contain the edge and getting blocked up front because that’s basically what happened during the stretches when Iowa struggled on defense, and when almost any defense struggles for that matter.

It could be a situation where in order for Iowa to be successful this season, it might have to outscore opponents on a weekly basis, beginning with the Big Ten opener at Penn State on Oct. 8.

And before you say, well, duh, that’s always the case, in Iowa’s case it could mean that we’re about to see one shootout after another in Big Ten play.

Sounds like fun unless you’re playing defense, coaching defense or keeping defensive statistics.

Speaking of coaching defense, it’d be interesting to eavesdrop on the other Big Ten coaches as they talk about Iowa’s newfound success with its no-huddle offense.

The days of Iowa pounding between the tackles with a fullback leading a running back through the hole aren’t over, but this particular team appears to be built differently.

With at least three productive receivers and a strong-armed quarterback, perhaps the 2011 Hawkeyes are built more to chuck it than to run it.

But it’s not as if Iowa abandoned the running game after switching to the no-huddle offense.

Sophomore Marcus Coker still finished with 113 rushing yards on 18 carries against Louisiana-Monroe, averaging a season-high 6.3 yards-per-carry.

Switching to the no-huddle offense could be just what Coker needs to flourish because spreading the field with multiple receivers should create more space for him to run.

“With three (receivers out wide), the defense has to spread out,” Coker said.

It also might be what the Iowa defense needs because the defensive players get inspired by the success of the no-huddle offense just like the fans do.

“The offense is playing great and we go out there and we feed off that,” sophomore free safety Tanner Miller said.

The defense also feeds off the emergence of little-known players like senior walk-on tackle Tom Nardo, who finished with a career-high 12 tackles Saturday.

We’re seeing what happens on defense when you lose three linemen and an all-Big Ten safety to the NFL. Iowa’s battle cry of “next man in” is being tested to the extreme with guys like Nardo.

The good news is that Iowa has scored at least 30 points in each of its first four games for the first time since the 2002 season.

The 2002 team also suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Iowa State and was 3-1 entering conference play.

This isn’t to suggest that we’re about to see a repeat of the 2002 season when Iowa finished undefeated in conference play and 11-2 overall, but there are similarities between the two teams, including multiple options at receiver and a quarterback capable of taking advantage of those options.

The biggest differences between the two teams is that the 2002 squad was better on defense, had arguably the best tight end in college football in Dallas Clark, a dominant offensive line and a quarterback who could scramble in Brad Banks.

Iowa also had little 5-foot-8 Freddie Russell playing running back in 2002 and he always was a threat to break a long run with his speed, quickness and elusiveness.

True freshman Jordan Canzeri, who’s only listed at 5-9, made his college debut Saturday and thrilled the crowd with a running style similar to Russell.

“We thought he would do OK, and I thought he did more than OK,” Ferentz said of Canzeri, who finished with 30 rushing yards on five carries. “He really looked aggressive out there, looked decisive.”

Coker still will get a brunt of the carries assuming he stays healthy. But with Canzeri and fellow true freshman Damon Bullock, Iowa at least has other options.

So strap yourself in and hang on because if the last two games are any indication, the rest of the season could be a thrill ride. And with some improvement on defense, it might turn into a joy ride.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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