Kirk Ferentz calls them stories.
It’s his way of describing an unproven or an unheralded player having a breakthrough season that benefits the Iowa football team.
Ferentz has helped to write countless stories while coaching the Hawkeyes since 1999, but his program is currently suffering from a case of writer’s block.
Mark Weisman’s rise at running back last season came close to being a story until injuries to Weisman and to two starters on the offensive line ruined the script. Iowa closed the 2012 season with six consecutive losses and finished 4-8 overall.
Not much is expected from the 2013 Iowa football team, which means the circumstances are ripe for a story or two to surface.
Here are 10 things that have to happen, or not happen, in order for Iowa to avoid another losing season. You’ll notice a few stories on the list.
1. Somebody grab hold of the QB position early and run with it: Nobody will admit it, but the quarterback position is sophomore Jake Rudock’s to lose. His biggest advantage over redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard and junior-college transfer Cody Sokol comes mostly from being in the program for a year longer than they’be been in it.
“But I really think the key right now for all three of the guys is what they do in these 20-some practices here before we really get to the game week,” Ferentz said.
It’s unlikely that Iowa would go through another season using just one quarterback because having done it last season was beyond strange. It would be a good sign if somebody separated from the pack because you know the old saying about a team that has three quarterbacks performing at the same level; it usually means that team doesn’t have any quarterbacks.
2. Junior college receiver Damond Powell is as good as advertised: This doesn’t mean that Powell has to match his ridiculous statistics in junior college, where he averaged an incredible 30 yards per catch. He just has to be a reliable receiver who avoids tackles in open field and who stretches defenses on occasion. Iowa’s receivers struggled in both of those areas last season.
3. Finish no worse than 3-1 against non-conference opponents: This goes without say because anything less would be flirting with disaster.
4. Throw at least 12 touchdown passes as a team: Doesn’t sound like much for a team that plays 12 regular-season games, but it’s nearly double the seven touchdown passes that Iowa threw last season. Matt Rodgers led Iowa to a 10-1-1 season in 1991 despite only throwing 14 touchdown passes. Averaging at least one touchdown pass per each regular-season game is a must for a team like Iowa that still uses a pro-style quarterback with limited mobility.
5. Sack the QB no fewer than 20 times. Much was said and written about Iowa having only seven touchdown passes last season. But having only 13 quarterback sacks also contributed to the misery.
One of the most humiliating moments from last season was when Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner burned what seemed like the entire weekend while scrambling and searching for a receiver. Gardner’s athleticism certainly helped him buy more time, but so did Iowa’s inability to pressure the quarterback. The aforementioned story thing would sure fit here, considering the stable of young and mostly unproven defensive linemen that Iowa has on the roster.
The Iowa coaches will try to compensate the inexperienced defensive line by substituting frequently, especially early in the season.
“When you have more inexperienced players, they’ll probably play a little bit more effectively if we can keep them fresh,” Ferentz said.
6. LT Brandon Scherff and RB Mark Weisman stay healthy for the entire season: They get singled out because no other two players on the roster help fuel Iowa’s identity as a power-running team more than they do. That was starting to happen last season until the 315-pound Scherff suffered a season-ending leg injury against Penn State in the seventh game.
Weisman also battled with injuries during the second half of last season, as did fellow running back Damon Bullock. Iowa’s anemic passing attack was exposed even more when they weren’t healthy.
Weisman started last season at fullback, but switched to running back after Bullock suffered a concussion againt Northern Iowa in the third game. Weisman when healthy was a force running between the tackles, sort of a poor man’s version of Shonn Greene.
7. Finish with at least 1,800 net rushing yards and 2,400 passing yards: These numbers would provide enough balance and enough productivity to show progress under second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The passing yards might seem high, considering none of Iowa’s quarterbacks have any game experience and because of all the horizontal passes thrown by James Vandenberg last season. But Vandenberg also passed for 2,249 yards last season, missing the 2,400-yard mark only by 151 yards.
8. Senior kicker Mike Meyer misses no more than two field goal attempts: Close games seem to follow Ferentz like the paparazzi. One of the best ways to win close games is having a reliable kicker. Meyer’s right’s leg could be the difference between an 8-4 or 5-7 season. He converted on 17-of-21 field-goal attempts last season, so it wouldn’t be a huge jump for him in accuracy.
“We have to be good on special teams if we’re going to have success this year, and Mike has done a great job,” Ferentz said. “Each and every year he’s really improved and gained confidence.”
9. Sophomore punter Connor Kornbrath averages at least 40 yards per attempt on the season: Winning the battle for field position is necessary for any team trying to climb back over the hump. Kornbrath averaged 37.9 yards on 53 attempts last season.
10. Have at least five players make either first- or second-team all-Big Ten: Cornerback Micah Hyde and center James Ferentz were the only players from Iowa to earn that distinction last season. Hyde made first-team all-Big Ten and was voted the conference’s top defensive back as a senior, while Ferentz was named second-team all-Big Ten by the coaches as a senior. Football often is described as the ultimate team sport, meaning it takes a group effort to be successful.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football