IOWA CITY, Ia. – Nobody is scared of Iowa.
And that might be Hawkeyes’ biggest fear heading into the 2014 college football season.
When spring practices kicked off last week, everything looked promising on paper: Jake Rudock is a proven commodity at quarterback; Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri offer a contrast in running styles; and Kevonte Martin-Manley is a reliable pass catcher.
But let’s be honest, they’re not the kind of players who make defensive coordinators cringe.
“There are some younger guys who are going to have to take that next step,” said Tom Dienhart, senior writer for the Big Ten Network. “And hopefully evolve into a complementary receiver, go downfield and stretch defenses.”
The Hawkeyes made strides in 2013 under offensive coordinator Greg Davis, scoring 26.3 points and averaging 377 yards per game.
Most of those gains, however, came grudgingly.
Iowa sparred with defenses, bobbing, weaving and jabbing, but rarely landing a haymaker.
The Hawkeyes took 932 snaps last season, and finished with 44 plays covering 20 or more yards and just 19 plays covering at least 30 yards.
That averages out to a 30-yard, momentum-seizing-strike every 49.1 snaps. If you’re looking for a spooky statistic, this is it.
And fixing the problem is not as simple as asking Davis to take more play-calling risks.
“I’ve got to think if (Davis) thought he had the personnel capable of doing it, maybe he would do it more,” Dienhart said. “Why wouldn’t you?”
Of course, there are reasons to believe the number of big plays will increase.
First and foremost, Iowa should benefit from familiarity.
This is Davis’ third season with the Hawkeyes, and his unit features eight returning starters.
“I think everybody has assimilated to the way Greg does things,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We do have a quarterback that’s returning, and probably one of our more experienced offensive groups coming back, with still obviously some things to get resolved.
“Hopefully, it’s a more fluid operation, more productive operation than we’ve had over the last few years.”
The Hawkeyes also return receiver Damond Powell, who became an instant fan favorite after catching a 49-yard pass in last season’s opener against Northern Illinois.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior college transfer went on to make catches of 74, 54 and 38 yards, but was limited by a lack of experience.
“He literally was brand new in all regards,” Ferentz said. “He’s got real energy to him. He’s a very vivacious guy and high-energy player.”
Powell is expected to have an expanded role, starting this spring.
“It’s been fun just to watch him in the out-of-season program,” Ferentz said. “He looks like a college player now, instead of a skinny kid.”
Canzeri also emerged as a quick-strike threat.
His 43-yard run against Wisconsin was Iowa’s longest of the season.
Some have speculated about moving Weisman to fullback, but he made five runs of 20 or more yards.
“I’d go one-two punch,” Dienhart said. “I think you can get a lot of guys to play the fullback spot.
“We all know you almost need two running backs these days. And (Weisman) has proven he can be awfully productive.”
It’s also possible Iowa has a player on the verge of a breakout.
The Hawkeye roster lists six receivers who are redshirt freshmen. Sophomore running back LeShun Daniels, a 400-meter sprinter in high school, showed flashes a year ago.
“One of the reasons we played him last year is he seemed to handle pretty much everything in stride, didn’t seem to be overwhelmed at any given time,” Ferentz said. “We’ll probably see a guy who’s even more confident, more decisive.
“We’re eager to watch him.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football