2010 Offensive Line Has Early Cushion

January 11, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

As various ‘way too early’ 2010 preseason rankings are beginning to trickle in, the Hawkeyes are being included in most Top Tens.  That’s not a surprise as you see that one coming a mile away.

When you win a BCS bowl game, finish #7 with a record of 11-2, return the nation’s best front four on defense and if Amari Spievey remains in school, you return arguably the best defense in the nation, plus the vast majority of your skill positions players on offense, your placekicker and one of the nation’s top junior punters, you are going to get the attention.

However, the area that Iowa will have to retool the most is on the offensive line, and that is a big time spot.

Last year at this time, I felt that Penn State would be one of the most overrated teams in America when the preseason polls rolled out, as I expected them to be in the Top 10.  They were, and their non-conference performance was less than inspiring against a collection of tomato cans and cupcakes.  Iowa then went into Happy Valley and won 21-10.

The primary concern I had for their team was how long it would take their new look offensive line to gel, plus the fact they lost their top playmakers at receiver in addition to their entire back four on defense and two NFL draft picks at defensive end.

In looking back on it, Penn State lost to two ranked teams at home (Iowa and Ohio State) that finished in the final Top Seven, and they did beat a ranked team in a bowl game (LSU) and went 11-2.  I felt they were a four-loss team in the regular season.  So I was wrong about that.

However, I was right in the fact their offensive line did take a while to come together and they had the misfortune of playing one of the nation’s best defensive units (Iowa) in the fifth game of the year.

After the Iowa game, Penn State played at Illinois, a team with a horrible defense, and they put up 513 yards of total offense.  Then they had Eastern Illinois at home and they put up huge numbers, as would be expected.  Then it was 464 yards against Minnesota,  nearly 400 yards at Michigan and 437 at Northwestern.

Next up was Ohio State, another elite defense, and they gained just 201.  After that, the Penn State offense got rolling again.

Why am I brining up Penn State right now?  Because Iowa will have some retooling to do on the line entering the 2010 season the way Penn State did entering the 2009 season.  Penn State lost three, first team All Big Ten offensive linemen, and moved their best returning lineman to center for this year.

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While Iowa won’t face the other key position losses that Penn State faced, losing Bryan Bulaga, Dace Richardson, Rafael Eubanks and Kyle Calloway will be significant.

Bulaga is one of the four or five best offensive linemen of the Ferentz era, Richardson was a midseason All American, Calloway was steady at right tackle and Eubanks played the best ball of his career this year.

Riely Reiff returns, and I believe he will make a run at being the second best offensive linemen of the Ferentz era behind Robert Gallery, Adam Gettis saw some starting action this year and Julian Vandervelde has started games in each of the past two seasons an looked good against Georgia Tech.  After that, it’s pretty much a world of the unknown, and we’ll get to know the names and faces more as we get closer to spring ball.

The worst thing that could happen to Iowa would be to play a slate of tough defenses in the first half of next season, before the line gets its feet underneath it and hits its stride.

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The good news; they won’t face anything like that.

Eastern Illinois is Iowa’s first game, at home.  I don’t care who is out there on the field, that game should not be close.  Then it’s Iowa State at home, and the Cyclones lose Christopher Lyle and Nate Frere along the front four, and Jesse Smith and Fred Garrin at linebacker.  Those are considerable losses for the, in addition to James Smith at safety.  Starting corner Kennard Banks is also done.

After the ISU game, Iowa goes on the road to face Arizona.  Their defense was pretty salty this year, ranking in the Top 25 overall.  They had a Top 30 rushing defense, Top 33 passing defense and they were 23rd in sacks.  But they return just four starters from that group, including just two of their front seven.  They’ll have talent waiting in the wings, but it won’t be a veteran group by any stretch.

Ball State is up next, and the Hawkeyes have them at home and should post a comfortable win.  Then the Nittany Lions come to town.  PSU will lose Jared Odrick, the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year.  They will also lose linebackers Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman, plus linebacker Josh Hull.  That’s all three starting linebackers, folks.  They will still have DE’s Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore, plus DT Ollie Ogbu to wreak havoc.  Bani Gbadyu is a linebacker with experience and honors, too, and their entire back end returns.  Will this group be elite?  They will be good, but they won’t be as good as they were this year, plus they will be breaking in a new quarterback on the other side, going up against Iowa’s elite defense, so I don’t expect them to light up the scoreboard.  This game will likely be a night game, too, as Ohio State is at Illinois that week and Wisconsin is at Michigan State.  I expect ABC to snap this game up this summer and put it under the lights.  If they don’t, the Big Ten Network will.

Then the Hawks have a bye week…a good time to get the bye…they will be able to shuffle things around on the line in the event of struggles, or hammer home the fundamentals.

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After the bye, its off to Michigan where the Wolverines have had arguably their worst two year stretch of defense in the history of the program.  They return most everyone (is that good news or bad?) with one major exception, and that’s defensive end Brandon Graham.  That’s a huge loss for them.

So we are six games into the season, and the toughest defense Iowa will have played is at home against Penn State, and the rest of the defenses they will have faced enter next year with major question marks or underwhelming performances in 2009.

Some key notes about the rest of the defenses on their schedule:

Wisconsin returns six starters and loses DE O’Brien Schofield, DT Dan Moore, DT Jeff Stehle and a linebacker.
Michigan State loses three of its front four, a linebacker and two safeties
Indiana loses two starting defensive ends that have been around forever, two of its three starting linebackers and three of its four starting defensive backs from it’s Purdue depth chart.
Northwestern loses two linemen, including Corey Wootton and three of their back four in the secondary, and hopefully Iowa won’t be playing a quarterback who has never started a game before.
Ohio State:  They are going to be real good, and Iowa had best have any wrinkles ironed out.
Minnesota:  They lose their entire front seven and both cornerbacks!

While Iowa has some work to do on the offensive line, you can see that the vast majority of their opponents have work to do to replace several key cogs on their defenses in order to take advantage of Iowa’s inexperience

Iowa will have one of the best defenses in the nation to back up the offense in the early going, including one of the best punters in the nation and a placekicker that made 19 field goals this year, and only three kickers in Iowa history have ever made that many in one season.

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