Schwartz: Bleak Outlook for Hawkeyes in Ames

September 3, 2017

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

It’s officially Iowa-Iowa State week.

HOORAY!

Poor Malika at the 1:06 mark of that video. It really does say it all, doesn’t it?

The Hawkeyes and Cyclones won their season openers Saturday. Iowa beat Wyoming, 24-3. Iowa State beat Northern Iowa late Saturday night, 42-24.

Of those two games, it feels like we learned more about the Cyclones than the Hawkeyes. We suspected ISU’s offense would be improved over last season, and it is. They put up over 400 total yards and forced UNI into crucial turnovers.

Iowa’s defense, meanwhile, looked strong.

But the offense didn’t give us much to go on. Center James Daniels was out – a significant absence. Nate Stanley threw for three touchdowns, but he turned the ball over a lot. The Hawkeyes dropped a few passes, but Akrum Wadley and James Butler rushed for more than 160 combined yards.

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The play calling – peculiar at times, especially those sweeps – felt kind of random. Then again, Brian Ferentz’s career as an offensive coordinator is now a grand total of 60 minutes long. Let’s give the guy room to find his rhythm.

Matt VandeBerg looked recovered from his leg injuries. That’s good. The offensive line let Wyoming use Stanley as a tackling dummy. That’s bad. Butler hits holes faster than any Iowa running back since Marcus Coker. That’s good.

What all this means is that we know almost as little now about the Hawkeyes as we did before they beat Wyoming – at least on the offensive side of the ball. They are – as their coaches have told us for months – a work in progress. They’ll most likely be a work in progress deeper into the season than makes us comfortable.

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Which brings us back around to Iowa-Iowa State next Saturday in Ames (Hooray!).

Unlike last season, when it was obvious how much better the Hawkeyes were than Iowa State going into the game, this season’s matchup looks like a toss up, at best. Whatever ends up happening at Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa-ISU has the potential to be one of the ugliest yet most competitive intrastate matchups in some time.

And if either team has a slight edge over the other, at this point it looks like the Cyclones, who appear on the right track to figuring out that the best way for mediocre programs to compete consistently in 2017 isn’t to play tough defensive football (Paul Rhoads ©2015), but to outscore your opponent no matter the toll it takes on your defensive stats and reputation. ISU coach Matt Campbell gets it. He’s a good, smart coach in the second year of putting in an effective system.

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The Hawkeyes, at least offensively, are going to need at least a few weeks to figure out what they’re doing. That’s the big takeaway on offense from Saturday’s win.

History shows that Ames has been unkind to the Hawkeyes during Iowa’s transition seasons, which is what 2017 is. As the hype train for next Saturday gets rolling, it might be a good time for Hawkeye fans to temper their expectations. New quarterback. New offensive coordinator. And an opponent with an actual identity and a chip on its shoulder.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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