Hawks Roll…Who Are They?

September 24, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

Iowa laid waste to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, winning by a score of 45-17.

The offense came out and ran the no-huddle on the first series of the game. The result? A nine-play 74-yard score in 3:21.

While I expected Iowa to come out and use the no-huddle a few times on Saturday, I did not expect them to do it right out of the chute.

We also don’t normally see Iowa go for it on 4th down when three-points are all but a given, but Iowa did that on 4th and 1 on that first drive, and James Vandenberg snuck the ball across the goal line.

What’s more shocking is later in the first half, Iowa went for it on 4th and 1 at midfield…they converted it.

To say that this year’s Iowa football team is predictable would be a mistake, and that’s a very good thing.

It gives the opposing defense a lot more to prepare for when Iowa rolls up on their schedule. It makes this offense much less predictable, which has been a common complaint from Iowa fans through the years, rightly or not.

James Vandenberg looked sharp in that first quarter, carrying over his hot hand from the Pittsburgh game. I believe that sort of attack really helped him to get settled down, because later in the game, he was far more calm in the pocket when Iowa ran its offense under center, the most calm he has looked all season.

Vandenberg was 21-32 for 270 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

On the season, Vandenberg is 81 of 129 (62.8%) with 10 touchdown passes to just one interception and 1,095 yards, averaging 273.8 passing yards per game.

By comparison, and this is more just for the sake of entertainment than anything else, Ricky Stanzi was 66-99 (66.7%) with 999 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception one year ago after four games.

In all fairness to Stanzi, who was an NFL draft pick and is on the Kansas City Chiefs roster, he can’t deal the way Vandenberg can.

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Marcus Coker looked like the running back we were expecting to see this year, too. His feet were quicker, he was more decisive on when to crank it up when he saw a hole and he had certainly looked his best. He carried the ball 18 times for 113 yards and scored two touchdowns, but his cutback vision and decisions today were superb.

Marvin McNutt had a very good day, with seven catches for 100 yards and two scores. He now has 20 touchdown receptions for his career, putting him one behind Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes for Iowa’s all time record. He and Vandenberg hooked up on two fade routes for scores, two pretty plays that are next to impossible to stop considering the skill set of the pitcher and catcher.

Even Jordan Canzeri got into the action on Saturday, carrying the ball five times for 31 yards with a 30+ yarder called back on Iowa’s only penalty of the game.

Iowa clearly needs a change of pace and or second back to give Coker a breather this year. Damon Bullock saw a few carries on Saturday and had to make two blocks in pass protection. He served as a bit of a speed bump, finding himself on his backside after both attempts.

On defense, Thomas Nardo really shone on the day, getting a lot of interior penetration and pressure on the ULM offense. He had a team high 12 tackles, always a great thing to see a defensive tackle doing that, with a half-sack and two tackles for loss.

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Jordan Bernstine and Tanner Miller had good games, too. Miller (7 tackles, one for loss) made several big hits, and looked to be recognizing plays before they happened. Now the challenge will be to get himself in the right position on the field a little bit quicker so he can break up some of those passes.

Bernstine was everywhere on Saturday…returning kicks (3 for 72 yards and a long of 28), covering punts (saved a ball from going into the endzone and it was downed on the four) and blocking on punt returns (laid out two ULM players on one block, freeing Micah Hyde for a 30 yard return).

Now, the Hawkeyes head into a bye week and we are left wondering just who these guys are? What kind of team are we going to see in the second half?

Will it be the offense we saw today that gained 18 first downs in the first half on 44 plays (which I am guessing is the Ferentz era high for plays in a first half, or has to be close to it)?

Make no mistake; the no-huddle will be involved in every Iowa game from here on out unless the weather is so atrocious it doesn’t allow for it. Last week, I wrote that the toothpaste was out of the tube and Iowa could not go back into an offensive shell. They came out swinging today, much to everyone’s delight.

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One thing hasn’t changed from August, and that’s my believe that this offense will still have to carry the way and win games this year, because the defense only has so much in the way of a ceiling. That’s not a dig at this defense, it’s just who and what they are.

The good news is that Iowa is just starting to come together on offense…doing it without a good fullback, too.

I think the bye comes at a great time for this year’s team. Yes, they are starting to click on offense, but this no-huddle look can use more reps in practice and the bodies can use some time to heal up.

Iowa is now 3-1, and they get a chance to focus on their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses.

They also have a very favorable schedule the rest of the way, too. Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue may be the four ‘worst’ teams in the Big Ten. Iowa plays at Penn State in two weeks (they lost a star LB for the season on Saturday with a torn ACL), then a night game at home against Northwestern, who will likely get Dan Persa back under center next week against Illinois for the first time this season. After that, it’s home game against Indiana and a road game at Minnesota before returning home to face Michigan State and Michigan, two beatable teams. Then it’s on the road to Purdue who has not looked good this year, before closing at Nebraska.

The schedule is there, the offense is there and Norm Parker will push enough buttons to keep the defense in the game.

This can still be a very good season for Iowa, and the Hawkeyes have every right to believe they can win the Legends Division. They have improved a great deal over the course of the last week and the offense has even more room to improve.

So sit back and enjoy the bye week…an exciting, if unpredictable home stretch to the season is just ahead of us.

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