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Harty: Hawkeyes are grind-it-out at heart

[ 1 ] October 18, 2011 |

Iowa offensive lineman Markus Zusevics has nothing against running a no-huddle offense or the spread offense or whatever will lead to touchdowns.

For one thing, it spares him the monotony of having to huddle up before each play.

The no-huddle offense also energizes the crowd — as we saw during the fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17 and throughout the Louisiana-Monroe game a week later.

When you’ve got the kind of playmakers Iowa has at receiver, and a quarterback whose biggest strength is throwing the football, it makes sense to play to their strengths.

But when push comes to shove and it’s time for the Iowa football team to show its true colors, Zusevics knows that he’ll be helping to carve holes for the Iowa running backs, a methodical grind in the trenches that’s now symbolic of life under coach Kirk Ferentz.

It makes sense to think that Iowa will try to exploit the run against Indiana on Saturday, considering the Hoosiers are ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing a sieve-like 227.4 yards per game.

“That’s pretty much the offense that we run here,” Zusevics said Tuesday at the team’s weekly news gathering. “We know that’s what coach Ferentz instilled when he got here. And it’s been here forever.

“That’s Iowa football for you, running the ball, being physical.”

Being physical doesn’t always mean being entertaining. Most fans would say that watching a fleet-footed receiver do his thing in space is more entertaining than watching an offensive lineman do his thing in a crowd.

At some point, though, the air space shuts down and the only way to advance is over land.

It’s probably no coincidence that Iowa lost two of the three games in which the opponent had more rushing yards this season. The exception was the 31-27 victory over Pittsburgh, but that required Iowa to have the greatest comeback in school history.

Iowa’s 41-31 victory over Northwestern was odd in that the Wildcats dominated the statistics on offense with the exception of rushing yards. Iowa only outgained Northwestern by 2 yards on the ground — 155 to 153 — but it’s hard to picture the Hawkeyes hanging on to win Saturday’s game without grinding between the tackles.

“I thought we ran the ball a little more aggressively Saturday,” said Ferentz, who climbed up the ranks as an offensive line coach. “And that’s something I’m hoping we’ll see us continue to do.”

Not only does it wear on a defense to have a 300-pounder like Zusevics, who starts at right tackle, helping to clear a path for a 230-pound running back like Marcus Coker, it also melts the clock and keeps the much-maligned Iowa defense off the field.

“I think we definitely improved and played a lot better than the previous week,” Zusevics said.

He was referring to the 13-3 loss at Penn State, a game in which the Hawkeyes were outgained by 147 yards on the ground.

Neither team’s passing attack was on fire that day, so running became essential.

Zusevics isn’t responsible for the preseason hype that pegged Iowa’s offensive line as one of the best in the Big Ten and beyond.

But he also isn’t pleased with the performance of the offensive line at this stage.

The bar is set high at Iowa for offensive linemen, which is part of the reason Zusevics came here in the first place.

“I think that we can always play better,” said Zusevics, who is a native of Arlington Heights, Ill. “Every week looking at tape, you say if we would have cleaned this up and if we would have cleaned that up; we left a lot of yards out there.”

The no-huddle offense is something we know that Iowa has in its arsenal. We’ve seen it work, and we’ve seen how it can change the course of a game in a matter of minutes.

But we’ll never see a day when Iowa abandons its running game, at least not under Ferentz. Even the 2004 squad tried to have some balance on offense despite being down to a fifth-string walk-on at running back.

Iowa football stands for a lot of things under Ferentz, but perhaps more than anything is the desire to gain yards the old-fashioned way.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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