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Iowa football: Breaking down the offense

[ 0 ] August 18, 2012 |

Pick up this weekend’s Des Moines Sunday Register to find a special section devoted to the Iowa football team, which includes this article. (Mark Marturello / Register illustration)

All you Iowa fans pleading for offensive change …you got your wish. Probably.

The Hawkeyes were going to utilize fancy passing formations, anyway, under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

Now that the running back position is even more uncertain than it was a month ago – don’t blink.

“We’re not going to throw it 80 percent of the time, but we’re going to throw it,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We’ve got to run the ball, too.”

Most teams say they prefer a 50-50 split between rushes and passes, and Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz will say that, too.

That might happen if Damon Bullock – and whichever freshman Ferentz trusts most – make the position better than advertised.

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QUARTERBACK

Starter: James Vandenberg

Reserves: Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol

“We’re not going to throw it 80 percent of the time, but we’re going to throw it,” quarterback James Vandenberg says. “We’ve got to run the ball, too.” (Rodney White / Register photo)

The skinny: The only blemish against James Vandenberg – at least the one that sticks out to the naked eye – is road performance.

The senior has won just once in seven starts outside Iowa City, and that was last season at Purdue, where all he had to do was aim in the direction of now-gone Marvin McNutt.

That record should improve, as games against Northern Illinois, Northwestern and Indiana provide ample opportunities for additional road success.

He thrives in the no-huddle, an offense new coordinator Greg Davis likes, and one that will be more staple than chance-up tactic.

Don’t be surprised if transfer Cody Sokol (Scottsdale Community College), is the backup after passing for 3,807 yards and 43 touchdowns last season. He, too, possesses the game Davis has been used to calling – a wide open attack that could become even more wide open, given the shaky situation at running back.

“What do I remember about last year’s Iowa game? I remember their quarterback (James Vandenberg) passing to Marvin McNutt, that’s what I remember,” Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “Their quarterback is good. If you give him time in the pocket, he’s got the ability to pretty much pick a defense apart. That’s what he did to us last year. He’s not a guy that thinks run-first; he’s a passing-first guy. That’s why you have to put some heat on him.”

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RUNNING BACK

Starters: Damon Bullock

Reserves: Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill

Damon Bullock will start Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois, and after that is anyone’s guess. (Rodney White / Register photo)

The skinny: Maybe so much is being made how bad this position looks on the depth chart that – just maybe – Iowa’s rushing game won’t be that horrendous.

“Looks can fool you,” center James Ferentz said. “We’ll be able to run the ball.”

Unless something drastic happens, Damon Bullock will start Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois, and after that is anyone’s guess.

It’s an ideal time for a freshman – maybe two freshmen – to play, and don’t count that out. That’s actually the highlight of fall ball, determining how much Greg Garmon of Erie, Pa., and Barkley Hill of Cedar Falls will play.

Ideally, one plays and one redshirts. This, however, is a less than ideal situation.

With Jordan Canzeri recovering from ACL surgery, there aren’t a lot of options. De’Andre Johnson was kicked off the team after two legal run-ins 72 hours last month.

Transfer Andre Dawson (Iowa Western Community College) is untested at the big-time level. That leaves Bullock – and his 20 career rushing yards.

“If you look at us historically . . . Fred Russell was our primary back in ’02 and ’03, and Shonn Greene obviously in ’08,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And then you’ll get a year like ’09, where we had basically a committee — and a true freshman ended up being the MVP of the Orange Bowl that year, so there’s a lot of different ways to have success. We’re open to any of them.”

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RECEIVERS

Starters: Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley, C.J. Fiedorowicz

Reserves: Don Shumpert, Steven Staggs, Zach Derby

Keenan Davis had 713 receiving yards in 2011. (Press-Citizen photo)

The skinny: How does a team replace Marvin McNutt? Start with dependable veteran wide out Keenan Davis and sturdy tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.

Davis doesn’t always have the flash that McNutt demonstrated while making acrobatic catches, but it’s not as if the former Cedar Rapids Washington star doesn’t have that in his bag of tricks.

He’s got the dash, however, and that’s what counts. It took a while for Fiedorowicz to step to the front of the tight end line, but once he did, the battle was to see who would be his backup. He had 10 catches during the final three games, staking his claim to what often is a Hawkeye glamour position.

It’s unlikely opponents will double cover Davis, but if they do, then Kevonte Martin-Manley must play well. The sophomore is Iowa’s No. 2 returning receiver after catching 30 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns last season.

Davis and Fiedorowicz are go-to receivers. Martin-Manley is an above-average next option.

“We understand there are questions at our position, and it’s up to us to answer those questions,” Keenan Davis said. “It’s time to step up and lead.” And this from Martin-Manley: “It’s time for me to take the next step as a receiver. I’m getting ready for my third year, and it’s time to step up. I look around the locker room and I’m realizing that I’m not the new guy anymore. The game is slowing down for me. Things are coming more naturally.”

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OFFENSIVE LINE

Starters: Brandon Scherff, Matt Tobin, James Ferentz, Austin Blythe, Brett Van Sloten.

Reserves: Andrew Donnal, Drew Clark, Tommy Gaul, Connor Boffeli, Nolan MacMillan.

Iowa offensive lineman, from left: Brett Van Sloten, Austin Blythe, James Ferentz, center, Matt Tobin and Brandon Scherff. (Rodney White / Register photo)

The skinny: Iowa has had 12 linemen drafted since Ferentz replaced Hayden Fry before the 1999 season – only three fewer than Wisconsin among conference teams. The Hawkeyes usually are solid here, and this season is no different under new assistant Brian Ferentz.

His brother, center James, has started 26 games in a row, while guard Matt Tobin has started 10 consecutive. The only obstacle keeping tackle Nolan MacMillan from a lengthy string of starts is injury. He’s back in 2012 – and antsy to make an impact.

Keep an eye on Austin Blythe, a guard from Williamsburg. He redshirted last season, despite some saying he entered college football-ready. He’s a former wrestler, which usually means he’s good with his hands and has balance. His peers selected him to the team’s Leadership Group, which means respect among his teammates.

ESPN writes that Iowa has the Big Ten’s seventh-best offensive line. Here’s why, according to ESPN.com: “The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year’s edition. The leader is center James, Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.

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KICKER / PUNTER

Starters: Mike Meyer (PK), John Wienke (P)

Reserves: Marshall Koehn (PK), Jonny Mullings (P)

Iowa kicker Mike Meyer (96) celebrates with his teammate John Wienke after kicking a field goal against Michigan last year at Kinnick Stadium. (David Purdy/Register photo)

The skinny: Mike Meyer is solid; he enters the season with 53 consecutive PATS and made 14 of 20 field-goal attempts last season. He even made a 50-yarder against Iowa State, so he’s not a problem.

The uncertainty surrounding players who kick footballs is at punter, where the lead booter has more career passing attempts (one) than punts. That’s a stigma former quarterback John Wienke must overcome if he hopes to make people forget just how valuable Eric Guthrie was during the past few seasons.

Wienke has zero punts during games. He’s held for Meyer’s place-kicks, but he’s zilch when it comes to kicking. The last time Wienke punted was in 2007 as a high school senior. He wasn’t bad, averaging 41.1 yards, but there’s a big difference doing it against Big Ten competition than against Illinois high school opponents.

If he can’t do it, converted rugby player Jonny Mullings, of Australia, gets the job. His addition to the team gives Iowa the option to punt traditionally while also throwing in a new-wave rugby punt.

Whoever gets the job must punt the opponent into a hole, given quick yardage gains by innovative offenses.

“A little known fact coming out of high school: John Wienke was the all state punter,” special teams coach Lester Erb said. “He punted seven times in high school, so John toyed around with it a little bit when he got in here, and obviously there’s a pretty good opportunity for him right now. John was on the field for us last year as our holder. The good thing is, nobody knew it, but he was on the field for all of our PATs and field goals last year so that gave him a role.”

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BREAKOUT PLAYER

Receiver Keenan Davis

With the running back position in flux, and a new offensive coordinator who likes to call passing plays, receiver Keenan Davis figures this could be a big season.

“I’m a senior – the time has flown by – and now it’s time to step up and compete at the level that you would expect a senior to compete,” Davis said. “That’s the plan.”

He is the No. 1 returning receiver, with 713 yards last season.

“I’m trying to build my own legacy,” he went on. “It’s what I can do to help this team.”

 

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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