Iowa plans to ride its defense as usual, air it out more often than in the past
Iowa football fans may finally have a reason to start cheering again. This offseason, as well as the past few years, have been full of disappointment as numerous Hawkeyes have found themselves in legal battles resulting in their dismissals from the teams. This poor conduct has negatively affected recruiting as well. Regardless, the season goes on, and the Hawkeyes have a chance to be a competitive team in the Big Ten this year.
The Hawkeyes feature a lot of youth, 61 sophomores and freshman vs 38 juniors and seniors, but that youth is experienced. 34 of the 51 returning letterwinners from last season are first time recipients. This group of battle-tested youth built around a solid senior core could yield encouraging results for Iowa. A bowl berth is definitely not out of the question, especially for a team looking to avenge last season's embarassing loss to Western Michigan. The loss dropped the Hawks to 6-6 for the year, and it left them without a bowl game for the first time in seven seasons.
Offense - Quarterback
The Hawkeye offense will look to improve on the inconsistent, injury riddled team that was near the bottom of the Big Ten in production last year. Leading the charge will be quarterback Jake Christensen who started every game last year. The junior threw for 2200 yards and 17 TDs in his sophomore effort but lacked consistency at times. Backup Ricky Stanzi has size, 6-4, 225, and made significant strides this offseason. No matter who's under center, the Hawks will throw it up more often than in the past.
And this is the reason why. By far the biggest concern offensively will the running back position. The duo of Albert Young and Damien Sims have both graduated. Young ranks third on Iowa's all-time rushing charts, and combined with Sims they accounted for over 97% of the ground game last year. Gone with them is lead blocker and four year letterman Tom Busch.
Likely starter and letter-winner Jevon Pugh parted ways with the school leaving former walk-on Paki O'Meara atop the spring depth chart. Former Hawk Shonn Greene is back from the junior college ranks, but how effective he will be is a large unkown. Junior college transfer Guillory totalled 2600 yards and 28 TDs in 2007 and will contend for playing time. Incoming freshmen Jeff Brinson out of St. Petersburg Florida could work his way into the mix as well. He totalled nearly 5000 yards and 70 touchdowns during high school.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
The wide receiver and tight end positions looks to be one of the strenghs of the offense. They are finally healthy and have some considerable depth. After missing the majority of last season, Andy Brodell and Tony Moeaki return to the lineup. Brodell is the speedster who torched Texas for 159 yards and 2TDs in the 2006 Alamo Bowl. He'll also run back the majority of the punts as he averaged 14 yards per return before getting injured last year. He'll be joined out wide by the reliable Trey Stross and super-soph Derrel Johnson-Koulianos. DJK was last years leading receiver and is expected to be one of the Hawkeyes' top kick returners. Colin Sandeman is a more than adequate fifth option.
Tony Moeaki is a pre-season All-American candidate at tight end. A tremendous blocker and route runner, Moeaki had 170 yards and 3 TDs before going down in the fourth game of the season. Brandon Myers was solid in his stead last season hauling in 5 TDs.
The offensive line, as usual with Iowa, should be the strength of the team as it returns virtually everyone from last season. Bryan Bulaga recieved preseason All-Big Ten nods and, alongside Dan Doering, will anchor the left side of the line. Center Rafael Eubanks will be a third year starter. Seth Olsen is a pre-season All-Big Ten candidate, and tackle Kyle Calloway started all twelve games last year.
Defense - Defensive Line
The defensive line should be the one of the best in the Big Ten this year, and will pace the Hawkeyes efforts on that side of the ball this year. The front four is led by seniors Mitch King and Matt Kroul. King has a tireless motor, and is a pre-season All-American candidate. Kroul is nearly just as relentless, and he is pre-season first team All-Big Ten pick. The duo's combined for 52 tackles for loss in their three years. Sophomores Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard both showed flashes of dominance during their freshman campaign. Anton Narinsky looks to factor in as relief for the tackle duo.
Iowa loses two very productive linebackers in Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal. The duo accounted for over 200 tackles last season, but the Hawkeyes seem particularly gifted at finding someone to fill in the holes at that position. Last year's second leading tackler, A.J. Edds, looks to have a solid junior season. Jacody Coleman and Jeff Tarpinian both saw a lot of action last year and will most likely fill the other two spots. Pat Angerer and Jeremiha Hunter will battle it out with them for starting roles during fall camp.
The Hawkeyes look to be very physical in the secondary with a lot of big bodies flying around. They are fortunate to have two seniors at the cornerback postion with Bradley Fletcher and Drew Gardner. Fletcher had 53 tackles and two interceptions a year ago wihle Gardner excelled on special teams. Sophomore Jordan Bernststine played in all 12 games as a freshman and will see considerable time this year in the secondary and running back kicks.
Brett Greenwood and Harold Dalton round out the secondary at the safety positions. The two combined for 94 tackles a year ago. Oskaloosa grad Tyler Sash had a very impressive spring and could see a lot of snaps.
Ryan Donahue was an All-Big ten honorable mention as a freshman punter and should improve on his already solid 41 yards per punt. The recent transfer of Austin Signor frees up kicking duties for Daniel Murray. The two split time last season with Murray being the more consistent of the two as he was seven out of ten in field goal attempts with a long of 47 yards. He made 16 of 18 PATs.
The previously mentioned Brodell will handle the majority of punt returns and should excel there this season if he can remain injury free. Johnson-Koulianos and Bernstine are both very quick, agile, and sure handed as they will take the majority of kick returns.
Iowa catches a break this year with powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan both absent from the schedule. They open their non-conference play with three straight home games, including their rivalry game with Iowa State. Seven of their twelve are in the friendly confines of Kinnick. That includes four of their final five games leaving the door open to make an impressive run at home. In the Big Ten portion of the schedule, the Hawkeyes will play host to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Purdue, which gives reason for optimism. If they can pick up two out of three road wins against Michigan State, Illinois, or Indiana, then the Hawkeyes may be positioned for a solid bowl berth.