Continuing our 2012 preseason opponent preview series, the fifth easiest (or eighth toughest) game of the upcoming season is the second to last opponent of the season, the Iowa Hawkeyes. In the past few weeks, we have previewed, in order of easiest to not-so-easiest, UMass, Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern.
It’s not often that a head coach replaces both coordinators in one offseason, but when you’re the elder statesman of the Big Ten and you’ve had two straight lackluster seasons, sometimes change is due. Kirk Ferentz, now in his 14th season at Iowa, let go of longtime offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe and defensive coordinator Norm Parker. He replaced Parker with defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation), but he went outside the program for new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Davis was the man who guided Texas to a national championship in 2006 and called plays for Vince Young and Colt McCoy. From 2003 to 2009, his offenses finished no worse than 14th nationally in scoring and scored at least 35.2 points per game each season. How much of that was Davis and how much of that was Young and McCoy is debatable. Without the two, his offense scored just 23.8 points per game and the Longhorns limped to a 5-7 record in 2010.
Davis inherits an offense that was middle of the pack in the Big Ten last season, but he does have a talented signal caller to work with. Senior James Vandenberg returns for his second year as a starter after throwing for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. His yards per game average was third in the conference behind Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins and his touchdowns were second only to Russell Wilson’s 33.
He’ll have to find a new top receiver to throw to as Marvin McNutt is off to the NFL. Senior Keenan Davis caught 50 passes last season and is the logical choice, but he struggled in spring ball, leaving the door open for others. Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley impressed last season, catching 30 passes and three touchdowns as a freshman, and could step into a leading role. Another guy to watch for is tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. He’s 6’7” and 265 pounds with good hands and is tough to bring down. He caught just 16 passes last season, but most came in the last few games in which he caught touchdown passes in three of the final four games.
It seems to be a yearly refrain, but the position that has been the most ravaged for the Hawkeyes is running back. Last season’s leading rusher, and the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher, Marcus Coker, transferred to Stony Brook amid legal troubles. To make matters worse, his likely replacement, Jordan Canzeri, tore his ACL in March and Mika’il McCall transferred as well. Sophomore De’Andre Johnson is next in line, but he struggled holding onto the ball in the spring. Fellow sophomore Damon Bullock showed good speed in the spring and will factor in, while a pair of freshman, Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill, will get a chance to show what they can do in the fall.
The offensive line is a typical Iowa line despite having to replace three starters. Iowa churns out big uglies as well as any school in the Big Ten and has plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Redshirt freshman Austin Blythe looked good in the spring and will try to work his way into the lineup in fall camp. The Hawkeyes have eight or nine battling it out for the starting five, which won’t be decided until the start of the season.
While the offense will likely take some time to adjust to the new schemes, defense will be the Hawks’ calling card. Yes, a new defensive coordinator is in place, but he came from within, so don’t expect a drop off in production.
Let’s start with the question mark: the defensive line. It’s a young group aside from end Joe Gaglione, who had a strong spring, and tackle Steve Bigach. Parker will need some young guys such as Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn, and Carl Davis to step up, though Davis missed spring practice with a knee injury. Defensive end Dominic Alvis is likely to earn a starting spot if he can return healthy from a torn ACL.
|Sept. 1||Northern Illinois|
|Sept. 8||Iowa State|
|Sept. 15||Northern Iowa|
|Sept. 22||Central Michigan|
|Oct. 13||@ Michigan State|
|Oct. 20||Penn State|
|Oct. 27||@ Northwestern|
|Nov. 3||@ Indiana|
|Nov. 17||@ Michigan|
The back seven will be solid. James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens all return at the linebacker spots, though if any of them go down, there’s not much depth. Micah Hyde is a solid playmaker at corner, but the Hawkeyes are still looking for his counterpart. B.J. Lowery looks to be that guy, but Greg Castillo, who has started a few games, is right there as well. At safety, Nico Law and Tanner Miller are the starters. Law is a big hitter who impressed in the spring game. Parker promises to blitz more and play more press coverage than Iowa has in recent year, so look for the back seven to carry the Hawkeyes defense, but the performance of the line will tell the tale of the season.
Kicker Mike Meyer is back after hitting 14 of 20 last season, while Iowa needs to find a new punter. Former quarterback John Wienke looks to be the guy, however, Jonny Mullings may end up the starter when all is said and done. Hyde retakes the punt return duties after averaging 8.2 yards per return last season and Davis will again handle kick return duties.
With so many questions at the sills positions offensively, Iowa will need its defense to be dominant. Vandenberg will be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but how quickly he grasps the new offense, and how well the running backs step up, will be the stories to watch early in the season. Fortunately, the non-conference schedule looks like four wins and the Hawks skip Wisconsin and Ohio State. If Ferentz doesn’t win at least eight or nine games it will be another disappointing season in Iowa City.
What it means for Michigan
Lost amid the focus of Michigan’s losing streak to Michigan State and the exuberance of ending the losing streak to Ohio State is a three-game losing streak to Iowa. The only reason it isn’t four is because the two didn’t play in 2008. This year, the game falls very late in the season, right after Minnesota and Northwestern and right before the big showdown in Columbus. Will Michigan be looking ahead? Don’t count on it. This should be the year the losing streak ends