Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Week 10: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hoosiers welcome Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes to Bloomington for a week 10 matchup. These Hawkeyes, much like Hawkeye from the well-known Avengers movies, is a worthy opponent, but when compared to the rest of the lineup, seems quite pedestrian. The comic book character, at least his movie iteration, fails to strike fear in his adversaries in quite the same way that the Hulk, Thor, or Captain America does. The Iowa Hawkeyes pose a threat, but of the other potential opponents you could face, seems to be one of the least problematic. That’s not to say we are overlooking Ferentz and his team, but at the end of the day, would you rather step into the ring with the likes of Iron Man, Vision, or Hawkeye? I can guarantee you aren’t making it out alive against the former two, and while taking down Hawkeye is no easy feat, at least you have punchers chance. Recent history shows us that the Hoosiers might even have a greater chance than that.
Hawkeyes at a Glance:
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (17th Season, 115-85 at Iowa, 12-21 at Maine)
Last Season:: 7-6 (4-4 in Big Ten)
Bowl Game: TaxSlayer Bowl (28-45 Loss to Tennessee)
Spartans' Returning Leaders
Passing: CJ Beathard (52-92, 56.5%, 3,214 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs)
Rushing: Jordan Canzeri (102 carries, 494 yards, 0 TDs)
Receiving: Tevaun Smith (43 catches, 596 yards, 3 TDs)
Why The Hawkeyes Could Win:
Admittedly, it was much more difficult to find reasons why the Hawkeyes would beat the Hoosiers than it was to find reasons that the Spartans or even the Hilltoppers would accomplish the feat. It’s not that the Hawkeyes are a bad team, they just don’t do anything exceptionally well that intimidates their opponents. However, there’s a reason why Iowa holds an 8-4 record against the Hoosiers since the turn of the century.
Kirk Ferentz, the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, is entering season 17 as the Hawkeyes head coach. While the last few years have left a lot to be desired for Iowa fans, he’s still one of the more accomplished coaches in the conference. He’s won the Big Ten twice (2002, ’04), was the conference’s coach of the year three times (2002, ’04, ’09), and was named the Walter Camp and the AP College Football Coach of the Year in 2002. Ferentz holds a 115-85 record at Iowa and is 8-5 against the Hoosiers, and while fans have been critical of the veteran coach, there’s not much you can throw at him that he has not already seen.
The most popular guy on any struggling team is the second-string quarterback. Fans believe with a quick snap of the fingers and a substitution that an anemic offense will quickly spring to life. Unfortunately it’s not always that easy, but Iowa fans are going to get what they clamored for most of last fall, C.J. Beathard. Many faulted last year’s starter Jake Rudock for being far too conservative with the ball, failing to look downfield and missing out on potential big plays. Beathard is not afraid to take chances, and while that may lead to more mistakes, there is also quite a bit of more upside involved when playing with a quarterback like this, as opposed to having a game manager under center. Not to be overlooked is his ability to move the ball on the ground, carrying the pigskin eight times for 82 yards in their loss against Tennessee in the Taxslayer Bowl.
When asked about the decision to go with Beathard and his development as a player at last week’s Big Ten Football Media Days, Ferentz responded, “When he (Beathard) came in as a freshman, it was really obvious at a very early point that he had a very live arm, active feet. He's a good football player, good tools. And to me it's been the growth and development that we've seen and, most importantly, throughout the year…And so I'm not going to say it was an easy decision by any stretch of the imagination, but it was one that we made. And we've moved on since that time. Again, very, very happy with the development that CJ has demonstrated.”
Helping ease Beathard’s transition from backup to full-time starter will be senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith, who led the team with 596 receiving yards and tied for the most receiving touchdowns with three. Questions remain about what type of impact senior tight end Jake Duzey (36 recs. 392 yds. 3 tds) will have this fall after suffering a torn patellar tendon earlier this spring. However, there’s a good chance he will be back by at least by midseason and should have a lot of the rust knocked off when the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers meet up. If that’s the case, Duzey could have field day against the Hoosiers smallish secondary.
While the Hawkeyes’ defense did not end their season on a high note, getting gouged for 461 total yards by the Volunteers, on average they did only give up 344.4 yards per game in 2014, which was 22 best in the nation. The team will need to replace a few starters, but still returns quite a few talented athletes, starting with All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott. The Nebraska native gave the Hoosiers offensive line some trouble last fall, getting to the quarterback 1.5 times during the course of the mid October matchup.
The secondary returns three starters, which could spell trouble for a Hoosiers passing game which will mostly be relying on underclassmen at wide receiver. All-Big Ten cornerback Desmond King (64 tackles, 3 INTs) and safety Jordan Lomax (92 tackles, INT) lead a group that looks to be a strength of the Hawkeyes defense this fall.
Why They Won't Pull it Off:
For almost nearly every reason I gave why I thought the Hawkeyes would win, it could easily be a reason why they could lose too. For as good as Ferentz has been during his tenure in Iowa City, the last five seasons he's only had a combined record of 34-30. And while quarterback Beathard looks to possess a great deal of potential, right now he's still relatively somewhat of an unknown.
While the Hawkeyes benefit from the return of their leading receiver in Tevaun Smith, there's not a lot of proven options behind him at wide receiver. It's hard enough quarterbacking in the Big Ten when you have a strong wide receiving corps, but it gets considerably tougher when you don't have any reliable pass catchers to throw to. And although we listed Duzey as a reason why the Hawkeyes might beat the Hoosiers, there is still some debate on when he'll return and how effective he'll be in the short-term.
To further complicate things for the Iowa offense, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their rushing attack, a hallmark of many of Ferentz's most successful teams. Starting running back and leading rusher Max Weisman (213 cars., 812 yds., 16 tds) graduated and now the workload has being passed onto senior Jordan Canzeri (102 cars., 494 yds.). The injury prone Canzeri averaged nearly 5 yards per carry, but failed to reach pay dirt on the ground once during the course of last season. If Iowa is unable to establish a consistent running game, the pressure will become even greater on first year starting quarterback Beathard.
The question marks on offense don't end there, as the team has to replace both starting offensive tackles, including Outland Trophy winner and fifth overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Brandon Scherff. If the Hoosiers can get consistent pressure on Beathard, while keeping him contained and not letting him scramble for big plays, their chances of winning improve drastically.
Finally, despite only holding a .333 winning percentage against the Hawkeyes since 2000, Indiana has played some of their best conference games against Iowa. The Hoosiers fell behind early last fall in Iowa City, but quickly battled back before a shoulder injury ended quarterback Nate Sudfeld's day and season. The team still kept it close, only losing by 16. Two years before (2012) the Hoosiers won a close one at home against the Hawkeyes, 24-21, which happens to be the only time Coach Wilson has faced Iowa at home. Another factor that will be playing in the Hoosiers favor is that they will be coming off of a bye week, giving them two weeks to prepare for Ferentz and his club.
If you want to see the definition of a toss up, this is it. This game is likely circled on both teams' calendars as virtually must-wins if they want to play in the postseason. However, this Hawkeyes team is quintessentially a box of chocolates, you never quite know what you are going to get. This team could just as easily be 6-2 as it could 2-6 going into their matchup against the Hoosiers. However, after a rigorous first four games in the Big Ten that includes the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, and Michigan State, I have a feeling the Hoosiers will gladly welcome the Hawkeyes to town. Like I was saying, who would you rather face, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, or Hawkeye? I'll let you decide, but I think we both know the answer.
Hoosiers Win Probability: 50%