By ADAM JEWELL
Special to Dear Old Gold
IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz is an enigma, and because some believe that a team is a reflection of its coach, so are the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0) started Big 10 Conference play with a bang by putting the screws to a Minnesota team that could be on the rise. The victory gave the Hawkeye faithful a glimmer of hope that the best is yet to come, this year and in the future. However, is the team that showed up against Minnesota the same team that fans will see on a consistent basis?
With conference play getting into full swing, the teams projected to be at the top don’t have many questions to answer, if any. The Hawkeyes, while showing signs of progress, have plenty to answer if they want to stay competitive in the conference. Here are the main ones:
Will the offense get going?
It is no secret that this is one of the biggest questions about the team. The offense has sputtered and almost ground to a halt at times. The coaches are putting faith in the running game because Mark Weisman has shown time and again that he can carry the load. Backup Damon Bullock is proving to be a complementary change of pace option. However, the Hawkeyes rank 48th in the NCAA and eighth in the Big 10 in total offense. They are 54th in the NCAA and 10th in the Big 10 in points scored. A strong defense needs a reliable offense, and right now the offense that struggled against Iowa State and Missouri State needs to go back to the drawing board. Hawkeye fans are optimistic that the offensive output that was seen against Minnesota and Western Michigan is a sign of things to come and will only get better.
Will Jake Rudock be THE guy?
Almost everything so far points to yes. Some of the throws he makes are just flat out great. He hits his receivers in stride and on a dime while presenting a fearless and smart attitude. He has thrown six touchdowns and four interceptions, but if he wants to be the man he has got to learn to take care of the football. Rudock is still learning and Ferentz knows this; so he takes pressure off of him by leaning on the running game. It’s only a matter of time before offensive coordinator Greg Davis gives him a little more leash.
Is this defense for real?
Absolutely, 100 percent yes. The numbers back it up: seventh in the country and second in the Big 10 in total defense. Minus a few mental gaffes and breakdowns in the secondary, this defense can play with almost anyone. Tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat are shutting down opposing runners. Defensive ends Drew Ott and Dominick Alvis are keeping blockers off Iowa’s trio of linebackers, among the best in the country. Anthony Hitchens and Chris Kirksey are among the conference leaders in tackles. And the safety Tanner Miller and cornerback B.J. Lowery have combined for five interceptions.
So far this season, Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are doing what they do best: fly under the radar and make the most of they talent they have. The next three games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern will tell if the Hawkeyes will be taken seriously or if they are just a middle of the road team.
Those questions and more will be answered beginning Saturday.