A recently released article stated the biggest challenge facing the Iowa football team is a lack of options at receiving. Simply put, I don’t agree.
The Iowa football team quite possibly has its’ most talented team in years entering the 2019 football season, and there are high expectations for this program. Yet, the 2019 season will have its’ own challenges.
The Hawkeyes lost their top two tight ends and their leading wide receiver, they face a grueling schedule, and they’re losing six starters from their defense, but which challenge concerns me the most?
It’s actually none of those. Sure, a case can be made that losing your top three receiving threats is the biggest challenge as alluded to in this article, but what concerns me the most is the development of the running game.
Before I jump into that though, let’s focus on the receiving piece. The Iowa football team is losing two first-round tight ends, which is a huge loss, but prior to the 2018 season, TJ Hockenson was a relative unknown. Drew Cook and Shaun Beyer have the skills, they just need the opportunity. They won’t replace these guys, but they could be valuable options in the passing game.
The wide receiver group actually excites me though. Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are finally the main options and they are quite possibly the best yin and yang wide receiver duo the Hawks have had in some time. Smith is a jump-ball threat anywhere on the field and Smith-Marsette is a speedster who is electric with the ball in his hands.
The slot wide receiver spot appears to be in good hands with Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr, and I’m not even factoring in the possible arrival of Oliver Martin if his transfer waiver is approved.
Now onto the run game, which struggled mightily last year. The trio of Iowa running backs averaged 148.4 yards per game at an average of 4 yards per carry. The year before was even worse when the Hawks averaged 139.2 yards per game on 3.8 yards per carry. Both of these totals are the lowest the Iowa football team has had since the disastrous 2012 season when the Hawks went 4-8.
The run game is what sets the table for everything else in Iowa’s arsenal. Iowa’s passing attack is predicated on having a strong run game, and a strong run game wears down a defense and keeps the Hawkeye’s defense off the field.
Given Iowa’s daunting schedule, it will be even more important to effectively establish a run game and play Iowa football when going into hostile territories. The Hawkeyes have built their program on the run game, and it has not been up to par the last two seasons. Heading into 2019, this is the biggest challenge facing Kirk Ferentz’s team.