Saturday, August 30, 2014

Game Day Iowa: Kickoff of the '14 season at Kinnick vs. Northern Iowa Panthers

The University of Iowa (8-5, 5-3 B1G in '13) celebrates their 125th anniversary of Hawkeye Football in 2014, as the Northern Iowa Panthers (7-5, 3-5 MVfC in '13) come to Kinnick Stadium to open the '14 season.

There is plenty of history to celebrate with Iowa Football and College Football in 2014. The new College Football Playoff has replaced the old BCS in '14.

It has been 75 years, since the Iowa Ironmen team and the 1939 season and Nile Kinnick's Heisman season. The Hawkeyes have enjoyed memorable seasons over the past 125 and 75 years, respectively.

Personally, it is the 40th anniversary of my first college season at Kinnick, as a young Hawkeye fan. Sadly, 2014 is the first college football season, without my father alive, as he passed away this Summer.

Iowa is 15-1 in the UNI series, as the only loss came in game 1, back in 1898. It was only five years ago, when the Hawkeyes needed to block back to back Panther field goals, on consecutive plays, at the end of the game, to preserve the win at Kinnick, in another season opener. Last season, UNI beat Iowa State 28-20, in their season opener.

Iowa enters their 16th season with head coach Kirk Ferentz (108 wins, 6-5 in bowls) at the helm. It has been ten years, since Iowa took home a share of a Big Ten title in football. Iowa won co-championships in both 2002 and 2004, under Ferentz leadership.

Iowa hasn't competed for a Big Ten title, since the 2009 season, five years ago, when they fell short in OT at Ohio State. Today, division football enters year 4 in the Big Ten, but with a new geographic divisions for '14.

Iowa is part of the new B1G West in 2014, as Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes make up new geographic division in the new 14 member conference. Maryland and Rutgers are now in the Big Ten and will join Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in the East division.

Iowa opens at Kinnick Stadium today, the first of four non-conference games to open the 2014 campaign. The Hawkeyes return eight starters on offense, five on defense, with 40 returning letterman.

Both programs, Iowa and UNI, should be better on offense in 2014. Each has a 1-2 option at QB, though junior Jake Rudock is a clear #1 for the Hawkeye offense. Sophomore C.J. Beathard could come in some situational plays in '14 for the Hawkeyes.

Both programs like to run the football. Iowa goes four-deep at RB, with seniors Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, junior Jordan Canzeri and sophomore LeShun Daniels. UNI counters with senior David Johnson, who Iowa recruited as a greyshirt. Former Iowa RB Barkley Hill, transferred during the summer to UNI. Hill was buried deep on the Iowa depth chart, when he vacated Iowa City. He should finally make his college debut today.

Both teams have experience in the offensive line. Iowa is lead by senior FBS pre-season all-American LT Brandon Scherrff. Senior Andrew Donnal will man the RT spot for Iowa, while junior C Austin Blythe calls the offensive line signals again. Junior Jordan Walsh is back, with redshirt freshman Sean Welsh the other guard spot for Iowa, as we kickoff the '14 season.

Senior FCS preseason all-American candidate Jack Rummels anchors the Panthers in the offensive line in '14. The Panthers have watched North Dakota State emerge as a three-time FCS champion, lately as a fellow MVfC member. North Dakota State opens in Ames today. ISU comes to Kinnick in two weeks.

The FCS schools knocked off a record 16 FBS schools in '13. UNI enjoyed one of those wins in Ames last year. North Dakota State took down Kansas State last year and will look to make it two in a row for the FCS in Ames.

If Iowa is going to compete for a Big Ten title in 2014, they will have to improve their explosive plays this season on offense. The passing attack will have to improve.

Iowa has four experienced tights ends for third-year, offensive coordinator Greg Davis to utilize. Senior Ray Hamilton, juniors Henry Krieger-Coble, Jake Duzey and sophomore George Little bring variables to the Iowa offense.

The wide receivers have been mostly quiet the past several years for Iowa, but that may change in '14?

Senior Kevonte Martin-Manly (40 catches, 5 tds), junior Tevaun Smith (huge TD vs. Michigan in '13) and senior Diamond Powell (24.2 yds per catch, 2 tds) were the Top 3 wide receivers last year. They are all back, as is junior Jacob Hillyer, as seasoned wide receiver. 

Sophomore Matt VandeBerg made two starts last year and redshirt freshmen Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris all are options at WR. Senior walk-on Andrew Stone could factor in as a possession receiver.

The strength of the Iowa defense is the return of all four starters in the defensive line. Iowa was very good in run defense and points allowed in '13, but all three talented starting linebackers are in the NFL now.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker will enter year three, as DC. He has been at Iowa leading the defensive backs, since 1999, during Kirk Ferentz's first season. Iowa's coaching staff is seasoned with a mix of experience and youth.

Iowa will see senior MLB Quinton Alston anchor the Iowa defense in '14. He will benefit up the middle with senior defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat. Davis, like Scherff on offense, is receiving pre-season all-American talk. Trica-Pasat is one of Iowa's four team captains in the opener, with Weisman, Scherrf and Alston.

Iowa has a three-man rotation back at defensive end with senior Mike Hardy, juniors Drew Ott and Nate Meier. Juniors Riley McMinn and Melvin Spears need to step up, as reserves.

Depth and experience is a concern on defense for Iowa, but the defense could be stout again at times?

The defensive line lost junior Darian Cooper to knee surgery, so the #3 DT will come from sophomores Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie and redshirt freshman Nathan Bazata in '14.

Sophomore Reggie Spearman will man the WLB position, after playing as a true frosh last season, as a specialist on pass rush, in Iowa's Raider defense. Look for more nickel and dime looks in '14 on passing downs by the Hawkeyes?

The other linebacker spot is an interesting story for Iowa. Ferentz rewarded a redshirt freshman Bo Bower the first start and a scholarship to open his career. Bower turned down a scholarship at UNI to walk-on at Iowa. His debut comes vs. UNI today at The Kinnick.

Iowa's secondary has two returning starters, but otherwise new. Senior SS John Lowdermilk is back. Sophomore Desmond King became the starter, after week 1, when he replaced an injured starter in last year's opener vs. Northern Illinois. King could be very special in the Hawkeye secondary and is a player to keep an eye on for Iowa.

The other members of the secondary for Iowa in '14. Junior Jordan Lomax manned King's CB spot in last year's opener, but he has moved this off season to the FS position for Iowa. The other new CB for Iowa is sophomore Greg Mabin (6-2 converted WR), with junior Sean Draper and sophomore Maurice Fleming pushing Mabin.

True freshmen Miles Taylor and Ben Niemann are expected to play today. Taylor is a reserve safety and Niemann is likely a reserve linebacker, both should play special teams. Juniors Travis Perry (one start in '12), Cole Fisher and senior Chad Gilson, transfer from UNI, are all reserve linebackers and will find roles on special teams in '14.

Special teams are always important, especially in season openers. Iowa returns specialists Canzeri (25.2 yards per KO return) and PR Martin-Manly (15.7, 2 tds). Redshirt freshman, reserve RBs Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley may help in roles on kick returns in '14, as well,  for Iowa.

Iowa has a new placekicker and punter in '14, despite the return of two-year junior punter Connor Kornbath's (40.0 per punt) return. Junior college transfer, junior Dillon Kidd will get the start at punter. Kornbath's strength has been pinning teams inside the 20, but Kidd appears to have a stronger leg. Kidd's dad had a long career in the NFL, as a punter.

Four-year placekicker Mike Meyer has graduated. So, junior Marshall Koehn is likely first up as the new PK for Iowa, with true freshman Mick Ellis from the Lone Star State in the mix, likely in '14. The new long snapper is redshirt freshman Tyler Kluver. There are some big shoes to fill in '14.

Iowa vs. UNI

Season openers are always a little anxious, since no one really knows just how their team will gel right out of the gates.

Iowa is known for slow, methodical starts under Kirk Ferentz. In 2005, Iowa roared out of the gate vs. Ball State, but that has been the exception the past 15 seasons, rather than the rule.

UNI coach Mark Farley likely has a Panther team with an offense ahead of the defense, which may help Iowa more in the Season Opener?

Does Iowa continue to struggle in Season Openers for the third straight season?

UNI is most experienced in the secondary on defense. Some believe it should be 'stellar' in '14. Iowa found Northern Illinois' secondary in '12 and '13 solid in the secondary.

The middle of the UNI may be stout, like Iowa?  Defensive tackle Xavier Williams is a stout, 311 pound anchor. He was all-conference and had 74 tackles last year. Senior linebacker Jake Farley is not 100 percent, but is expected to play, coming off a broken leg during the loss to North Dakota State, last season. Leading tackler over the first five games last season.

Iowa and UNI both could be set for breakout seasons. Lately, both have been up and down in their respective conferences and Division 1 divisions (FBS vs. FCS). Neither has had the success as their fan bases have enjoyed in the past under respective coaches, Ferentz and Farley.

Keys to game:

1. Line of scrimmage,
2. Special teams and turnovers,
3. Explosive plays,
4. Down and distance,
5. Coaching adjustments and temperament.

Cidsports Game Pick:
Iowa 38
UNI 17

This game could be close, but UNI defense has been apparently running behind the offense. Iowa should return to having a better offense and defense should be able to control line of scrimmage more than UNI.

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