Iowa City, IA -- The University of Iowa is coming off a "disappointing" season a year ago. Whether it be athletic director Gary Barta, head coach Kirk Ferentz, the team or the Hawkeyes' fans, the 45-28 defeat to a young and upcoming Tennessee Volunteers' squad, ending with a 7-6 record wasn't what many had expected for the Hawkeyes in 2014.
|On Saturday, Kirk Ferentz conducted his 17th Media Day,|
as head coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is the dean of Big Ten football coaches. He is entering his 17th season as head coach in 2015, after a total of 25 years in the Big Ten, with his first nine seasons, as Hayden Fry's offensive line coach, where Ferentz helped Fry and Iowa to their first Rose Bowl trip in the modern era and thirty years ago, Iowa's last #1 ranking in the college polls.
In 2015, Iowa is seeking first division title and date in the Big Ten Championship Game for the first time ever. Wisconsin was the inaugural Big Ten West champion last season, fueled by a 26-24 win at Iowa. The Hawkeyes were +10 underdogs and played catch up all game long.
The Orlando Sentinel writer Matt Murschel sees Iowa has a potential Top 25 team, listing the Hawkeyes at #26 in the preseason. In his outlook he suggests, "That said, there is plenty of youth and an early favorable schedule to help the team put together a strong run."
Ferentz has lead Iowa to four Top 8 finishes in the final AP Polls, with the highest finish a #7 ranking at the end of the 2009 season. The Hawkeyes opened the season at 9-0, the best start in Hawkeye history. In 2002, Iowa finished 8-0 in the Big Ten, the only undefeated conference season in the modern era, but the Hawkeyes came up short in the Orange Bowl against up and coming USC, at the time.
In 2009, the Hawkeyes capped off Ferentz' highest finish with a 24-14 Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech. In 2010, AD Barta extended Ferentz a ten year contract extension. After four Top 8 finishes, two Big Ten co-championships, a refurbished historic Kinnick Stadium, the extension was affirmed.
However, Iowa has finished only 34-30 over the past five seasons overall, with a 1-3 bowl record. The Big Ten record is only 19-21 in the Big Ten, with one winning season at 5-3 in 2013.
Throughout the BCS and now the College Football Playoff, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been shut out for 25 years from the Rose Bowl. It has been thirty years, since Iowa's last #1 ranking in the polls. Iowa is 1-1 in BCS bowls, and ...
The lows have many Hawkeyes fans bedazzled lately about Kirk Ferentz and the direction in Iowa City ...
In his 17th University of Iowa football media day, head coach Ferentz remained steadfast. The Hawkeyes are committed to being a Big Ten championship-caliber football team.
So, what can we expect for the 2015 season with the Iowa Hawkeyes?
“Our focus remains on fundamentals, the basics, the things that make teams successful,” Ferentz said. “Whether it’s on the football field, in the classroom, or their citizenship; those things haven’t changed an awful lot over the years.”
- Iowa has better position groups in most areas compared to last season
- Depth is always a concern with programs, like the University of Iowa
- Balance on offense, as the Hawkeyes seek to improve running game
- Balance on defense, as Hawkeyes seek to improve rush defense and pass rush
- Improved special teams, as Hawkeyes return experience and may better utilize play-makers
- Better communication, coordination from a coaching staff entering 2nd, 3rd, 4th season
- A favorable schedule, unlike any season at Iowa, since division play kicked off, in 2011
- A hungry Black & Gold squad ...
Ferentz was an offensive line coach in the NFL for six years, prior to being hired at Iowa in December of 1998. After the bowl loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Iowa coaching staff visited the returning roster and made a bold and important decision at quarterback. Ferentz announced a two-deep, in January, after the bowl game, which was a departure from past seasons.
“I believe we have a strong foundation in place right now, and feel good about the adjustments we’ve made since January,” Ferentz has told the media.
|2015 Leadership Group: 16 Iowa Hawkeyes looked to be the|
corner stone (leadership) of this edition of Hawkeye Football.
"The 2015 Leadership Group is led by a number of seniors who stepped forward as leaders throughout our winter program and spring practice," said Ferentz. "This senior class, along with the underclassmen named to this group, will be counted on to lead the way during the summer and into next season. I look forward to working with this group, as their leadership will play an important role in our program's success."
The Hawkeyes opened fall camp Thursday, with their first practice. Saturday the team completed its third practice -- its first in pads. Ferentz has been impressed with the players’ retention early in camp, and he has seen maturation since spring ball in April.
“It’s a reflection of what they’ve put in with the strength and conditioning and they have been in tune football-wise,” he said. “That’s a key thing in college football, if you’re not improving weekly and daily, you’re going to be in trouble, especially in our program. We need guys to keep climbing the ladder.”
This is an Iowa team to be keeping an eye on, in the Big Ten West division race for 2015.
The schedule is very favorable, like the 2002 season, Iowa avoids the defending Big Ten champion in the regular conference season and the top dog in the Big Ten. Unlike 2002 season, Iowa doesn't play Michigan, Michigan State or Penn State either, in the regular conference season, which only makes the schedule deemed more favorable.
In 2002, Iowa was 5-0 over Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin.
Three others, who dot the 2015 Big Ten schedule are Illinois, Maryland and Nebraska. The new Big Ten presents an interesting opportunity for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The last time Iowa traveled to Wisconsin (2009) and Nebraska (2013), the Hawkeyes took care of business.
For the first time in three seasons, Iowa has a clear cut starter under center in junior C.J. Beathard. The Hawkeyes are hoping for a junior campaign, like former junior QB Matt Rodgers, who lead Iowa to a Big Ten title, after a disappointing 5-6 record during the 1989 season.
Ferentz has been impressed with the growth of Beathard as a leader.
“His demeanor is different,” said Ferentz. “He’s a much more mature guy, and he has accepted the responsibility. When you play quarterback there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that. He has embraced it, is excited about it, and has played well in three days."
Iowa 2015 Quarterbacks:
- 16 C.J. Beathard, junior, lead Iowa to a comeback victory at Pittsburgh and 1-0 in this only previous start, after backing up former two-year starter, departed Jake Rudock, now at Michigan, as a fifth year senior
- 8 Tyler Wiegers, redshirt freshman, rated by Phil Steele (PS) as Iowa's top recruit in the Class of 2014. Wiegers is 6-4 222
- Two new freshmen bring a Beathard/Rudock feel to the class, as 11 Ryan Boyle is a playmaker runner/thrower, while other is Hawkeye legacy 18 Drew Cook, son of former Iowa TE Marv Cook is another good option down the line in the quarterback mix in Iowa City
- Less experience behind Iowa's starter, but more offensive balance at the position should have Iowa fans more excited for a possible breakout run for the Hawkeyes ...
|C Austin Blythe 63 and QB C.J. Beathard 16 lead the battery|
for the Iowa Hawkeyes on offense entering 2015.
Ferentz says it is a race against time to get the five offensive linemen ready for the Sept. 5 season opener against Illinois State.
The offensive line always sets the tone, during the 25 years Kirk Ferentz has either lead the offensive line under Fry or lead the Hawkeyes as head coach. His son, Brian Ferentz, enters his fourth season at Iowa, as offensive line coach. This will be his first season as running game coordinator. Rumor last season was he got a trail run during Iowa's 48-7 win over Northwestern at Kinnick.
The Hawkeyes broke out in 2002, which was Iowa's fourth season under Ferentz, as head coach. It was also Iowa's fourth season under each coordinator. In 2015, Iowa will be in the fourth season under offensive coordinator Greg Davis and defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who has coached Iowa's secondary, beginning in Ferentz's first season in 1999.
Iowa doesn't have the 2002 offensive line, but Iowa doesn't have the schedule they faced in 2002 either, for the 2015 season. Iowa does have one of the better OL freshmen classes in the Big Ten in 2015, but they also have a good mix of letter-winners and players ready to serve as "next man in" at Iowa.
Iowa returns four players with experience on the interior of the line in seniors Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh, sophomore Sean Welsh, and Eric Simmons, another senior. Two sophomores Ike Boettger and Boone Myers are on top of the depth chart at offensive tackle, with Ike on the right side and Boone on the left side.
The interior line play during the past five seasons has been very up and down, so 2015 will start with experience on the interior.
- 63 Austin Blythe, senior, an Iowa native, on the Remington and Outland trophy award watch lists, will anchor the 2015 Iowa offensive line. Playing both center and guard; started 31 straight games over the past three years and has 35 career starts
- The two guard positions will be likely sorted out by returning starters 73 Sean Welsh, sophomore and 65 Jordan Walsh, senior; while 58 Eric Simmons, senior, former freshman JUCO center at Iowa Western, another Iowa native
- Who else could figure in the mix for the Iowa Hawkeyes?
- Two new freshmen to keep an eye on are future center 78 James Daniels, a former Ohio State legacy offensive lineman; and 68 Landan Paulsen, one of two native Iowan twins. His brother will red-shirt, due to elbow injury. Two new freshmen rated top newcomers by PS
- Juniors 74 Mitch Keppy and 73 Ryan Ward are former Illinois preps, while redshirt freshmen 59 Ross Reynolds and 76 Dalton Ferguson, walk-on, both Iowans provide depth at guard
The offensive tackles for 2015 and beyond?
“It’s tougher to evaluate guys without pads on, but today was an encouraging start for us in the morning,” said Ferentz of an offensive line replacing two NFL Draft selections on the outside. “We have the makings, but it’s a matter of a race against the clock between now and that first game week.
“That will continue for a while. We have to be ready for some ups and downs, just like anytime you break in new players at new positions. C.J. doesn’t get that hall pass… the tackles do, not C.J.”
- 52 Boone Myers, sophomore, Iowan, is next man in at Left Tackle, who as PS writes "former walk-on with a lot of potential for success" ... Iowa is a program, like Alabama and Wisconsin known for providing offensive line talent for the NFL
- 75 Ike Boettger, sophomore, former Iowa high school quarterback and tight end at Right Tackle, who played as an extra TE last season and filled in for injured Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff (#5 NFL draft pick) early in 2015, at left tackle
- Depth begins with 64 Cole Croston, junior likely is the swing man early at offensive tackle, as #2 at left tackle. Two redshirt freshmen, 69 Keegan Render and 70 Lucas LeGrand provide depth, with junior 73 Ryan Ward, an option?
What type of offense will Iowa display in 2015?
It likely starts with QB Beathard, like in 2013, when QB Rudock scored five rushing touchdowns, and was asked by OC Davis to be a run-pass threat. In the bowl game vs. Tennessee, QB C.J. Beathard rushed for a career-high 82 yards on eight carries. Beathard completed 13-of-23 passes for 145 yards and a career-high two touchdowns (31, 18).
Running backs for 2015:
|RB LeShun Daniels, Jr., 29 ran for his|
first TD vs. UNI in '14 opener.
- 29 LeShun Daniels, Jr.,, junior, scored the first rushing touchdown of 2014, but was injured much of the season. Daniels is certainly a more prototypical running back to departed Mark Weisman, Iowa's top RB from 2012 to 2014
- 33 Jordan Canzeri, senior, rushed 12 times for 120 yards vs. Tennessee, his second career 100-yard game. He has 1,089 career rushing yards, and is the 45th player in program history to amass 1,000 or more career rushing yards. He takes over the 3rd down back role of departed Damon Bulock
- Iowa has a better running back corp for 2015, than last year. Two sophomores are on the watch list, as 25 Akum Wadley, rushed for 100 yards vs. Northwestern, while converted wide receiver/athletic 32 Derek Mitchell, Jr. brings size and depth to the rotation. Ferentz always stresses ball security and some of Iowa's young RBs had trouble with fumbling in 2014
- Iowa's lone newcomer is freshman 23 Eric Graham from Alabama, with redshirt freshman 35 C.J. Hillard from Ohio, also here for depth
|RB Jordan Canzeri 33 rushing|
for 120 yards vs. Tennessee
in TaxSlayer Bowl vs. UT.
- Iowa has two solid senior fullbacks in 42 Macon Plewa and 38 Adam Cox, who was outstanding bulldozer in the running game during the 2013 season, but was injured all of 2014
- This has become a walk-on position at Iowa, where players elevate from no-name to possible star, like Mark Weisman. Iowa has a list of youngsters who will battle for future playing time over course of the next 12-16 months
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends for 2015:
|Junior WR Matt VandeBerg|
with his fist career TD vs.
Tennessee in TaxSlayer Bowl.
|Will senior TE Jake Duzey 87 be back for the opening of|
Big Ten play @ Wisconsin in 2015 on October 3rd?
Iowa needs more explosive plays on offense under Davis. Whether it be 12 yards or more rushing the ball or 16 yards or more in the passing game, Iowa's running backs, tight ends and wide receivers need to step up for C.J. Beathard in 2015.
|Iowa's top returning wide receiver |
is senior Tevaun Smith 4, needs
to step up as the go-to WR for Iowa.
Iowa has two senior wide receivers and two senior tight ends that lead the receiving corp heading into 2015. The top returning Big Ten TE is senior Jake Duzey, who is back, but will miss possibly 4-6 games, due to a knee injury in the Spring. While senior WR Tevaun Smith is the top play-maker on the outside heading into 2015.
- Split end is lead by two seniors with 4 Tevaun Smith (4 career TDs) and 87 Jacob Hillyer (3 TDs) for 2015. Smith is a Toronto, Ontario, Canada, native led Iowa in receiving yards (596), ranked second in receptions (43), and hauled in three touchdown receptions
- Slot receivers are likely 89 Matt VandeBerg, junior, and 3 Jay Scheel, a redshirt freshman, who didn't begin to practice with the team, until bowl preparation. VandeBerg caught his first career touchdown pass (18 yards) in the fourth quarter vs. Tennessee. He had the longest pass play of returning WRs with a 44 yard catch at Pittsburgh
- Former running back 10 Jonathan Parker, sophomore, moves to wide receiver, after playing a lot of times in the slot in the rushing game. Parker scored on a 60 yard run (8.8 per carry) from the slot position as a freshman last season, but had trouble holding on the football at times
- Iowa has four non freshman wide receivers competing for playing time: junior 83 Riley McCarron, senior JUCO transfer 20 Andrew Stone, sophomore 86 Andre Harris and JUCO transfer 5 Ronald Nash, sophomore. Two other players down the road are 15 redshirt freshman Joshua Jackson, who was originally signed as a DB and walk-on 14 Connor Keane, sophomore.
- Iowa signed three new freshman at wide receiver with 6 Emmanuel Ogwo, 9 Jerminic Smith and 82 Adrian Falconer. WR coach Bobby Kennedy would like to see freshmen step up and contribute in 2015.
- Iowa has three tight ends with experience lead by 87 Jake Duzey, senior, 80 Henry Krieger Coble, senior and 46 George Kittle, junior. Duzey is on the Mackey watch list for 2015 and had a career day for a Hawkeye TE when Duzey recorded 138 yards (six catches, one touchdown) receiving against Ohio State in 2013, the most by a tight end under Ferentz. The other two have shown glimpses of of explosive play, while at Iowa
- Due to two senior TEs and Duzey's injury, redshirt freshman 20 Jameer Outsey has moved from LB to TE. Outsey was projected at either position out of New Jersey in 2014
- Sophomores 81 Jon Wisnieski and 86 Peter Pekar are expected to provide depth in 2015 at the TE positon. Iowa has a couple a true freshmen with 85 Nate Vejvoda and walk-on 98 Nate Wieting
Often in College Football, defense wins championships the old saying goes. Four of the last five seasons have shown inconsistencies there for Iowa. The sum of all the parts need to work together, whether it be offense, defense or special teams.
We learned in 2005, that defensive line play is essential; and goes lock, stock and barrel with a solid linebacker play for Iowa. We learned in 2014, the importance experience and depth has in the linebacker corp, after Iowa had to replace three NFL quality linebackers.
2015 defense ...
Iowa's most experienced unit is the secondary. Ferentz likes the experience the Hawkeyes have back for 2015. Three fourths of the starting unit is back. All upperclassmen lead by free safety senior Jordan Lomax, and junior corner backs Desmond King and Greg Mabin, but he says the unit needs to be better.
|Iowa returns all but one starter back in the secondary, |
lead by senior FS Jordan Lomax 27 in 2015.
- Juniors 14 Desmond King and 13 Greg Mabin are back at corner back for Iowa in 2015. Fellow junior 28 Maurice Fleming may be the top back up CB in 2015, after a career performance in the bowl game.
- Senior 27 Jordan Lomax is back at free safety, but the new strong safety 19 Miles Taylor, who was one of two true freshmen to shine in special teams last season. 37 Brandon Snyder is expected to be an option at either safety postion and should play a big role on special team, as a redshirt freshman.
- 12 Anthony Gair, junior, returns, after one start last season at free safety. Senior corner back 7 Sean Draper is back, as well. Iowa has depth in the secondary for 2015. Sophomore 26 Kevin Ward is another back-up safety, as a walk-on out of Illinois
- In early pictures, it appears King is working with true freshman 11 Michael Olemudia. Two redshirt freshman of interest are 5 Omar Truitt and 21 Jalen Embry, who was held out last year, due to academics. A walk-on to watch down the road is 8 Isaiah Kramme, freshman
“We gave up too many big plays, and it’s not just the secondary, it’s a team thing,” he said. “We’ve got to get better on the perimeter. We got hurt on the perimeter, run or pass, and in the running game.
Those are things on our radar now.
“We’ve got to harden up a little bit, and with the secondary being a more experienced group, we should be able to do that."
|In 2015, sophomore Josey Jewell 43 is back now to anchor at MLB, |
along with junior CB Desmond King 14 and senior DE Drew Ott 95.
In the bowl game last season, LB Josey Jewell led all players with a career-best 14 tackles. After starting 2014 injured, Jewell is penciled now at MLB, after making his fourth career start, as a redshirt freshman. He replaces the departed ILB Quinton Alson (11), who with CB Desmond King (10) also reached double-digits in tackles, during the bowl game. CB Maurice Fleming (5) and new OLB Ben Niemann (4) recorded career bests in tackles vs. Tennessee.
The defense needs to improve in 2015, no question.
After a youth movement at Linebacker last season, Ferentz says a core of five -- sophomores Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Bo Bower and seniors Cole Fisher and Travis Perry -- should solidify the linebacker corps in 2015 with redshirt freshman Aaron Mends being a wildcard. Jewell and Bower were starters as redshirt freshmen.
"All of them played with confidence in the spring and have had good summers,” said Ferentz. “We have some good competition there and we have position flexibility. I’m seeing some good things at that spot, and we’ll be more experienced further down the road than a year ago at this time.”
- Sophomore 43 Josey Jewell is expected to lead the middle linebacker position in 2015
- Sophomore 41 Bo Bower moves from outside linebacker to inside weakside linebacker for the Hawkeyes
- Sophomore 44 Ben Niemann, after an outstanding true freshman season on special teams, moves to the outside linebacker position, where his athletic ability should be a strength in pass defense
- Seniors 39 Travis Perry and 36 Cole Fisher provide depth at most of the three positions in 2015
- Redshirt freshman 31 Aaron Mends will most likely play a big role on special teams.
- Iowa signed four new freshmen linebackers lead by 48 Jack Hockaday, out of Missouri; and two Texans in 21 Justin Jinning and 22 Angelo Garbutt. The fourth is Iowan Nick Wilson. Top walk-on newcomer is Iowan Brady Ross.
|Iowa returns starting DEs, in seniors Drew Ott 95 and|
Nate Meier 34, on the outside of the 2015 D-Line.
|Iowa needs to replace both DTs in|
2015, leading the effort is junior
Jaleel Johnson 67, who finished season
with a QB sack in the bowl game.
The defensive line returns two starters outside, but two new defensive tackles step forward, after graduation of two, two-year starters.
- 95 Drew Ott, senior, is the top defensive end for Iowa and was named to the 2015 football preseason Big Ten Players to Watch List, along with the Nagurski award list
- 67 Jaleel Johnson, junior, is the top defensive tackle back for Iowa Hawkeyes and will step into one of the two open positions in 2015. He is a four star recruit out of the Chicagoland area
- 99 Nathan Bazata, sophomore, is the likely second new defensive tackle for 2015
- 34 Nate Meier, senior is the returning defensive end on the other side, complementing Ott. Three of the four defensive linemen projected starters for Iowa played 8-man football in high school
- The reserve defensive tackles heading into 2015 are 56 Faith Ekakitie, junior, and JUCO transfer 61 Kyle Terlouw, senior. Iowa would like to see former #3 DT 97 Darian Cooper, senior, back from double knee surgery, but he is not cleared for practice yet
- The next men in right now at defensive end are redshirt freshmen 96 Matt Nelson and converted LB 40 Parker Hesse. 49 Melvin Spears, senior, has only 3 tackles in 3 seasons
- Others who could emerge are 72 Brant Gressel, sophomore DT and 93 Terrence Harris, redshirt freshman DE, while others are expected to redshirt in 2015
In a perfect world, Ferentz says the freshmen would redshirt, but he is open to anything if the newcomers can contribute to victories this fall.
Special teams have played big over the years, especially in 2002-2004, 2008 and 2009, Ferentz's five top seasons at Iowa.
“We want to win now, so we’re going to try to get them ready,” he said. “We have an open mind. If a linebacker can do something dynamic covering or blocking kicks, we’d be open to that. The guys on the perimeter have an opportunity. Anybody that can help our football team win games, that’s what we’re interested in.”
- Senior placekicker 1 Marshall Koehn, an Iowan, returns, after winning open position last season over 2 Mick Ellis, sophomore, out of Texas. Koehn came on strong later in the Big Ten season with 43 touch-backs in 68 kick-offs. Redshirt freshman walk-on Miguel Recinos, another Iowan seeks an opportunity down the road at Iowa
- Senior punter 16 Dillon Kidd has a good opportunity to finish as the #1 punter, after splitting time last season. Iowa has not punted well in recent seasons. Koehn may get a strong look. True freshman walk-on 7 Colten Rastetter, another Iowa boy
- Last year, Iowa was green on special teams with basically everyone knew, except a part-time punter.
- Sophomore 97 Tyler Kluver is back, after his first season in the role of long snapper for Iowa. Kidd was the new holder in 2015, after transferring in from a JUCO. His father was a Big Ten punter and had a long career in the NFL
- Iowa may reboot at kick returner, after the unusual turnover by 10 Jonathan Parker, sophomore, who had a 54 yard return and averaged a respectable 22.1 yards per kick as a freshman? Could junior CB 14 Desmond King emerge here?
- Ideally, you want to move the chains on punt returns, so a 10 yard average, is often a goal. 89 Matt VandeBerg, junior, averaged 6.8, with a long of 23 yards, in his first season. Again, could King or a newcomer emerge on special teams?
|Could we see junior CB 14 Desmond King play a role as|
a kick or punt returner in 2015?
The final game of the 2014 season marked the 200th game at the University of Iowa for head coach Ferentz. Ferentz is 115-85 (.575) in 16 seasons as Iowa's head coach. The 115 wins rank second all-time in program history, behind Hayden Fry. Fry totaled 143 wins in 20 seasons.
|Bottom line, a run for a birth in the Big Ten title game|
and a successful bowl game would be good for Iowa in '15.
With seven wins each season over the next four seasons, Ferentz is on pace to tie Fry over 20 seasons. However, as Ferentz well knows, the Iowa fans want a championship-caliber team in Iowa City, again. The last real challenge for a Big Ten title was in 2009.
There it is again. Ferentz is focused on winning games, he’s committed to fielding a Big Ten championship-caliber team.
“The fans deserve a good football team,” he said. “That has always been the goal. I, our staff, and players understand that. We’re working hard to provide them what they deserve.”