Sunday, August 18, 2013

13 days out for the Iowa: Can the Hawkeyes rebound from 3 year slide?

The 2013 College Football season kicks off Thursday, August 29th through Monday, September 2nd of Labor Day!  Week 1 is less than two weeks away for the Iowa Hawkeyes and many of the 126 teams playing FBS football this season.

The Iowa Hawkeyes kick off at home, with a rematch of the 2012 opener, as the Northern Illinois Huskies (12-2, #22 AP, #24 Coaches) come to Kinnick Stadium, for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on the Big Ten Network on Saturday, August 31st.

In 2009, the Hawkeyes were the #2 team in the Big Ten Conference.  Today, the Hawkeyes are coming off an awful 4-8 season, including a six game losing streak.  The media doesn't give Iowa much hope entering 2013.

But, could they be wrong?  Iowa was only picked 4th in 2009.  Or, 8th in 2008.  Or, 4th in 2004.  Or, 8th in 2002, a season Iowa went 8-0 in the Big Ten.  Could Iowa be ready to overachieve again, under coach Kirk Ferentz, now in his 15th season at Iowa?

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz
enters 15th season
Over the last three seasons, Wisconsin has been The Team in the Big Ten Conference, but times may be a changing, including the leader for the Badgers ...

Could Iowa be this year's surprise team in the Big Ten?  Ohio State is the team to beat, though they have never won a Big Ten Title Game, let alone have played in one yet.

What will the formula have to be for Iowa in 2013?

  • Change Perceptions - For the Hawkeyes to restore some luster to their national image, beating Northern Illinois on Aug. 31 would be a good first step. A loss, though, would bring out a lot of sharp verbal and written pitchforks. - Mike Hlas, The Gazette
  • Eliminate the two game losing streaks @ Iowa State, vs. Western Michigan and @ Minnesota (the Hawkeyes have lost 2 straight vs. the Cyclones, Broncos and at TCF Bank Stadium in MN)
  • Finish strong in November as Michigan coach Brady Hoke spoke to at the Big Ten Media Day
  • Play solid football in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams
  • A strong mix of seniors, leadership, youth and newcomers will all have to gel this season for Iowa
  • Physical play: the common denominator at Iowa is typically good line play, on either side of the football
  • Iowa will be entering year 2 with new coordinators on both side's of the football.  Communication, coordination and execution will need to improve for the Hawkeyes, under OC Greg Davis, DC Phil Parker and Kirk Ferentz 
The old sports clichés suggest "Defense wins Championships" and that certainly applies for Iowa in 2013...So, how will the sum of the parts pull together for Phil Parker and the Iowa defensive staff?

University of Iowa senior defensive end Dominic Alvis says by putting on pads there was a higher tempo at Wednesday's practice. 
Iowa senior defensive end
Dominic Alvis leads D-Line

"We make each other better every day," Dominic Alvis said. "It would be a shame if we didn't, because our D-line and O-line are very good this year. He is making me better and as a result I'm making him better because I have to step up my game; it's back-and-forth."

Iowa needs solid line play on both sides of the football in 2013.  The Hawkeyes over the past three years have fallen short in the defensive line.  Whether it was the four, last minute losses in the Big Ten in 2010 or the growing attrition in the defensive line over the past two season.                                                             

Hawkeye fans are curious about the progress of the defensive line that returns Alvis and letterwinners Mike HardyCarl DavisLouis Trinca-Pasat, and Darian Cooper. Alvis is the only senior listed on the two-deep for the front four.  

Last season Alvis compiled 31 tackles (five for loss) with three sacks and three pass break-ups, coming off an injury in 2011. He also forced and recovered a fumble.  Alvis will also mentor sophomore Drew Ott, who projects as the other starter at DE.

"We're a more cohesive unit and everyone is on key," Alvis said. "We haven't had guys messing up and that's solid. The goal is to be as consistent as possible."

Senior LB James Morris has been named to the Bronko Nagurski Award Watch List.
Senior James Morris
leads in the middle of
Hawkeye LB unit
Seniors are expected to be the backbone of the University of Iowa football team each fall.  The Hawkeyes' return three starters, with senior linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens all returning in 2013.

"Coach (Kirk) Ferentz says it all the time, you need your seniors to be playing their best football," said Hitchens. "Our seniors need to play their best football and compete so the young guys can look up and compete with us to move the team forward."

The secondary returns two senior starters, with free safety Tanner Miller and cornerback B.J. Lowery.  Sophomore Jordan Lomax (injured in 2012) and junior strong safety John Lowdermilk (two years on special teams) are the other two likely starters for the Northern Illinois game.

"I feel like we have a great group of guys. We're all working hard. We have Sean DraperNico LawRuben LileJohn LowdermilkB.J. LoweryTanner Miller, and Maurice Fleming. We also have a few incoming freshmen: Desmond King, Malik Rucker and Kevin Ward. Those guys will just fall into the right place as they're coming along. It's also our job to help them along as well. I feel like we're all working hard."

Overall, the Iowa defense has better depth and experience heading into 2013.  The defense will certainly be called on with a young QB at the helm on offense this season.

Special teams will be important.

Senior PK Mike Meyer is on Lou Groza Watch List for third straight season.
Senior LS Casey Kreiter,
Senior PK Mike Meyer
return for 2013
Iowa has three key seniors leading in special teams with senior PK Mike Meyer, KR Jordan Cotton and LS Casey Kreiter.  Iowa likely will be improved in the kicking, coverage and return game. 

"Nobody has really talked about it a lot, but I think certainly for us to be good on special teams, we have to have our specials doing a good job. We have to be good on special teams if we're going to have success this year, and Mike has done a great job. Each and every year he's improved, and I think he really gained his confidence, Ferentz said.  "Mike was really hitting the gas pedal and doing a great job."

"He continues to do a nice job. We're really counting on him. Casey Kreiter has done an outstanding job. Certainly Connor Kornbrath, we expect him to be more experienced, and Jordan Cotton was a good story last year, so there's some good things going on with special teams. And for us to be successful Mike is going to have to continue to play well. We're confident that he will."

Senior Brett Van Sloten is ready to take on a larger leadership role with the 2013 Hawkeyes.
Senior Brett Van Sloten
is ready to take on a
larger leadership role
with the 2013 Hawkeyes.
The strength of Iowa's offense starts with the offensive line and the starting line up will feature players with starting experience in the trenches.
  • RT senior Brett Van Slotten started every game in 2012, after moving into the starting line up ahead of the Insight Bowl vs. Oklahoma in '11
  • RG has not been determined, but sophomore Jordan Walsh, junior Andrew Donnel or senior Nolan MacMillan have all started before in black & gold in the past
  • C sophomore Austin Blythe moves over, after 9 starts at right guard in '12
  • LG senior Conor Boffel started the final 3 games of  2012
  • LT Junior Brandon Scheriff was injured, during the Penn State game, but returns to anchor the blindside in 2013

"Our focus is improving each day during camp and then through our first opponent," said Van Sloten, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman from Decorah, Iowa. "We want to be consistent game-after-game."

Iowa welcomes newcomers, who expect to contribute for the Hawkeyes in 2013.
Freshman LeShun Daniels, Jr., meets with fans at Saturday's 'Kids at Kinnick' event.
True Freshman RB
LaShun Daniels, Jr. from
Ohio is expected to add
depth to a healthy and deeper
Iowa RB position in '13.
Two newcomers -- running back LeShun Daniels, Jr., and wide receiver Damond Powell -- stood out in the Kids Day scrimmage. Powell used all of his 6-foot-0, 215-pound frame, and Powell showed off his burners.  Powell is a junior college transfer, 

"I am happy with the way the team has been working," said Ferentz. "It hasn't been perfect, but we're making progress. We certainly have a lot of work to do in all areas, but the attitude has been good."

Ferentz wouldn't come out and hand the keys of the Hawkeye offense to sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock publicly, but the Florida native ran exclusively with the first teamers for the duration of the scrimmage.
"We'll look at the tapes and talk a little bit tomorrow and the next couple of days, and we'll make a decision this week," said Ferentz. "Jake is doing a good job. There are no complaints there. He is still a young guy, but has done a nice job."

Scouting the Iowa backfield, which will be deeper in for 2013:
  • QB sophomore Jake Rudock (no snaps in '12), redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard, junior Cody Sokol (redshirt '12) are all expected to contribute in 2013.  True freshman Nic Shimonek is expected to redshirt for Iowa, as quarterback coach and OC Greg Davis develops Iowa's no-huddle offense in Year 2 in Iowa City
  • RB junior Mark Weisman (815 yards, 9 starts), redshirt freshmen Barkley Hill (out for opener) and Michael Malloy, freshman LaShun Daniels will play the role as the traditional running back for the Hawkeyes
  • RB/SB junior Damon Bullock (513 yards, 5 starts) and sophomore Jordan Carizeri (missed '12) will play both running back and will play in the slot as a receiver and running threat.  True freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley are options for depth, but likely will redshirt.
  • What about the fullback position?  Iowa still lists Weisman as a fullback, his original position in '12, until the 4th game.  Sophomores Marcus Plewa, Berkley Grimm and Adam Cox are available, if Iowa goes back to its traditional roots.
Tight End University at Iowa?  Iowa seeks to go five deep in 2013 according to the head coach...

C.J. Fiedorowicz has been named to the 2013 College Football Performance Awards Tight End Trophy Watch List.
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz is Iowa's
top NFL Prospect and
on various TE watch lists
heading into the season.

Iowa over the last 34 years under J. Hayden Fry and now Kirk Ferentz, as head coaches, are usually good at TE.  The position has been under-performing lately, but the 2013 corp could be one of Iowa best?  Five players should see action at TE.

Senior C.J. Fiedorowicz should be ready for a solid season and could be among the Big Ten's best players.  Fiedorowicz is coming off a season where he caught 45 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown.  He scored three touchdowns, as a sophomore. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound senior is a three-year letterwinner who sits atop the depth chart at tight end that includes letterwinners junior Ray Hamilton, sophomores Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger Coble. Redshirt freshman George Kittle is the fifth TE.

"It's my senior year and I have to bring that leadership," Fiedorowicz said. "One of my jobs as a senior is to bring energy to practice every day and do your best."

Who's #1?  No, Iowa isn't #1 in the Big Ten, but finding a #1 wide receiver is needed for the Hawkeyes...

The biggest area of concern for Iowa's offense has been at the wide receiver position and the passing game.   As an offense in 2012, the Hawkeyes only scored seven touchdown receptions.  Ultimately, if Iowa is going to rebound, they need to find ways to put more points up on the scoreboard.

Junior Kevonte Martin-Manley returns as a starter at one wide receiver position.  He was Iowa's top returning receiver (52 receptions).  He scored only one touchdown last season, after three touchdowns as a freshman.  Also, as mentioned before, the offense may see more running backs involved in the receiving game, as Bullock and Canzeri play more in the slot.  Bullock could be moved the WR, as well.
  • #1 WR To Be Determined
  • #2 WR Martin-Manley is a solid starter, but not your typical #1 receiver to lead in the Big Ten
  • Seniors Jordan Cotton and Don Shumpert have shown more on special teams, than consistency needed in the passing offense.  As seniors, they may emerge, if they make most of the opportunity
  • Junior newcomer Damond Powell appears to be a guy to watch in Iowa's WR corp!
  • Sophomore Tevaun Smith appears to be making strides, after playing 9 games as a true freshman and could fill the role as the #1 WR
  • Sophomore Jacob Hillyer is also back and likely will get an opportunity to move the chains
  • Redshirt freshman Riley McCarron is a walk-on that the coaching staff appear excited about
  • Freshmen Derrick Mitchell, Derrick Willies, Andre Harris and A.J. Jones were signed
Ferentz is looking for consistency on both sides of the ball.

"We'll do three-to-four really good plays offensively, and then have a penalty, false start or turnover," he said. "Same thing defensively, we'll be playing, playing, playing, and then give up an easy play. That's the challenge of the early season is trying to iron those highs and lows out."

Iowa has a tough, but favorable schedule in 2013, with a manageable first half of the season.  The Hawkeyes kick off at Kinnick and play 5 of the first six games in the State of Iowa in 2013.  It will be challenging, especially in the meat of the schedule, with Big Ten play.

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