By Nick Pugliese, SourceMedia Group News
IOWA CITY – This wasn’t a Big Ten opponent or Iowa State. Eastern Illinois is what it is – an opening-game opponent that earned a $400,000 paycheck and wasn’t expected to provide much of a test.
Still, anytime your offense has 435 yards, including 179 on the ground, 24 first downs and converts 7 of 11 third downs during a 37-7 victory, you must be doing something right up front.
The revamped Iowa offensive line – featuring three new starters in center James Ferentz, tackle Markus Zusevics and guard Nolan MacMillan, who actually was replacing injured first-year starter Adam Gettis – received a thumbs up from running back Adam Robinson.
“They did everything today. They’re the main reason I got all my yards,” said Robinson, who rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns. “Without those guys moving the bodies up front, we would have no chance. So, hats off to those guys.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t quite ready to tip his cap to the o-line, saying he thought the unit did OK.
“The important thing is we didn’t fall apart,” Ferentz said. “One of the dark thoughts I had was just letting guys totally run through. We had some guys penetrate, but nothing too catastrophic.”
Ferentz noted that the line missed a few blocks on passing situations, but Robinson was there as a second line of protection for Ricky Stanzi, who was sacked twice (including the play when he slipped backward and tweaked his knee).
“That’s priority No. 1. Along with running the ball, it’s protecting Ricky,” Robinson said. “I saw guys and just blocked them.”
Guard Julian Vandervelde, who joined tackle Riley Reiff as the only two linemen with starting experience, talked about excellent communication among the group and offensive line coach Reese Morgan.
“Guys were talking when we came to the sidelines. We were sitting there talking to Coach Morgan and we were getting a lot of good dialogue back and forth,” Vandervelde said. “It wasn’t just the experienced guys pointing stuff out. It was everybody contributing and really making it a unit.”
Vandervelde said it was huge for the offense to finish off the second-quarter drive with a touchdown after Stanzi limped to the sidelines and James Vandenberg replaced him.
“When Ricky went down last year against Northwestern (with a sprained ankle), we kind of fell apart,” he said. “James has a little more experience now and for the offensive line to come together and really step on it and take that drive all the way down was really crucial.”
Those who remain worried about the offensive line should listen to Vandervelde.
“We executed the game plan fairly well,” he said. “We have some adjustments to make and a lot of room to get better. And, we’ll get a lot better before we reach our full potential.”
Ferentz agrees the line has to clean up some things, but the bottom line was that he apparently felt pretty good about its opening-day performance.
“At least knowing from experience that the first game is usually the toughest one for young players, it’s good for them to have that under their belt,” he said. “We’ll have a little more confidence coming out next week.”