When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Suddenly, one game in, running back Marcus Coker is sort of, kind of a question mark for the Iowa Hawkeyes. The 6-foot, 230-pounder fumbled twice and averaged just 3.7 yards on 11 carries last week against Tennessee Tech. Other than a brief appearance against Northwestern and mop-up against Michigan State last season, it was Coker's worst statistical performance in his very short career.
This week, he said all the right things about treating the fumbles and sluggish performance. Coach Kirk Ferentz brought up expectations and suggested that they might be out of whack for the sophomore who has played in just eight games. It's a good point, but it doesn't make today's picture any more clear.
Pluses for the Iowa offense: Quarterback James Vandenberg threw accurate, catchable passes that allowed wide receivers to make plays after the catch. On the goal line, he whiffed on a pair of fade routes, but wide receiver Keenan Davis made plays to save interceptions. Vandenberg wasn't pressured. He will be today.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads noted this week that one of the keys -- other than turnovers -- in Iowa's 70-10 dominance over ISU the last two seasons was Iowa's play on the line of scrimmage. Iowa's offensive lines have been superior, Rhoads said. The Hawkeyes rushed for 275 yards against the Cyclones last season, their best rushing performance since 286 against Purdue in 2006. This season, both guards, Adam Gettis and Matt Tobin, will be brand new to the rivalry.
Against Northern Iowa last week, the ISU front four provided tons of pressure and push, so the 204 rushing yards UNI put up is misleading. A lot of it came from quarterback Terrell Rennie simply making things happen with his feet, gaining 127 of those yards.
The Cyclones secondary had the one big bust -- an 80-yarder that gave UNI the lead in the fourth quarter -- but it held Rennie to 15 of 32 for 181 yards. Rennie is a terrific athlete, but he's not nearly the passer Vandenberg is. The feature matchup in this regard will be senior cornerback Leonard Johnson against Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who caught two passes for 75 yards and a TD against ISU last season.
ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who played linebacker at Alabama in 1960-61 under Paul “Bear” Bryant, employs a 4-3 “triangle read” defense. Just before the ball is snapped, Burnham’s linebackers are taught to keep an eye on the two guards and primary running back. Burnham believes the guards are a give away. Are they up in a two-point stance or down in a three-point stance? Are they bearing down, leaning or light on their feet?
Whatever Burnham is teaching, ISU's star linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are learning. Knott (6-2, 243) had 15 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss last week. Klein (6-1, 243) ranked fifth in the Big 12 last year with 9.25 tackles a game.
The Cyclones also get back noseguard Stephen Ruempolhamer (6-3, 298), who had arthroscopic knee surgery just two weeks ago. Burnham's son, Shane, is ISU's D-line coach. Secondary coach Bobby Elliott, a former academic all-American when he played at Iowa in the early '70s, is in his third stint as an assistant at ISU.
If Coker is more Insight Bowl Coker, he's the difference.
When the Cyclones have the ball
Iowa's new-look defensive line passed its first test. Not an A, but not sitting in the back of the class asleep. DT Mike Daniels was a force against Tech and should be in any situation where he's played straight up. DT Dominic Alvis was active and showed great quickness in his rush moves and called stunts, but he didn't finish, getting to the QB a few times and missing the tackle. DE Broderick Binns held up his end.
There's no depth and an effective rotation is still a work in progress. Redshirt freshman Carl Davis (6-5, 310) could return from a knee injury this week, Ferentz said. That would help, but a rotation will take more time to develop.
Can there really be a strong safety controversy? No, but senior Jordan Bernstine showed some pop in his first real action in . . . ever. After shattering an ankle at the beginning of the '09 season, Bernstine fought to come back before seeing quality action in the Insight Bowl. He showed up last week with eight tackles and a half tackle for loss. Junior Collin Sleeper got the start, but Bernstine might get the finish here. He also nearly broke the opening kick, returning it 38 yards.
At times, Tech's deception got Iowa flowing and opened some huge running lanes that QB Tre Lamb couldn't exploit. ISU QB Steele Jantz will be able to hit those and do some damage.
The 6-3, 223-pounder led ISU with 80 yards and two TDs last week. Iowa State and TTU run similar offenses -- fast tempo, no huddle and spread sideline to sideline with eyes on the perimeter. ISU offensive coordinator Tom Herman has his mind set on "jet tempo" for his offense, which is play after play after play with maybe a look at the sideline. The goal is a play every 20 seconds. It keeps defensive personnel frozen, but, at least last week, there were times when three ISU O-linemen had their hands on their hips, the international football sign for fatigue, between plays.
Iowa State uses the zone read in its running scheme. Jantz is excellent at carrying out the fake and running back Shontrelle Johnson is the kind of smallish back (5-9, 187) who can get lost in a crowd and yet is quick enough to dart out of it. Iowa's backside D-linemen need to be disciplined when they see this. They are Jantz's read.
Jantz tried some crazy throws last week that went against fundamental football thinking -- throwing across his body late over the middle for a pick -- but Rhoads said this week everything was fixable. Rhoads and Ferentz also said once Jantz figured it out in the fourth quarter, he was stony, leading ISU to two TDs and the winning TD with 40 seconds left.
ISU's offensive line will look appreciably different this week. Left tackle Kelechi Osemele (6-6, 347), on the Outland and Lombardi watch lists, left the UNI game early with an ankle injury that he's been fighting in camp. Rhoads said he will go against Iowa, but it will "take some grit" to get through. Right guard Hayworth Hicks, who's played in 24 games, returns from suspension. Also, wide receiver Darius Darks, who needs eight catches to join ISU's top 10, returns from suspension.
Iowa State will have a running game. Iowa got a glimpse at a similar offense last week, but this one will be run by FBS players and not the team picked to finish fifth-place in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Iowa kicked off seven times against TTU and now sits No. 78 in the nation in kick return defense, allowing 22.71 yards a return. Adding to the uncertainty, kicker Mike Meyer had no touchbacks. The sophomore had a terrific day with field goals, making 2 of 2 with a long of 39 in horrible weather, but he also has to help the kick coverage team, which included a couple true freshmen. In his first game, punter Eric Guthrie averaged 39.0 on three kicks. All three were fair caught and two were inside the 20. Bernstine looks like a plus on kick return; safety Micah Hyde nearly fumbled a punt and had zero return yards. Tough day to catch a punt, though.
Iowa State punter Kirby Van Der Kamp averaged 51.2 on five punts, including a 65-yarder, his sixth punt of 60-plus yards. Van Der Kamp, 10th in the nation last season with 45.17 yards a game, has averaged 50-plus in a game four times in his two seasons. For comparison, former Iowa punter Ryan Donahue averaged 50-plus five times in four seasons. He's punting for the Detroit Lions now. Zach Guyer nudged Grant Mahoney for placekicker. His two PATs last week were the first points of his career. This is a bit of an upset. Mahoney has made four 50-plus yarders in his career. Iowa hasn't made a 50-yard FG since 2005.
Iowa State is 12-1 under head Rhoads when holding teams under 24 points and 1-12 when allowing more than 24 points. Can Iowa State's offense score 24 points? Yes, Jantz should be more relaxed and the O-line gets 680-plus pounds of offensive linemen back this week. The bigger question is can Iowa State hold Iowa to less than 24? The Cyclones have done that just 18 times in the last five years, including twice against Iowa, splitting those games. The Cyclones need to prove this on defense.
It might be something, it might be nothing, but Iowa's defense allowed a 100-yard rusher Saturday (TTU's Dontey Gay had 108) for the first time since Michigan QB Denard Robinson went for 105 last season. It was mostly against the second-team defense late in the game and after the 84-minute lightning delay, so it's an empty stat in a 34-7 victory. Iowa's defense held up well and has a core of athletes who should keep it vital, which will be tough on Jantz, a first-year starter.Iowa 27, Iowa State 14