IOWA CITY — It was mostly about who was there Saturday.
Most of the Hawkeyes expected to play major roles this fall showed up for the open scrimmage before a lively crowd at Kinnick Stadium. Quarterback James Vandenberg’s 25-yard TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley drew a fall-like cheer out of the 10,000 or so fans. The defensive line, everyone’s hot spot, showed some life. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz seems intent on living up to the preseason hype bestowed upon him.
Who wasn’t there, though, is going to be at the top of most newspaper stories, internet posts and TV sportscasts.
When the Hawkeyes broke into their pregame stretching ritual, the running backs were sophomore Damon Bullock, junior walk-on Andre Dawson and some indiscriminate fullbacks. Suddenly, the Iowa running back gap was represented in a physical manner.
Freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill not only didn’t participate, they weren’t there. Same for junior Brad Rogers.
“We have guys with bumps and bruises,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They were doing some good things, and it’s nothing serious. They have a chance to be ready Monday. All the guys have a chance to be back Monday. It’s frustrating because you can’t really evaluate anything.”
True freshman safety Ruben Lile suffered a torn ACL and will miss the season. Offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan suffered a broken right hand and had surgery mid-week, but should be back next week.
Ferentz also mentioned two “pretty good” sprains. He acknowledged junior cornerback B.J. Lowery suffered one of those (knee). The candidates for the other sprain (also known as “the players who weren’t there Saturday”) include Rogers, freshman wide receiver Reese Fleming, sophomore linebacker Quinton Alston, fullback Jonathan Gimm, defensive end Riley McMinn and offensive lineman Jordan Walsh.
“It’s frustrating to make progress, to evaluate the team,” Ferentz said. “We have two [sprains] that are significant, that are going to be a while.”
Also, defensive line coach Reese Morgan was in a collision on the sideline with a receiver and suffered was on the Kinnick turf for several minutes before leaving the stadium in a golf cart. Ferentz said he suffered a leg injury, possibly a torn hamstring. He was admitted to UIHC, but the official Iowa Twitter account said Saturday night that he was home and resting comfortably.
The scrimmage part of the scrimmage was clunky, as you might expect. Including Saturday, Iowa practiced nine straight days and had a two-a-day Friday that concluded around 4 p.m. Ferentz said the kids’ day practice wasn’t intended to be a showcase.
Lots happened, let’s focus on the two-minute drill that the first unit closed practice with.
The good: On first down, Vandenberg hit Fiedorowicz for a 32-yard gain to the defense’s 33-yard line. The bad: Fiedorowicz overwhelmed outside linebacker Christian Kirksey.
The good: On a third-and-8 from the 31, the defense’s coverage was terrific and tackle Carl Davis would’ve flattened Vandenberg. The bad: Vandenberg took a sack that probably would’ve knocked Iowa out of field position. The good: Vandenberg hit Fiedorowicz for an 18-yard gain on fourth-and-15.
“It did and it didn’t,” Ferentz said when asked about the two-minute drill, which ended with Vandenberg’s TD pass to Martin-Manley. “We were doing some good things, but there were a couple dumb plays as well. Taking a sack when we had a shot at a field goal, that put us in a bad situation. We were able to overcome that.
“Then defensively, the ball going over your head, that’s not a good thing. So, we’ve got a lot of things to work on.”
Is the timing of a clunky performance OK here, at the end of a rigorous first week of camp? Or is the clock ticking?
By the looks and the language of first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ talk to the offense afterward, there is a schedule and it’s debatable, especially with a rash of injuries, if the Hawkeyes are on pace.
“He’s a little more fiery [than previous offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe],” said Vandenberg, who 12 of 20 for 141 yards and a TD. “He always says you have to take advantage. When you get opportunities, you have to capitalize. Today, we had several errors, miscommunications, whatever you want to call them.”
The clock is ticking. It’s three weeks until the Hawkeyes hit Solider Field against Northern Illinois, owners of the nation’s longest winning streak (nine).
The freshmen would-be running backs are banged up and they haven’t been tackled as they’re going to be in the Big Ten. One starting corner is sprained. The defensive line coach might need a day or two off and maybe a new hamstring.
You can see where this might be frustrating.