One of the unfortunate side effects of Big 10 expansion and the divisional alignment is that Penn State won’t face several teams each season. This year, Iowa, Michigan State, and Northwestern fall off the schedule. Despite their absence from the PSU schedule, we will give you a bit of a preview, starting with the Hawkeyes.
- Head Coach – Kirk Ferentz, 15th season (100-74)
- 2012 Record – 4-8 (2-6)
- Key Departures – QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, C James Ferentz, CB Micah Hyde, DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach
- Key Returnees – RB Mark Weisman, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, LB James Morris, LB Anthony Hitchens, S Tanner Miller
The million dollar question for the Hawkeyes this fall was who will replace two year starter James Vandenbueg under center. Sophomore Jake Rudock, last year’s backup won that honor. Vandenberg was largely ineffective in his senior year, after a 3,000+ yard, 25 TD performance as a junior. Perhaps most mind boggling is that Rudock didn’t take a single snap last year as the offense and Vandenberg struggled. All 3 QBs on the Iowa roster this year lack and FBS experience.
It would seem that the Hawks will rely on the ground game, which has been a hallmark of the Iowa offense under Ferentz. Mark Weisman, last year’s revelation in the backfield appears to be the starter, while Damon Bullock should see significant time as well. The key as it always is for Iowa running backs will be to stay healthy, and stay out of trouble. With a rookie QB, that is vital.
The top passing target for Rudock will likely be the talented tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz. Kevonte Martin-Manley is another solid receiver, but is not the type of guy to stretch the field and force teams to respect Iowa’s big play potential. If the Hawkeyes are to have any success on offense, Jordan Cotton, or Tevaun Smith need to step up and force teams to respect the big play.
The line should be solid again, as it typically is in Iowa. The anchor will be Brandon Scherf, who missed the second half of 2012 after suffering a bad leg injury versus Penn State. Coach Ferentz’ son James is no longer the anchor at center, but Austin Blythe should fit in nicely.
Iowa generated virtually no pressure on the quarterback last year, or did much to slow down the run. To put it bluntly, the entire defensive line must be better. Dominic Alvis returns at one end, after finishing second last year with a whopping 3 sacks. He needs to improve significantly off of those numbers, and to do that, he needs to stay healthy. Tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat is in the same boat with good talent, but poor health. If both can stay on the field, that will go a long way to improving the defense.
The strength of the Iowa D is clearly at linebacker. Seniors James Morris and Anthony Hitchens have the talent, but need to take the next step and become bigger playmakers. While they both rack up tackles at an impressive rate, neither jumps out at you. Fellow senior Christian Kirksey completes an experienced starting trio.
The secondary must deal with the loss of the best* defensive back in the Big 10, Micah Hyde (*seriously, who voted him the top DB over Bradley Roby?). Senior safety Tanner Miller will lead the secondary, but Jordan Lomax and B.J. Lowery need to stay healthy at both CB spots. If they do, this could be a pretty good group.
2012 was a total disaster in practically every way for Iowa. Although, it did make for an entertaining game versus Penn State. If the Hawkeyes can stay healthy, they should improve on the 4 wins and return to the post season. Weisman and Bullock are solid backs, and as Rudock gets up to speed, they should keep the offense moving. On defense, the line needs to improve, but if it does, the linebackers are poised for a big year, and the secondary has the talent to be better too. In short, if Iowa plays to their potential, 7 wins is not out of the question at all.
Follow VBR Lead Editor Matt de Bear on Twitter for the latest on Penn State