September 19, 2017

2017 Iowa Hawkeyes: New Year, New Faces, New Roles.

     You know the narrative that has followed Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa teams over
the years. When they’re expected to do great things, they fall short of those expectations (see 2005,
2010, or 2016). When nobody is talking about them, they come out of nowhere to end up
playing in a BCS bowl (2002, 2009, 2015). With this year’s Hawkeyes seemingly
flying under the radar, where will they be sitting after their final game in Lincoln
on November 24th? Are these Hawkeyes being undervalued and overlooked or
will they end up where the prognosticators are predicting them? Let’s take a look at some new faces we’ll see this season.

     New coaches, a new quarterback, and an infusion of youth. The last time
Iowa had this many staff changes, what followed was a 4-8 crater of a football
season. Luckily these staff changes seem to fit MUCH better than the square
peg/round hole hires of Greg Davis & Bobby Kennedy. New WR coach Kelton
Copeland has Florida ties and comes from the increasingly growing coaching tree
of Jerry Kill. O-line coach Tim Polasek travels down from the National
Championship machine at North Dakota State, and I guess you could call this a “if
you can’t beat ‘em, hire ‘em” kind of hire. Lastly, that guy with the same last
name as the head coach, who has worked his way up to offensive coordinator
from his beginnings as an offensive consultant under Bill Belichick in New
England. Copeland and Polasek already sound very Ferentz-ian during interviews
and while Brian will veer away from the typical coach-speak; he’s still his father’s
son. Maybe one of the best aspects of these new hires, the staff got significantly
younger moving forward. Now let’s look at some new faces that we’ll see this
season.

     C.J. Beathard is now fighting to secure the backup job for the 49ers and it’s
time for the Nathan Stanley era to begin. What can we expect? Looking at
Stanley’s high school tape, you’ll see a cerebral looking quarterback with a BIG
arm. Stanley can make all the throws, there’s no doubt about that. Will a 2 nd
offensive system in as many years throw a kink in his development? The only
meaningful passes he threw last year were against North Dakota State. The first
of which was a very nice play-action touch pass to George Kittle. In those few plays, you saw his very calm demeanor and quiet confidence. He’s not the fireball
Drew Tate was or even CJ Beathard to an extent. Given the stable of running
backs Stanley will have at his discretion, young talented TEs, and the steady Matt
Vandeberg out wide; Stanley doesn’t have to be a game-changing playmaker.
What Iowa needs Stanley to do is just keep the chains moving and manage the
game, ala Jake Rudock in 2013. If he can do that, the offense should be just fine.

     With the release of the depth chart for the opener, there was one
noticeable thing to me….in fact there were seven. As in seven true freshmen on
the 2-deeps. The least surprising of those seven would be AJ Epenesa. The highly
touted five star recruit out of Edwardsville, IL has not disappointed so far. He will
probably see 20-30 snaps on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if it’ll be
primarily pass rush situations or will he see full series? Cornerback Matt Hankins
could have the best opportunity of the true freshmen. With Manny Rugamba out
for the first game, the freshman out of Flower Mound, Texas could see a lot more
of the field against future 1 st -round draft pick Josh Allen. Given Allen’s comments
today about wanting to pick on Iowa’s depleted secondary, Hankins had better be
ready. In 2013, starting CB Jordan Lomax went down with an injury and little
known Desmond King was thrust into the spotlight. We all know how that turned
out. While Hankins won’t be starting, the Iowa motto of “Next Man In” could give
birth to another great Iowa defensive back. Safety Geno Stone is listed as the
backup at free safety and will mostly contribute on special teams. Finally, Ryan
Gersonde is the backup punter, if we see him it’ll probably be due to injury so let’s
not even go there.

     On the offensive side of things, the biggest contributors out of the
freshmen class will probably come at the WR position. Brandon Smith, Ihmir
Smith-Marsette, and Max Cooper are the three guys that have been talked about
most. Smith is the most physically gifted player, at 6’3 and 205 lbs, he already
looks the part. His high school film mostly showed a man amongst boys going up
and snatching the ball out of the air against mainly undersized DBs but make no
mistake, his skillset is something Iowa hasn’t had since Marvin McNutt. Smith-
Marsette has serious play-making abilities, kind of like another fellow Jersey guy
by the name of Akrum Wadley. They hail from the same high school, Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ. As shown in a Hawkeye football video from fall camp,
Smith-Marsette has the kind of speed that can take the top off the defense. With
most defenses keying in on Wadley and James Butler’s 1-2 punch this year, Smith-
Marsette could be a valuable deep ball target for Nate Stanley. Another MAC
Conference recruiting steal, Max Cooper looks to be the second coming of Matt
Vandeberg. Cooper has great hands, surprising speed, and his route running
might be the attribute that gets him on the field this year. Lastly, while not a true
freshmen, Iowa gained WR Matt Quarrels as a graduate transfer from New
Mexico. Quarrels is from St. Louis originally and was a track speedster that wasn’t
allowed to shine much in a triple-option offense under former Notre Dame coach
Bob Davie at New Mexico. He will have 2 more years of eligibility and might take
some time to get on the field given he arrived late in fall camp. Luckily these WRs
don’t need to be spectacular, they just need to contribute. Given their resumes
and skill sets, I believe that’s a very attainable expectation.

     Kirk Ferentz has always said the closer to the ball you play, the tougher it is
to play as a freshman. However, that statement doesn’t apply to former Mount
Vernon prep Tristan Wirfs. At 6 foot 5, 315lbs, Wirfs is as well-prepared to play
on the offensive line as a true freshman as any incoming player in the Ferentz era.
He’s big, strong, and he’s well polished in his technique already. He’ll play this
year, if for no other reason than Iowa is losing both tackles after this season and
he needs to see some game action. Lastly, at kick returner we’ll see some of
running back Ivory Kelly-Martin. Initially thought of as a redshirt candidate, he’s
opened a lot of eyes in camp with his play-making abilities. Look for him to
relieve Wadley on kickoff returns from time to time.

     So, what are we getting ourselves into this year? My prediction is we see
this team try to gain traction in September, start putting things together in
October, and in typical Ferentz fashion we see them peaking in November. I think
we’ll see a November night game upset of Ohio State on the way to a 9-3 record
and another birth in a January bowl game…..and for the fan’s bank account’s sake,
let’s hope they can get off the snide and get a bowl win for the first time since
2010. Stay tuned…..and above all, GO HAWKS!

Pete Seibert | The Tailgate Society

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