The Iowa Hawkeyes’ offensive line has a problem. That problem is two-fold, the first being a lack of cohesiveness which is caused by their second problem….injuries. Can things on the offensive line be tuned up and turned around? Will Akrum Wadley quit getting hit 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage every play? Is Illinois REALLY that bad of a football team? Let’s take a look.
When senior right tackle Ike Boettger went down for the year with a torn Achilles it seemed like some fans thought, “Oh well, these guys won the Joe Moore Award last year, no big deal!”. Well, I think we’re seeing that might have been a bigger deal than we thought. Boettger’s injury paired up with the other senior tackle Boone Myers’ high ankle sprain has brought this unit down a big notch. Because of that Iowa’s best overall lineman, Sean Welsh had to move to tackle from guard and to me that’s been one of the biggest problems. Welsh was a preseason All-American at guard, however he’s just out of place at tackle. He’s serviceable but it leaves a bigger problem on the inside at guard, where Iowa likes to do a lot of work and is responsible for picking up the blitzing linebackers that have been torching Iowa’s run plays as of late. How can this be fixed? Or even patched up? One answer could be the monster freshman Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs came in ready to play sizewise at 6-foot-5 315 pounds. He’s also been lauded by the upperclassmen for being ahead of the curve in his technique. Iowa SHOULD be able to get through the game this weekend with Welsh at right tackle. Next week Iowa has their bye and could theoretically prepare Wirfs to slide in at right tackle when Iowa goes to Northwestern on October 21st. The other option would be Boone Myers fully recovering from his high ankle sprain to get back to right tackle, but that one isn’t filled with all the hypothetical X’s and O’s that make being a fan so much fun!
Besides the injuries to the offensive line, the offense needs to start doing more of what Brian Ferentz preached during the preseason; exploiting matchups. There has been an inordinate amount of run plays out of overly predictable formations the last 2 games. Spreading the field will then spread out the linebackers that have been blitzing nonstop the last couple games to blow up plays before they can get started. Lining up in double TE sets with a fullback and one receiver SCREAM “zone left” or “zone right”, and it doesn’t help that every time Nate Stanley calls an audible, it’s to another run play or a dummy audible and the play isn’t changed at all. Frustration has clearly been building for the offense, and according to HawkeyeReport.com’s Tom Kakert it caused Brian Ferentz to injure his hand by punching a wall last weekend.
The one group that should be overtly frustrated with the offense is the Iowa defense. Josey Jewell & company have been putting out fires constantly over the last 2 weeks when Iowa’s offense has been stuck in the mud. Josh Jackson was named to the Bednarik Award watch list, joining Josey Jewell as well. We knew Jewell was going to be spectacular but Josh Jackson has been Desmond King-like in taking away one half of the field on passing plays. Jackson leads the Big 10 passes defended and interceptions while Jewell leads the conference in total tackles and tackles for loss. In short, the defense has not been the problem this season. Outside of the points given up against Iowa State, they have been stellar.
Now we get to this weekend’s game against Illinois. Look, Illinois is bad and if it weren’t for Rutgers they would definitely be the worst team in the conference. In fact, next week those 2 teams will play in the Big 10’s biggest pillow fight to see who can be the 13th best team in the conference. Illinois is a very young football team as they have played NINETEEN true freshmen this year. Lovie Smith is trying to build this program from the ashes, come to think of it; it’s crazy that ten years ago this program was in a Rose Bowl. One fun thing you’ll see this weekend is at the quarterback position for the Illini. Jeff George Jr, son of former #1 overall draft pick Jeff George Sr. THAT is the highlight of their team basically, is that the QB’s dad was a middle-of-the-road NFL quarterback.
Iowa needs to show up ready to go from the start this weekend. Ferentz made the comment this week that they weren’t as mentally prepared for Michigan State as they should’ve been. Historically when Kirk says things like that, they come out with their hair on fire the next week. Illinois might hang around the first half but I look for Iowa to get the running game back on track this week. Give me the Hawks by a score of 35-10 for a happy Homecoming weekend in Iowa City.