Hawkeyes perfect, but barely
National championship contention also isn’t out of the question for the unbeaten Hawkeyes (6-0, 2-0), off to their best start since 1985 even though almost every game has been a struggle.
The No. 11 Hawkeyes have been great theater, with five games decided in the fourth quarter. But can they keep it up?
“What we all need to just understand is that this thing is pretty fragile,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ve got six tough games coming up. None of us, at least in this building, need to worry too much about the big picture at this point.”
Iowa takes a 10-game winning streak, the longest since the program ran off 20 straight victories from 1920-23, into Saturday’s game at Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1).
The reason Iowa has played so many tight games is simple: The Hawkeyes are built around a strong defense and stellar special teams. Their offense has been so-so.
In 11 seasons under Ferentz, Iowa’s best offenses have been balanced, with powerful running games and solid quarterback play. This season the Hawkeyes rank 75th in the nation and ninth in the Big Ten in scoring at 25.7 points per game.
Iowa is hoping the return of senior tight end Tony Moeaki will help its passing game. That was certainly the case against Michigan, when Moeaki came back after missing three games with a sprained ankle and caught six passes for 105 yards and two TDs.
Both of Moeaki’s touchdown catches came in the middle of the field. If he can keep that going, it should open up the rest of the field for a deep group of wide receivers that has been more solid than spectacular.
The unit’s depth will be tested down the stretch because of reserve Paul Chaney, Jr.’s season-ending knee injury, which Ferentz announced Tuesday.
“Any time Tony is on the field, it definitely opens up our passing game, because he commands so much more attention,” wide receiver Colin Sandeman said. “It means one-on-one coverages on the outside.”
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has struggled early in games and has thrown eight interceptions, three returned for touchdowns.
But the junior has thrown for 580 yards and five touchdowns over the past two weeks, and Ferentz has been steadfast in his support for him.
Iowa’s running game
hasn’t been spectacular either. But the Hawkeyes have gotten solid production out of a pair of freshman backs, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher, who’ve combined for nearly 120 yards a game.
Ferentz also appears to have finally settled on a consistent rotation along the offensive line.
Ferentz is confident that Iowa’s offense is poised to improve in the coming weeks.
“... I think the potential is there, that in the next six games maybe for us to start making progress if we can just keep things fairly consistent on the practice field,” Ferentz said.
A 6-0 start is uncharted territory for the Hawkeyes under Ferentz. Their penchant for squeaking out close ones has left many fans wondering if it’s only a matter of time before the good fortune runs out.
Not the Hawkeyes.
“If you’re going to have a good football team, and have a good season—and you play in a good conference, you’re going to have to win some close games. That’s a pleasing thing. That’s been a real positive for us,” Ferentz said.
n Iowa wide receiver/kick returner Paul Chaney Jr. will miss the rest of the season after injuring an anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
Chaney suffered the injury during the Hawkeyes’ 30-28 win over Michigan last Saturday.
Ferentz didn’t specify which knee Chaney injured or the extent of the injury, except to say Tuesday it will be a “clean repair.” Chaney was Iowa’s top punt and kick returner, averaging 20.1 yards on eight kickoff returns. He has seven catches for 50 yards this season.