In the end, Iowa will be its defense
IOWA CITY -- There really is no more debate on what the Iowa football team is in 2011.
The Hawkeyes (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) are an offense guided by a first-year starter at quarterback whose quality moments outweigh lapses. James Vandenberg isn't perfect, but he's the No. 2 passer in the Big Ten with 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
The Hawkeyes are a terrific wide receiver corps, led by senior Marvin McNutt and junior Keenan Davis.
Yes, Davis left Saturday's 45-24 win over Indiana with a sprained right ankle late in the fourth quarter. Here's what coach Kirk Ferentz said about that, "We'll know tomorrow. Nobody is really alarmed right now. I don't think we came out of it, at least at this point, with anything bad."
The Hawkeyes are a pretty good running game and offensive line. Sophomore Marcus Coker continues to grow at the position. And against Indiana, some depth popped up in freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Jordan Canzeri. Also, freshman Mika'il McCall likely will be back at some point this season, Ferentz said.
And finally, the Hawkeyes are a suspect defense. Whether it's injuries or roster turnover, the Hawkeyes are literally taping it together on defense.
From tackle Mike Daniels' ankle to linebacker James Morris' ankle to linebacker Tyler Nielsen's left hand, the whole thing is being held together by athletic tape.
“I don’t know what it is about yardage, but psychologically, it’s yards on the ground that really . . .,” Ferentz said, “they seem to give you Pepto-Bismol moments. That part, we’ve got to tighten down. It’s just not a good feeling when people run the ball successfully.”
Through seven games, Iowa allows 161.6 rush yards a game. That would be the most for an Iowa defense since 194.3 in 2000. The 23.3 points allowed per game is the highest since 2000 (27.5). The 406.7 yards Iowa has allowed through seven games is the most since, you guessed it, 2000 (440.9).
Since 1933, Iowa defenses have allowed 400-plus yards a game just three times. You can probably throw in the 1998 defense, which allowed 398.9 yards.
The collective records of those teams is (1971, '98, '99 and 2000) is 8-37.
This isn't time to panic. Iowa is 5-2 and likely will be favorites Saturday at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3) and thus should head into the November grinder of its schedule at 6-2. Iowa will have a chance to stand up for itself and claim the course of its destiny.
But historically, that 400 number is foreboding.
"It's not so much that the numbers bug me, it's that I know we can play better as a whole unit," defensive end Broderick Binns said. "The linemen, linebackers and defensive backs, we just have to play better."
Iowa will play better and more experienced quarterbacks than it faced Saturday. Indiana's Tre Roberson, a true freshman, did pretty much whatever he wanted, gaining 278 yards of offense with a TD pass. Iowa lived to tell, as it did the previous week against Northwestern's Dan Persa and Kain Colter, who helped NU roll up 495 yards.
This week, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is capable of directing the Gophers' in the spread. Then, it's Michigan's Denard Robinson (No. 2 in the conference in rushing), Michigan State's Kirk Cousins (drop-back style senior leader), Purdue's Caleb TerBush (two TD passes in quality win over Illinois last week) and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (third in total offense in the Big Ten).
It's red alert from this minute on for Iowa defense.
"It's just not typical of Iowa defenses to give up that many yards," said Binns, who's played on three top 25 defenses as a Hawkeye, "especially back-to-back, back-to-back-to-back or whatever it was."
It's OK. It's getting all too easy to lose track.
1971 -- 452.0 yards offense; 1-10 record
1998 -- 398.9; 3-8
1999 -- 463.4; 1-10
2000 -- 440.9; 3-9