IOWA CITY — What Iowa will be in September — what we think Iowa will be in September — just doesn’t make for a spring-loaded spring game of fireworks and fun.
Iowa has five returning starters on the offensive line. It has a wonderfully exciting running back in Akrum Wadley. It looks as if it has a potential workhorse-type running back in Toren Young, a 220-pound redshirt freshman. Young led the Hawkeyes with 96 rushing yards, including a 14-yard TD run, in Friday night’s spring practice finale.
Iowa has all sorts of newness and question marks in the passing game. This has been touched on a few times. Yes, Iowa’s offense could’ve ground out a couple of 15-play drives with 12 of those being runs before the 16,500 fans at Kinnick Stadium, but this is spring, a time in which the Iowa staff has said again and again since March it would spend getting to know what its players can and can’t do.
You can choose to believe there’s a secret laboratory where offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe are mixing chemicals for some sort of breakthrough in the passing game. Or you can believe what Ferentz said in a halftime interview with the Big Ten Network (which happened to be conducted by BTN sideline reporter Danan Hughes, who caught 146 passes for the Hawkeyes in the early 1990s).
“We’re going to focus on being execution-based,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to try to emphasize the personnel we do have. We’re going to try to be driven by our tight ends, our fullbacks, our running backs, strong running game and play-action nakeds and all of that good stuff.”
If head coach Kirk Ferentz wanted everyone Hawkeye to feel really, really great about the team’s prospects in late April, he could’ve had Wadley line up behind senior tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, guards Sean Welsh and Keegan Render and center James Daniels and run outside zone plays up and down the field.
They know that should work when football matters in September.
“I would think we have a better chance there,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I think if you look at our whole team right now, we’re probably a little stronger on the line of scrimmage, both sides of the ball.”
Wiegers completed 12 of 23 for 99 yards with two interceptions to free safety Jake Gervase, one of which he returned 59 yards for a TD. Stanley completed 6 of 17 for 13 yards with an interception (Gervase notched a hat trick) and a 2-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Devonte Young.
Five wide receivers caught passes, including walk-ons Ronald Nash, Connor Keane and Dominique Dafney.
At this point, there’s simply no way to tell if Iowa will have a dependable passing game in 2017. It will have a first-year starter at quarterback and the one major takeaway from Friday was the passing offense is a long way from a passing grade. How much ground can be made up here between now and September?
Pin Brian Ferentz’s “we’re going to try to emphasize the personnel we do have” near the top of your thoughts.
“We’re pretty veteran up front, so we expect them to lead us,” Brian Ferentz said. “We want to be a run-first, oriented outfit. I think any championship team is. That’s what we’re striving for. We’re a long way from that right now, but we’re going to need them to push us forward and get us going.”
Of the 98 plays Iowa ran Friday night, 53 included a fullback and/or multiple tight ends. Redshirt freshman tight end T.J. Hockenson led the Hawkeyes with four catches for 14 yards. Sophomore Noah Fant caught two passes for 25 yards. Redshirt freshman Shaun Beyer caught two passes for 11 yards. Senior Jon Wisnieski caught one for 16.
“I can really foresee that position being a team or a position on our team that’s going to be critical to our success,” Kirk Ferentz said.
If Iowa’s offense is a Transformer, it’s going to be a small army of tight ends being welded together. Fant and Beyer looked very comfortable finding space. Late in the first half, Stanley missed Beyer, who broke open on a seam route in the middle of the field, for what would’ve been a 72-yard TD.
“We’re loving it from the tight end side,” Fant said. “We love catching that ball.”
Young’s performance needs the caveat that this was just one of 15 practices, but his 96 yards and yards after contact stood out Friday night. The 5-11, 220-pounder has at least planted a flag in the race for RB touches, most of which will find their way to Wadley.
Last week, Brian Ferentz did hint about moving Wadley around the line of scrimmage and lining up another running back in that position. Wadley, who most definitely is in the running for punt and kick return in 2017, was asked about that in the postgame.
He wouldn’t touch it.
“I can’t answer that question,” Wadley said with a laugh. “You remember the Penn State game.”
In his Tuesday interview session the week of last year’s Penn State game, Wadley did mention that, yeah, he would line up in the slot to try to get PSU off balance. So, when he actually lined up in the slot, Penn State wasn’t exactly surprised.
“I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, so that’s a ‘Next question,’” Wadley said.
Wadley won’t line up at tight end or fullback, but, from what the Hawkeyes showed Friday night and from what Brian Ferentz said, that will be the working outline for Iowa this fall.
Stats and lineups
(I collaborated with Land of Ten’s Scott Dochterman for who played where — valuable info — and stats, which aren’t nearly as valuable and definitely aren’t perfect.)
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
LT — Boone Myers
LG — Keegan Render/Ross Reynolds
C — James Daniels
RG — Sean Welsh/Keegan Render
RT — Ike Boettger/Sean Welsh
TE1 — Noah Fant
TE2 — T.J. Hockenson
WR1 — Adrian Falconer
WR2 — Nick Easley
WR3 — Devonte Young
QB — Tyler Wiegers (1H); Nathan Stanley (2H)
RB1 — Toks Akinribade; Toren Young (2H)
FB — Brady Ross
DID NOT PARTICIPATE (two-deep): RB — Akrum Wadley; WR — Matt VandeBerg, Jerminic Smith; FB — Drake Kulick; TE Peter Pekar, Nate Wieting; G — Levi Paulson; OL — Dalton Ferguson (out for season)
SECOND TEAM OFFENSE
LT — Alaric Jackson/Landan Paulsen
LG — Ross Reynolds
C — Spencer Williams
RG — Landan Paulsen/Cole Banwart
RT — Lucas LeGrand
TE1 — Shaun Beyer
TE2 — Jon Wisnieski
WR1 — Dominque Daffney
WR2 — Connor Keane
WR3 — Ronald Nash
QB — Nathan Stanley (1H)/Tyler Wiegers (2H)
RB1 — Toren Young (1H)/Toks Akinribade (2H)
FB — Austin Kelly
OTHERS: QB — Ryan Boyle, Jacob Schmidt; RB — Marcel Joly, Sam Cook; FB — Lane Akre, Gavin Dinsdale; TE — Drew Cook, Nate Vejvoda; WR — Brandon Bishop, Yale Van Dyne
FIRST TEAM DEFENSE
DE — Anthony Nelson
DE — Parker Hesse
DT — Garret Jansen
DT — Cedrick Lattimore
OLB — Ben Niemann
MLB — Josey Jewell
WLB — Bo Bower
SS — Miles Taylor (1H); Amani Hooker (2H)
FS — Jake Gervase
CB — Josh Jackson
CB — Manny Rugamba
OTHERS: Nickel — Michael Ojemudia; MLB — Kristian Welch, Angelo Garbutt; WLB — Aaron Mends, Amani Jones; OLB — Kevin Ward, Nick Niemann; DE — Sam Brincks
DID NOT PARTICIPATE (two-deep): DT — Nathan Bazata, Brady Reiff; DE — Matt Nelson; LB — Jack Hockaday; S — Brandon Snyder (out indefinitely)
SECOND TEAM DEFENSE
DE — Chauncey Golston
DE — Brandon Simon
DT — Jake Hulett
DT — Jake Newborg
OLB — Kevin Ward; Barrington Wade/Nick Niemann
MLB — Kristian Welch/Angelo Garbutt/Kyle Taylor
WLB — Amani Jones/Aaron Mends
SS — Amani Hooker
FS — Noah Clayberg
CB — Michael Ojemudia
CB — Cedric Boswell
OTHERS: CB — Wes Dvorak; S — Eric Grimm; DT — Jacob Giese, Daniel Gaffney, Dalles Jacobus; DE — Austin Schulte