116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Last fall, Connor Colby was playing on the offensive line at Cedar Rapids Kennedy, never with more than a couple thousand fans in the stands.
Fast forward a year, and Colby is in the midst of a “great learning experience” as one of Iowa’s offensive linemen to be thrust into a larger role in 2021.
“Sometimes the best way to learn is just being out there,” Colby said.
And he’s certainly been out there a lot. The true freshman has been Iowa’s starting right guard since late September.
While it’s been “pretty fun,” he’s not content with what he’s accomplished so far.
“I can keep growing as a football player,” Colby said.
That’s been Colby’s mentality before he enrolled at Iowa in the spring. When Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz visited him at Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Ferentz saw a kid who “couldn't wait to get out of high school and get on to his next step.”
“I was like, ‘Hey, slow it down, enjoy the prom, all that stuff,’” Ferentz said. “When he got here last January, he was ready.”
Junior Jack Plumb is one of the other offensive linemen to fill a larger role in 2021. Plumb has started Iowa’s last four games after starting just two games in his first three years on campus.
“It's a process that I've been working on for a while,” Plumb said. “But it feels awesome to be out there for everybody playing.”
Plumb has certainly done enough in those four starts to impress Ferentz.
“He's grown immensely in that year's time certainly, but most importantly we've really seen it this past month,” Ferentz said.
Colby and Plumb are part of an offensive line group that has a combined 93 starts going into Friday’s Nebraska game. Last year’s offensive line, in comparison, had 148 starts.
Veteran center Tyler Linderbaum has more than a third of those starts. Eleven games into 2021, no other offensive lineman has more than 16 career starts.
Ferentz said the process of giving experience to an inexperienced line has been “really slow.”
“But I think this past month has been encouraging,” Ferentz said. “Our guys are playing with a little bit more confidence now.”
Colby and Plumb have worked on trying to “see the big picture” on each play.
Offensive line coach George Barnett has told him to be “taking off the blinders in my stance,” Plumb said.
Colby has seen his technique improve as he is no longer “running at someone just because you’ve got to go hit someone.” His football IQ has also improved.
“Earlier in the season, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the whole concept of the offense,” Colby said.
The improvements are important for Iowa’s offensive scheme that relies on running the ball effectively to set up play action.
“When you can't block consistently up front, it's just hard,” Ferentz said. “It's really hard because you can only scheme so much. It's hard to move the ball without blocking.”
That shows in the Hawkeyes’ rushing stats. Despite having repeat Doak Walker Award watch list honoree Tyler Goodson in the backfield, Iowa averages only 3.1 yards per carry. Purdue is the only team with a lower average in the Big Ten.
Football Outsiders tracks line yards per carry, which weighs an offensive line’s contributions to a team’s rushing success. The Hawkeyes rank 125th in the stat in the FBS out of 130 teams and 13th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten.
Some stats also show the offensive line’s recent improvements, though.
Iowa has more rushing yards during its three-game winning streak than in its previous five games combined.
The offensive line still is far from some of the heralded lines to previously call Kinnick Stadium home, but it’s doing enough for Iowa to win games.
“I'm not saying we're the Monsters of the Midway by any stretch, but we're closer to where we need to be,” Ferentz said.
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