Iowa Football

Iowa football is confidently explosive these days

Hawkeyes rip off another big offensive day on the road in rout of Indiana

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — What we’re seeing is an Iowa football offense that is destroying and delighting.

A quarterback throwing six touchdown passes in a game, that’s not standard stuff. Two tight ends each collecting over 100 yards in catches. A team averaging 462 yards over the last four games. Back-to-back games of 48 and 42 points on the road in the Big Ten.

But this is more than numbers. This is about attitude, aggression. This isn’t a Hawkeye offense taking an occasional shot downfield and then immediately settling back into more-predictable ways. This is going for the kill, play by play, possession by possession, quarter by quarter.

And if this continues, game by game.

“We’re trying to be a championship-level football team around here,” Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said, and you’ve been hearing “championship-level” from Hawkeye mouths regularly in recent weeks.

“I think once you get up on a team, you need to step on the gas. That’s what we’re trying to do. Whether or not we’re doing it right now, we’re trying.”

Iowa’s 42-16 win at Indiana Saturday was everything a reasonable person could have asked of the Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium, and considerably more.

For the second-straight week, Iowa peeled off touchdowns on its first two drives. Instead of flinching when the opponent scores, the Hawkeyes are muscling up.

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Their defense is fine. We knew it would be, or at least felt it should. The offense, however, has crossed a bridge from unknown quantity to force-to-be-reckoned-with.

“When it’s clicking like that,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said after Saturday’s game, “it’s a hard thing to stop.

“We’ve got the passing game going, the run game going, pick your poison.”

Stanley’s six passing touchdowns makes one assume this is Air Ferentz, but the Hawkeyes passed 33 times and rushed 32, and you’ll take Saturday’s 159 rushing yards in any conference road contest.

“I think it all starts with the run game,” said Hockenson, who had 107 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Yes, but. This isn’t Iowa’s passing game of 2017, or 2016. This is vertical, not horizontal. This is staying on the gas, and Stanley has been the cool driver with the lead foot.

“Whatever’s working in the game plan,” Stanley said, “that’s what the coaches continue to do.”

But second-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz can afford to be a swashbuckler when his second-year starting quarterback keeps evolving, along with a lot of other second-year guys.

“If you just look at us compared to a year ago,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said, “we had two freshmen tackles, two freshmen receivers fresh out of high school, and one of the tackles out of high school. Really, T.J. was not an experienced guy and Noah (Fant) played 18 snaps or something like that his first year. So we were just a really young team.”

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There isn’t a weak link on offense. If the quarterback is just another quarterback, though, it would be just another offense. Stanley has 14 touchdown passes in his last four games.

“I would say he’s getting better every day pretty much,” sophomore offensive tackle Alaric Jackson said. “In practice, during the game, everything he does is a step forward for us.”

Talents like Fant and Hockenson make Stanley better. He makes them look like All-America candidates. When Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith add consistency to their skill sets, this offense may become a rocket.

“It’s Year 2 of the offense,” Smith-Marsette said. “(Brian Ferentz) knows what he has on his hands and what he can dial up.”

Smith-Marsette had a 60-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that started out looking ill-conceived when he picked it up at the 2.

“I’m not going to fair-catch it,” he said, “because I believe in myself to go out there and get my team in a better position. So whenever they kick it off to me, I believe it’s going to go back for a touchdown.”

That sounds the way Iowa’s offense looks lately. The confidence is getting contagious. The explosions are getting louder.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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