Iowa Football

Suddenly, Iowa football is packed with playmakers

Iowa's offense runs amok (and passes amok, too) in romp over Middle Tennessee

IOWA CITY — College football seasons fly by, and sometimes observations are sat on for too long out of the fear of seeming cocky, or just out of superstition.

So I’ll say this for the Hawkeyes now: They have a lot of playmakers, and they have a very dangerous offense.

Yes, yes, Saturday’s opponent was Middle Tennessee, not Michigan. No, no, Iowa’s 48-3 win over the Blue Raiders at Kinnick Stadium isn’t something that will resonate globally.

However, the eight remaining Big Ten coaching staffs that will prepare for the Hawkeyes won’t like the game tape they see from Saturday. That was a focused, crisp, highly talented offensive unit that put up 644 yards, more than in any of Iowa’s other 255 games with Kirk Ferentz as coach.

Three running backs rushed for over 90 yards. Three wide receivers had at least 60 receiving yards. The senior quarterback, Nate Stanley, played his fourth-straight game without an interception while completing 68 percent of his passes for 276 yards. The offensive line mauled the Blue Raiders.

“We’re playing pretty clean football right now,” Ferentz said. In Ferentz-to-English translation, that means the Hawkeyes are in a really good place through one-third of the season.

The outside world’s preseason questions about this offense were if the run game would improve from last year’s so-so showing and if wide receivers would emerge to make up for all the production lost by departing tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Those questions have been answered.

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“There’s a lot of confidence going around as a whole,” added Tyrone Tracy, “from Nate Stanley all the way down to the two-deep.”

Tracy is a second-team receiver. The redshirt freshman had three catches for 85 yards, three of the game’s most-entertaining plays.

At last month’s team media day, junior starting receiver Brandon Smith said he vetoed Tracy’s use of the “Sweet Feet” name he gave himself, saying second-year frosh receiver Nico Ragaini deserved the handle more.

“He definitely wanted ‘Sweet Feet’ back,” Smith said Saturday. “I used to be hating on it a little bit. But he’s definitely ‘Sweet Feet.’ I have to give him some props. He’s definitely ‘Sweet Feet.’ ”

Smith was pretty sweet himself, with two touchdown catches. The first was an 18-yard pass from Stanley that was a beauty. The throw on the run, not necessarily a Stanley specialty in seasons past, was perfect. Smith beat cornerback Justin Brown to the ball.

This probably sounds crazy since Fant and Hockenson were NFL first-round picks, but Stanley has a better receiving corps this year.

“I think they’ve shown they can be pretty effective,” Stanley said. In Stanley-to-English translation that means he thinks he’s got some studs playing at wideout.

In an oh-no moment for those opposing Big Ten defensive coordinators, tight end Shaun Beyer had a catch for 27 yards and nearly made a one-hand grab of a Stanley bomb in the end zone. If you have to worry about Beyer, too? Yikes!

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“We all have confidence in everybody that goes out there on the field,” Tracy said. “We can call whatever play we want to call. That just helps (offensive coordinator) Brian Ferentz with the playcalling.”

That sounds perilously close to boasting. Tracy reined it in, saying “I know my ability, but you knowing your ability won’t do anything for the team. You have to go out and show them, show Iowa City and the world what I’m capable of and what I can do. Any way I can help the team, I’m willing to do it.”

Smith got fed Saturday, but said he was happy to block on receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 14-yard TD run on a jet sweep.

“Ihmir, he’s a speedy guy,” Smith said. “I don’t mind doing the dirty work when we need to get in the end zone.”

Of course, it takes the men up front to set all those tables for the playmakers, and the playmakers made frequent note of that in postgame interviews. So did one of the men up front.

“We, especially on the offensive line, want to be feared, hated and respected,” tackle Tristan Wirfs said.

If this keeps up, the whole offense will cash that trifecta.

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

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