In order to have a very special season a football team has to excel in all three areas, offense, defense, and special teams. The Hawkeyes have done just that en route to their 6-0 start this season. Kirk Ferentz and Iowa have had outstanding performances in all three phases of the game thus far, all coming at different times but at critical junctures.
Quarterback C.J. Beathard had a sensational first two or three games to the season, running back Jordan Canzeri has a four-touchdown game and another outing where he tallied 43 carries for 256 yards. Running back LeShun Daniels went for over 100 yards rushing against Illinois State in the opener. Wideouts Tevaun Smith, Matt VandeBerg, and Jerminic Smith each have a 100-yard receiving game. Tight end George Kittle has had a receiving touchdown in three straight games.
Iowa has been even more impressive defensively. Cornerback Desmond King has been great all year, but recorded two interceptions against both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. He has five on the year. Defensive end Drew Ott had big games against Illinois State and Wisconsin before being sidelined the rest of the year with a torn ACL. Defensive end Nate Meier already has five sacks in six games. Not much of what he does shows up on a stat sheet but defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson has been dominant. Linebacker Cole Fisher has 51 tackles already and fellow linebackers Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell have also contributed to a much improved position unit.
On special teams, Dillon Kidd has been near perfect at the punting duties since week one. Marshall Koehn has been great in the kicking game despite missing two extra points. He was instrumental in the win over Pittsburgh, launching a 57 yard field goal through the uprights in the final seconds for the 27-24 win. Desmond King as a returner has been a drastic difference than the returning game of the past few years. He's come close to breaking a few for touchdowns and has really been efficient in setting up the Hawkeyes with good field position.
As Kirk Ferentz explained, the weekly Big Ten awards have been symbolic of Iowa's play over the year. Desmond King has earned a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award, Koehn was named Special Teams Player of the Week after his game-winning field goal against Pittsburgh, and C.J. Beathard was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Week for his outing against Iowa State. Most recently, Jordan Canzeri was given the Offensive Player of the Week award by the Big Ten for totaling 43 carries for 256 yards and a rushing touchdown against Illinois. Once again, all three phases of the game covered.
"Happy for Desmond King for being recognized by the Big Ten," Ferentz said on the Tuesday following the Wisconsin game. "It's our third Big Ten recognition for a player this season. I think what it's represented, an offensive, defensive, and special teams player. That's really how we're winning right now. We're playing good team football. One segment is feeding off the others. I think that's very, very fitting."
Senior Jordan Canzeri became the fourth player recognized for a Big Ten award against Illinois, making it two Hawkeyes on the offensive side of the ball. Canzeri joined C.J. Beathard.
It's difficult to argue with what Ferentz has indicated. Iowa's balance has been a factor and it will have to show up again on Saturday against Northwestern. With the injuries and the adversity the offense is having to overcome, defense and special teams might need a score to supplement C.J. Beathard and crew. Junior Desmond King has come close to busting loose a few times; is this the week he finds the end zone as a kick or punt returner? The special teams unit is the most improved area of this football team along with the linebackers.
"We are very improved on special teams," head coach Kirk Ferentz admitted. "We've been much better in that regard. That was something that really needed to be addressed (after last season). We were just okay there a year ago. Five games into it (now six), I've seen a marked improvement. A lot of that goes to our specialists. Marshall Koehn has done a good job, obviously. Dillon Kidd has done really well and came up with two real critical punts (against Wisconsin). (Tyler) Kluver has done a good job quietly and that's the way you want to keep it. Desmond King has given us a bit of octane as a return guy."
With the offfense short-handed and the defense having their hands full against the Northwestern offense, this Saturday might be a game where the special teams is called on to win the game. Will they be ready? They've passed every test so far.