Rob's Report Card: Grading the Win Against Miami

HTO senior beat writer Rob Howe covered the Hawkeyes for six years for the <i>Iowa City Press-Citizen</i>. After each game, he will provide a position-by-position breakdown of the team's performance compiled from his view from the press box. In his first installment, find out the letter grades given out to first-time starter at quarterback, Nathan Chandler, and what he thought about a dominating defensive day in a 21-3 victory against Miami.

QUARTERBACK: You were expecting John Elway? Well, you're probably not going to see that kind of domination out of Nathan Chandler. The first-year starter said it best - he doesn't need to carry this team. He just needs to make plays when he can and not turn the ball over. He performed well in both of those areas, save a fumble deep in Miami territory. But he ran that same play that he coughed it up on later in the game, knowing that he needed to stay in the pocket longer. He did, and it resulted in a touchdown to Mo Brown. That shows understanding and adjustment. Chandler also moved well for a big man and got rid of the ball when needed. The touchdown pass to FB Aaron Mickens was particularly impressive. Chandler read the field and hit his thid option. He also showed he will not be arm tackled. He finished 12-19 for 129 yards and two touchdowns with no INTs. He took just one sack. The senior admitted to having happy feet at times and the fumble could have been costly, but overall, a very solid start for the tall guy from Texas - (B).

RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK: Fred Russell proved that he is not a one-year wonder. The senior really showed that he is a leader on this offense. He got the Iowa attack started with some beautiful runs on the first scoring drive. Iowa had sputtered to a 3-and-out on the first drive before Russell danced his way to gains of 4 and 11 yards. You could see those plays ignite Chandler and an offensive line with four new starters. Everybody settled in. The impact must be recognized. Russell's performance was made more significant considering that he had not taken a hit since the Orange Bowl. Sure, you can say that Russell racked up 124 of his yards on two carries and just 43 yards on his other 20 totes. But that's like picking on Cindy Crawford's mole. True frosh Champ Davis started at FB and did a nice job picking up blitzes. It was also good to see Aaron Mickens shake off injuries and catch his first touchdown pass. It will be interesting to see the impact of Edgar Cervantes' blocking when he returns next week - (A).

WIDE RECEIVERS: With all due respect to Kevin Kasper, Tim Dwight and Kahlil Hill, Mo Brown is the best Iowa WR that I've seen since arriving in '97. He makes big plays and plays hurt. He also is big and tough. Along with Russell, he leads this Iowa offense. And that goes way beyond his seven catches for 78 yards and a score against Miami. When is the last time you saw Brown drop a pass? Ramon Ochoa looked good as a regular member of the rotation. He runs crisp routes and also had a catch called back by penalty. Not sure why Ed Hinkel got shut out. It also would be nice to see the Hawkeyes try to stretch the field to keep defenses from stacking the box, as Miami did - (A).

TIGHT ENDS: Erik Jensen performed well and caught two passes running old Dallas Clark routes. He doesn't possess the YAC factor of Clark, but we knew that going in. He provided his usual solid blocking to assist in a blitz-happy RedHawks' defense. Mike Follet looked strong in his first game as Iowa's blocking TE. We're still wondering when Tony Jackson will display his natural talent on the playing field - (B).

OFFENSIVE LINE: At times the unit looked like the dominating front of '02. At other times, it looked like the leaky bunch from '99 and '00. That was to be expected with four new starters along side of the Mountain, Robert Gallery. It was laughable when a Miami wideout got his helmet ripped off trying to block Gallery. The big man politely handed it back. Coach Kirk Ferentz admitted that the coaches were uneasy in preparing for Miami's defense. A new coordinator made it tough. But that excuse is hard to completely buy. The offensive line should have been better ready to handle the blitzing attack that Pat Narduzzi showed at Northern Illinois last season. After all, it was much more likely the RedHawks would run that. That said, it's a confusing defense. The Iowa front did a nice job covering blitzes and stunts in allowing just one sack. While the pass blocking was encouraging, improvement is needed in opening holes for the run, especially on the right side. Teams are going to load up over Gallery and LG David Walker on the left as Miami did. Unit also had a costly false start after an illegal substitution penalty - (B-).

DEFENSIVE LINE: These guys lived up to the advanced billing and then some. An experienced Miami offense averaged just 4.3 yards per play and managed only 3 points. Matt Roth notched two sacks, running his consecutive game streak with a quarterback takedown to eight. The RedHawks found little relief running the ball. They rushed 29 times for 54 yards (1.9 ypc). Matt Neubauer came in as the first sub up front and provided his first career sack. Iowa finished the day with four sacks against Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger, who entered the game as a Heisman hopeful and left just happy to have his head on his shoulders. The Hawkeyes did miss some sack chances, especially early in the game. But that's like picking on the Rolling Stones for getting old - (A).

LINEBACKERS: The added speed of new starters Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway proved apparent in Miami being unable to pass underneath as much as it did last season in Oxford. The group also factored into that incredible rushing defense. Senior Grant Steen continued to be all over the field and Kevin Worthy looked solid in nickel packages and when the Hawkeyes switched to a 3-4. As could be expected with two new guys, miscommunication showed through on a couple of Miami completions. That allowed the RedHawks keep some drives alive with several key third-down coversions - (A-).

DEFENSIVE BACKS: A unit that was blasted after allowing Roethlisberger to roll up 343 passing yards a year ago enjoyed revenge in Kinnick. With a great deal of help from the front seven, the Iowa DBs came up with four interceptions, including two by true sophomore corner Jovon Johnson. His biggest pick came on a fade pass in the end zone. Johnson and fellow corner Antwan Allen also showed improved tackling ability. A closer examination saw the two underclassmen still needing work in sustaining coverage on receivers. Allen escaped being burned for a touchdown pass when RedHawk wideout Michael Larkin dropped a sure score in the end zone. Free safety Sean Considine played well in his first start, and Bob Sanders showed heart by gutting it out with a badly hurt foot. Chris Smith picked off a pass deep in the Iowa territory - (B+).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Another excellent performance given by an unheralded group of Hawkeyes. Kicker Nate Kaeding boomed his kickoffs and David Bradley averaged 48.4 yards on five punts. The coverage teams offered Miami no advantages in field position. Iowa was concerned about kickoff returns because of injuries, but Hinkel erased the doubt by bringing one back 27 yards - (A).

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