Clearly, Iowa's team has some things to work on, but Hawkeye fans are optimistic that this squad can contend for the Big Ten title again this fall. Having a strong defense and outstanding special teams will keep Iowa within striking distance in most of its games, so who knows?
With a 3-0 record, there are several things that the Hawks are doing well. Here are 10 positives that come to mind following the 40-21 victory over Iowa State…
1) The victory marked the 12th consecutive regular-season win for the Hawkeyes, which is the third-longest streak in school history. Pretty amazing. The average score during that stretch is 39 to 14. Iowa has also won 17 of its last 20 games overall. What a terrific job Coach Ferentz and his staff have done in Iowa City.
2) Iowa went on a 23-0 run in the second and third quarters in Ames, giving Iowa State a taste of its own medicine. Last year, the Cyclones went on a 23-point run in Iowa City, which led to the ISU victory. For the Hawkeyes, revenge was definitely sweet.
3) The Hawkeyes' defensive line is playing great football right now. Iowa allowed only 71 rushing yards against ISU, with a 1.8-yard per carry average. Plus, Jonathan Babineaux and Matt Roth were in Austin Flynn's face all afternoon. Babineaux and Roth each recorded three tackles for loss against the Cyclones. Roth, Abdul Hodge and Howard Hodges each had a sack.
4) Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge were EVERYWHERE. These sophomore linebackers have good speed and like to hit. Greenway finished with 17 tackles against ISU, while Hodge had 15, including three for losses. If these two guys can stay healthy, Iowa should be in great shape at linebacker for the next couple of seasons.
5) Iowa's special teams are outstanding again, it appears. After years of fielding some pretty average special teams units, the Hawkeyes are now among the best in the country in this all-important facet of the game. Not only is Nate Kaeding perhaps the best kicker in college football, but David Bradley has greatly improved and, as shown on Saturday, the return units can also do some damage. Big time.
6) Sean Considine continues to make big plays. You've got to love this former walk-on, who scored TDs in Iowa's first two games and followed that up with two blocked punts against Iowa State. How in the world do guys like this NOT get offered scholarships coming out of high school? It's great to have a play-maker in the Hawkeye defensive backfield, especially with Bob Sanders out with his foot injury.
7) Nathan Chandler turned in a solid performance. Look, I know he's not flashy and he's not headed for an NFL career, either. But, Chandler is doing exactly what he needs to do when Iowa jumps out on top of teams early. He is taking care of the football. Through three games, the senior QB is 27 of 44 (61%) for 314 yards, with 5 TDs and NO interceptions. Sure, that sounds like one GAME for somebody like Chuck Hartlieb. But, that's not what the Hawks have needed Chandler to do. Obviously, he will need to play well — under increased pressure — in the next nine games.
8) Iowa's offensive line is doing a terrific job of pass protection. Chandler was sacked on the first play of the season and hasn't been sacked since. Many Iowa fans might have been barking at the O-line to create more holes in the running game on Saturday, but no one can dispute how well these guys have played on passing downs.
9) Grant Steen exacted some revenge in Ames. Two seasons ago, Steen intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and fumbled it away during his return. It was a huge turning point in the game. On Saturday, the senior linebacker made up for his mistake by recording six tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception, one pass broken up and one clock-cleaning hit on ISU receiver Lane Danielsen.
10) Nate Kaeding is now Iowa's all-time leading scorer. The senior from Iowa City has put together a fantastic career, which includes 138-of-140 (99%) accuracy on extra points and 51-of-63 (81%) on field goals. Kaeding is also an incredible 21-of-26 (81%) on field goals beyond 40 yards. Unbelievable. This guy is about as automatic as a kicker can get.
And here are five things that concern me...
1) The injury to Maurice Brown. One week ago, I wrote that Brown might be the one guy who Iowa's offense could least afford to lose. With his size, speed and experience, he gives the Hawkeyes a tremendous threat every time he's on the field. Without him, Chandler has to learn to spread the ball around a little bit. Hopefully, Brown will be in the lineup next Saturday.
2) Iowa may be lacking a little in depth at receiver. Through three games, Brown has 14 catches for 212 yards. The second-best Hawkeye in receptions and receiving yardage is Champ Davis, with 3 catches for 33 yards. Ed Hinkel also has 3 receptions, good for a grand total of 7 yards. Iowa needs to figure out how to balance these scales a bit before the Big Ten opener at Michigan State.
3) The Hawkeye offensive line didn't run-block all that well — or with much consistency — against Iowa State. Granted, the Cyclones' defensive line played well against the run, but I was expecting Iowa to be able to run the ball much more effectively than the Hawks did. Fred Russell averaged less than 3 yards per carry? I hope THAT doesn't become a trend. This was a major reason why Iowa was unable to move the ball consistently.
4) I would like Iowa's efficiency in the red zone to improve. It was great that the Hawks scored all five times they were inside the ISU 20-yard line on Saturday. However, it was a little disappointing that three of the five scores were chip-shot field goals by Kaeding. That probably won't cut it against Michigan.
5) It would have been nice to see the Hawkeyes have a couple of sustained scoring drives. A big part of this problem was Iowa's inability to establish a consistent running attack. As a result, Iowa only had one drive all day that consisted of more than five plays…and that was the first drive of the game.
One thing is for sure, though, and that is that it's great for Iowa to be 3-0. That takes some of the pressure off of the Hawks as they face a tough Arizona State squad in Iowa City this Saturday. The Sun Devils are now 2-0 after defeating Utah State by a 26-16 score.
A victory against Arizona State would earn a pretty lofty national ranking for Iowa as it enters Big Ten action. The Hawks may pass Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Colorado in the polls this week.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)