2003 Hawkeyes Can Stand On Their Own

Though Iowa sits at 3-0 and #14 in the ESPN poll, it is still not 'enough' for some. It would seem that the record-breaking 2002 Hawkeyes created an 'expectation hangover' for those that think what they saw in 2002 is now the norm for the Iowa football program. HTO's Jamie DeMoney takes on this topic and points out why that attitude is just unfair to the 2003 Hawkeyes.

I was recently talking with a friend of mine that most of you know, however, he shall remain nameless.

He was telling me that in his opinion, Iowa fans would be best served if they forgot about the 2002 Iowa Hawkeye football season between the months of September through January.

I looked at him with a confused look on my face, as I did not understand what he was getting at. But after he explained his position, he made a lot of sense and I had to agree.

Last year was a special season in so many ways and sadly, some fans may not fully appreciate just how special the 2002 season was before they let it spoil their enjoyment of Iowa football going forward.

In taking a few laps around the information superhighway, chat rooms, email groups, etc, that pertain to the Iowa Hawkeyes, there is a disturbing theme that comes up.

So many fans are comparing this year's Iowa offense to that of 2002, or 2001 for that matter.

And that is just not fair to this year's team.

Gone is arguably the best tight end in Iowa football history Dallas Clark, and that is saying a mouthful when you consider the amazing lineage that Iowa has at that position. He was voted as the best tight end in America last year. Gone is arguably the best offensive line unit ever to don the black and gold in the same season, and again, that is saying a lot.

Gone is Heisman runner-up Brad Banks, who had arguably the best single season an Iowa quarterback has ever had.

Last year, Iowa had its version of ‘Thunder & Lightning' in the backfield with Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis, the most productive running tandem in Iowa football history.

This year, Lewis has been on the shelf since April and his return from ACL surgery is not likely. The heir apparent as Fred Russell's backup, Albert Young, broke a bone in his leg and he has yet to play and is likely two games away from doing that, if he can return at 100%.

I mentioned that Dallas Clark is gone, but so to is CJ Jones. Those two, along with Mo Brown, formed perhaps the most dangerous receiving triumvirate in Iowa football history.

I know that this column has been plastered with hyperbole to this point, but if you have any arguments to the contrary, I would most certainly love to hear them.

And now, we learn that Mo Brown will miss the Arizona State game and then some. If WHO-TV reports of Brown being out four to six weeks are accurate, and we here at HTO have strong reason to believe they are, then Iowa will have lost their three most dangerous pass catchers from the 2002 team.

Yet, some fans want to hold this year's Hawkeye team up to the same record setting standards that they witnessed one year ago.

How realistic is that? It's not even close.

I think Iowa is past the rebuilding stage by a long shot, but I do not think they are quite to the reloading stage on the whole.

Going into this season, the big question marks were the play of the offensive line, the quarterback and the receivers, plus the backup running back.

The offensive line is coming along, but keep in mind that last year's group played together as starters for at least two seasons. Many of them were side by side for three years. That just does not happen at the major division one conference level. Why? Because those teams don't have to start redshirt freshmen or sophomores. Ideally, you hope to have a player break into the starting lineup no sooner than his sophomore season, more than likely his junior season. That means that you are constantly adding quality depth to your offensive line.

We all know that was not the case when Kirk Ferentz arrived at Iowa. This is a transition year on the offensive line, a year to reestablish continuity between the classes. Four-fifths of this year's starting offensive line, to this point, have but three starts under their belts, all coming this season. The backup left tackle (Lee Gray) switched to offensive line from the defense just six months ago. The starting left guard, sophomore David Walker, has been in the Iowa football program little more than one year. The starting right tackle, junior Pete McMahon, is a walk on, albeit a solid prospect. Brian Ferentz is the starting center, and he is a sophomore.

The depth at receiver will really be tested now that Mo Brown is out indefinitely, per sources. Will Ed Hinkel and Ramon Ochoa be able to step it up for Iowa? After the Iowa State game, Brown was the team leader in receptions with 14. Next comes fullback Champ Davis with three, and he basically has played 1.5 games and missed the Iowa State game with an ankle injury and is not on the depth chart for the Arizona State game. Ed Hinkel also has three receptions.

Sophomore's Calvin Davis and Matt Melloy are now listed as backups on the two deep. One of those two will play quite a bit in the slot for Iowa in their three wide sets.

Calvin Davis is in just his fourth year of ‘organized' football, as he did not play for City High until his junior season. Matt Melloy is a walk on. Davis has the best ‘track' speed of the bunch, but that has not translated into football success as of yet.

Until Iowa is able to make opponents respect its receiving corps, you will see teams stack the line of scrimmage with eight man fronts, the way that Dan McCarney's Iowa State team did against Iowa this past week.

All of that trickles down to Nathan Chandler and Fred Russell.

For Chandler, the narrow receiving lanes got more narrow, and the pocket will be collapsing a bit sooner. To their credit, the Iowa offensive line has yielded but one sack this season and that came on the first play from scrimmage this year.

But you can bet that Iowa will see more and more run blitz packages the rest of the way until Chandler proves to defensive coordinators that he can make them pay with his arm. He seems to have the mental aspects of his position down and he has a firm grasp of the playbook, but will that be enough, considering the pressure that he is sure to see the rest of the way?

The holes will become harder to spot for Fred Russell. He gained a lot of yards last year behind Iowa's fine offensive line; many of those yards came on cutbacks. Those holes are just not there this year, and he is facing backside pressure from linebackers and safeties when he tries to reverse field in 2003.

It would seem that Ronald Reagan's ‘trickle down' theory could apply to Iowa's offense in 2003.

The big guns are not there this year, but given the strength of the defense and special teams, they don't have to be.

At some point in time this season, Iowa will likely lose a game. Or two. Or more.

I am not trying to cry ‘po boy here, because the 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes are likely headed to another bowl game.

But if this year's team does not make it to a New Year's Day bowl, that will not be reason to set the house afire, something I fear some fans are putting themselves in a position to do.

Let me head you off at the pass: It is not Ken O'Keefe's fault.

I figured out what my friend meant when he said that Iowa fans should forget the 2002 season except to reminisce each and every off season, the same way we all do about great Iowa teams gone by; that was a great offense, the most prolific in school history.

That type of production may be a once in a decade occurrence.

At worst, we should not expect those numbers out of this year's team, given the losses to graduation, the injuries that are starting to mount and the inexperience on the line, at receiver and at quarterback.

There are only nine regular season games left to enjoy this year and each of us has only so many Hawkeye football seasons that we will be able to enjoy in our lifetime. Don't let the success of last year spoil this or any future season.

The 1985 team was ranked #1 at one point, and no Iowa team has climbed that high in the polls since then.

But I still have fond memories of most of the Iowa teams that have taken the field since then, though none of them ever achieved such a lofty ranking.

Some years Iowa will do it with defense and special teams. Some years will find Iowa hammering away on offense only to give up as many points on defense.

And then there are those special seasons were everything just clicks.

Such was the case last year, possibly unlike any Iowa team in the modern era.

Hey, did I mention that this year's team was 3-0 and ranked #14 in all the land? Enjoy it!

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