Going into Saturday night's game against Arizona State, I had a few questions about the Hawkeye football team. And I was pretty sure we would get some answers — good or bad — during the game with the Sun Devils. I wasn't disappointed. Here are the questions, followed by the answers delivered by the Iowa football team in its 21-2 victory ...
Q: What will happen when this team faces some adversity against a good team? For example, how will the offense react when it has to play from behind? Or how will the defense react if the offense turns the ball over a few times?
A: The Hawkeyes passed this one with flying colors. After the offense gave up a safety in the first quarter, the defense appeared determined that the Sun Devils would not hold onto the momentum for very long. Nate Kaeding made a HUUUUUUGE play, by tackling the ASU kick returner right after the safety…or the score might have been 9-0 in the blink of an eye. Jovon Johnson's interception a few minutes later allowed the offense to breathe much easier. Despite three turnovers by the Hawkeyes, the defense rose to the challenge time after time.
Q: Is Nate Chandler capable of leading this team when necessary?
A: Thankfully, the answer is yes. Although Iowa was 3-0 coming into the ASU game, Chandler had yet to show very much as the Hawkeye offense had been pretty conservative. On Saturday night, I thought the senior QB did a good job of battling through a couple of early mistakes ... and making some good reads and great throws when Iowa needed it.
The Sun Devils came into the game with the idea that Chandler would need to beat them. They didn't want Fred Russell to run wild. As Chandler became more comfortable and continued to beat the Sun Devil defense, Russell and the ground attack became more effective. But, make no mistake, Chandler's play is what made things difficult for the ASU defense. Seeing this take place gave me much more confidence in Chandler and the potential of Iowa's offense.
Q: Can someone — ANYONE — other than Mo Brown make some plays at receiver?
A: Indeed. Ramon "The Razor" Ochoa came through in a big way, just like senior leaders are supposed to. I think you could stack Ochoa on Russell's shoulders and they still wouldn't be as tall as Robert Gallery, but it doesn't matter. Ochoa was not only "big enough" against ASU…he was HUGE!
The receiver from Maywood, Calif., got a chance to shine against a Pac-10 school and he did just that. Ochoa finished with four catches for 64 yards and two TDs. Plus, the nation's leading punt returner had four returns for 42 yards, as Iowa won the field position battle again.
Plus, I was happy to see guys like Calvin Davis, Erik Jensen and James Townsend get more involved in the Hawkeye offense.
Other thoughts following the big victory ...
Good teams seem to have new heroes every week — or guys who make plays they don't normally make — when you need them the most. Against the Sun Devils, the two biggest plays in my book were the tackle by Kaeding on the kick return following the safety and the interception by Johnson. Both of these plays came when ASU looked ready to take a 9-0 lead.
I have never seen an offense penalized for "trying to confuse the defense." But I wasn't about to argue with that ruling against the Sun Devils. It's nice to be the home team, that's for sure. I was hoping that ASU might run a reverse later only to be penalized for "general trickery and deception."
Iowa has won 13 consecutive regular-season games. The Hawkeyes are now 18-3 overall in their last 21 games.
It was refreshing to see that the 2003 version of the Hawkeye playbook has more than one page. That's the best that Iowa's passing attack has looked since last November. I'm not complaining about protecting the leads in the first three games ... I'm just saying that it was fun to watch Chandler spread the ball around a little bit. Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe might be criticized more than any other person in the program, but you have to admit that he's done an outstanding job the last couple of seasons.
Norm Parker is THE MAN. In Iowa's last 10 games, the Hawkeye defense has allowed an average of 13.8 points. Take out the Orange Bowl and in Iowa's last nine regular-season games, the Hawks have allowed an average of 11.1 points.
Iowa's front four is tremendous. Matt Roth, Howard Hodges, Jonathan Babineaux and Jared Clauss play the run extremely well and they always seem to put some pressure on the QB. The Sun Devils only gained 1.1 yards per rush on Saturday night. A major reason that the Hawkeyes were able to cover the ASU receivers so well was that Iowa didn't need to blitz anyone to put the heat on Walter.
Anyone else think that Ben Roethlisberger was hoping that Walter would have a very bad day against Iowa too?
Nice to meet you, Calvin Davis. With three receptions for 51 yards, it looks like Davis could become a valuable weapon this season. Same for James Townsend.
On the other hand, I was surprised to see the redshirt come off of Eric McCollum. Here's a guy who is the number three or four quarterback…and/or the number six or seven wide receiver. Interesting. So, will Iowa's version of "Slash" be utilized enough this season to warrant using a year of eligibility? Hmmm.
Norm Parker is THE MAN (part two). In Iowa's last 10 games, the Hawkeyes have held their opponent to single-digit scoring SIX times. Amazing. Those opponents include Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona State, in case you were wondering.
How GOOD will Matt Neubauer be after he's added about 25 pounds to his 6-6 frame? The sophomore from Iowa Falls is awfully good right now.
Ed Hinkel hurt his groin in the first half returning a punt. One question: Why was Hinkel returning a punt when Ochoa is the nation's top punt returner? Just curious.
What is more difficult: Getting Coach Ferentz to change his expression on the sideline or tackling Russell behind the line of scrimmage?
I think Chandler likes to lower his shoulder and put a hit on the defender who tries to tackle him when he runs. It's neat to see a 250-pound QB dish out some punishment. However, the better that Chandler plays, the less I think I'll enjoy watching him seek contact. But that's just me.
The "over/under" on how many tackles Chad Greenway finishes with this season is now set at 2,384. Seriously, this guy is EVERYWHERE.
So is Abdul Hodge.
And Sean Considine.
It sure is nice to have a couple of sophomore cornerbacks as good as Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen. On Saturday night, it was as if these guys knew what plays were coming.
Russell has 1,899 yards in his Iowa career on 318 carries. That's an average of 6.0 yards per carry.
Through four games, Iowa is averaging 34.5 points and allowing just 8.2 points.
Where will Iowa be ranked this week? The Hawkeyes should move up a little bit, considering that a handful of teams rated ahead of Iowa —Michigan, Kansas State, Georgia and Pittsburgh —were defeated this weekend.
A note of caution: The game at East Lansing next Saturday scares me. It has bothered me ever since I first saw the 2003 schedule. This road game falls between two very big games at home — Arizona State and Michigan — that are nationally televised. Meanwhile, the Spartans might be a little better than a lot of people thought. Michigan State is now 3-1 after beating Notre Dame on Saturday. The good news is that I think the Iowa defense will keep the game close…and nobody has better special teams than the Hawkeyes. In addition, the fact that the Spartans have beaten Iowa by an average score of 40-15 the last two times these teams played in East Lansing might help motivate the Hawkeyes. At least I hope so.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)