Outstanding football teams usually get some terrific performances from players who weren't expected to excel. Last season, the Hawkeyes enjoyed breakout years from guys like Brad Banks, Mo Brown, Howard Hodges, Jonathan Babineaux and C.J. Jones.
Two months ago, many Iowa fans were wondering how in the world the Hawkeyes could move the ball in 2003 with Nathan Chandler at quarterback. And if you had asked, "What if Mo Brown gets hurt?" most Iowa fans would've expected the worst.
But, some funny things happened in the first half of this season. Here's a look at four of the "surprises" that have helped the Hawkeyes get off to a 5-1 start…
1) Nathan Chandler has done a very good job as Iowa's QB. In his first—and last—season as the Hawkeye quarterback, Chandler has definitely surpassed the preseason expectations of the Hawkeye Nation. Some Iowa fans were even booing Chandler as recently as the first couple of series in the Michigan game.
But, the 6-7 senior has managed to stay above the fray…and maintained his composure. (Gee, I wonder if having Kirk Ferentz as a head coach had any influence on that.) These traits have enabled him to do things like rebound from a poor start versus Arizona State and make big plays in the comeback against Michigan.
Through six games, Chandler has completed 57% of his passes for 821 yards. Perhaps the most impressive statistic, though, is his 11 touchdowns to three interceptions ratio. That's pretty amazing for a first-year starter. Chandler has also run for a pair of scores.
I'm certainly not going to say that Iowa's quarterback hasn't made some mistakes, but I don't think anyone expected the numbers, leadership and composure that Chandler has provided so far in Iowa City.
2) Without Mo Brown and Ed Hinkel, receivers are still making big plays. OK, raise your hand if you thought that Ramon Ochoa, Calvin Davis and Erik Jensen were going to be "go-to" receivers this season for Chandler. All three of these guys made huge plays in the victory over the Wolverines.
Ochoa has been an extremely valuable player for the Hawks in his senior season. In addition to his 10 receptions for 152 yards and three TDs, he has averaged 16.1 yards on punt returns, including another score. After a tough game at East Lansing, Ochoa bounced back to catch a big touchdown against Michigan.
As a redshirt freshman, Davis is seeing his first action for the Hawkeyes…and he's making the most of his opportunity. Through six games, the speedster from Iowa City has 11 catches for 122 yards, including a TD grab against Michigan. It looks like Davis will just keep getting better.
Jensen has caught 10 passes for 118 yards and a score in his first season as Iowa's starting tight end. After playing behind All-American Dallas Clark, Jensen is getting his first opportunity to make some big plays and so far, the senior has come through when the ball has gone his way.
With the emergence of Ochoa, Davis and Jensen, it appears that when Brown and Hinkel return, Iowa will have plenty of quality depth at the receiver positions.
3) Iowa's new linebackers have been terrific. Most Iowa fans thought that Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge were going to be good, but I didn't think they would be THIS good…THIS fast. With the departure of Fred Barr, last season's leading tackler, there was a great opportunity for somebody to step in and make some plays for Iowa's defense.
Greenway and Hodge have been up to that challenge, leading the Hawkeyes in tackles at the halfway point of the season. These guys are so good that returning starter Kevin Worthy, who made 84 tackles last year, is now a second-stringer.
Through six games, Greenway has 68 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble. Hodge has 62 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble. Both of these guys have plenty of speed, as well, which allows them to remain on the field on passing downs and still make plenty of plays. It's hard to believe that they are both just sophomores.
4) Sean Considine has done a great job at free safety. Derek Pagel was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection after making 90 tackles and four interceptions for Iowa last season. But Considine—a former walk-on—has stepped into that position and done a fantastic job.
The junior always seems to be around the ball and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Already this season, Considine has two interceptions, blocked a pair of punts and recovered a fumble that he returned for a touchdown. Oh yeah, and he has 25 tackles, as well.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)