Iowa Football: Mid Season MVP's's Jon Miller takes time to pause and reflect back on the first half of the 2003 Iowa Football season and has mid-season awards. In this segment, he announces who he believes are the co-MVP's of the team. There were many deserving candidates, but two players have stood out due to their consistency.

The calendar tells us that this is Iowa's bye week and it comes at the midway point of the season. Iowa plays 12 games this year and stands 5-1 through the first six.

My West Branch math tells me there are six games to go. You have to love the symmetry.

There are more difficult challenges ahead, but since there is little else to write about regarding the football team right now due to the off week, I felt it was a good time to pause and reflect back on the first six games and hand out some mid season accolades.

TEAM MVP: TIE: Fred Russell & Nathan Chandler

When you consider the fact that at the start of the season Robert Gallery was the only starter on the O Line that had ever made a career start for the Iowa football program, that says a mouthful.

David Walker, Brian Ferentz, Eric Rothwell and Pete McMahon were all ‘rookies' as far as starts go, which also tells you that this was the first time this group of guys had ever played in a game together. Most of the backups except for Sam Aiello are in that same boat as well.

After watching the poetry in motion on the offensive line over the course of the last two seasons, all of the continuity that Gallery, Steinbach, Nelson, Lightfoot, Sobieski and Porter had from playing alongside one another for three years, this year's line was perhaps the biggest question mark.

And an injury to Walker, possibly the 2nd best lineman behind Gallery, prior to the Arizona State game did not help matters much.

The line has struggled at times; there have been some wild moments on some center/quarterback exchanges and there have been some missed assignments, but on the whole, this line has done a solid job of protecting Chandler and opening up a few holes for Fred Russell.

But again, we are not talking about the best line in the nation, which is what Iowa had last season.

Through his first six games in 2002, Fred Russell has 138 carries and has gained 843 yards, had 43 yards in losses for a net of 797 rushing yards. That equated to 5.8 yards per carry and 132.8 yards rushing per game. Russell also missed one game, Utah State, as well as the second half of the Iowa State game due to injury and was nicked up for the rest of the season.

Through the first six games in 2003, Russell has played in every game. That says a lot right there. He has 136 attempts for a gain of 779 yards with 53 yards in losses, for a net of 726 yards. That equates to 5.3 yards per carry and an average of 121.0 yards per game, good for 7th in the nation.

It bears repeating that Russell is relatively healthy, or as healthy has a running back in the Big Ten can be six games into a season.

His yards per carry and average yards per game are down this season over last, and he has three touchdowns compared to six from a year ago, but when you consider how green this year's offensive line is, I think the Iowa coaches have to be ecstatic with those numbers.

Russell's workmanlike approach this year and his consistency each and every Saturday is something that is easy to take for granted.

But we shouldn't do that.

We are watching one of the best running backs in Iowa history and should he keep up his current pace through the bowl game, he will rush for more than 1,500 yards this season, which would be the second highest single-season total in Iowa history. If he gains 1,330 yards this season, and he is on pace to do just that, he will have put forth the best two year total of any running back in Iowa history.

'Freddy Ball Game' is a bit like Ted William. When Williams' average dipped below .340, people wondered what was wrong with him. Russell goes out there and seemingly gains 100+ yards each week. When he doesn't, people wonder what was the matter.

Russell has made 17 starts in his Iowa career. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in 12 of those starts.

Nathan Chandler has been consistent, too. There is no need to repeat the inexperience mantra regarding the offensive line. You just read it and knew it already.

In addition to dealing with that aspect this season, Chandler has also had to break in more new pass catchers that I can ever remember an Iowa quarterback having to deal with.

Mo Brown has missed most of the last four games with an ankle injury. Ed Hinkel has missed his last two starts plus the last half of the ASU game with a groin injury. Fifth year senior Ramon Ochoa (10 catches in '03, three TD's) has stepped in and done a nice job, but he will tell you that he is no Mo Brown. Brown still leads Iowa with 14 catches this season. RS frosh Calvin Davis has started to step things up after a slow start. He had never played in an Iowa football game prior to this year, but now has 11 catches, good for second on this team.

Then you have the true freshman: James Townsend, Scott Chandler and converted quarterback Eric McCollom. All three of those players were on high school gridirons last year.

Tight ends Erik Jensen (10 catches) and Mike Follett are not Dallas Clark. Nobody is, of course, but Jensen had been used primarily as a blocker in his career prior to this year and Follett made the switch from linebacker this past off-season.

Those names are not on the same page as CJ Jones, Mo Brown and Dallas Clark, perhaps the most dangerous receiving triumvirate an Iowa football team has ever had. Brad Banks had those guys to throw to and the best offensive line in the nation to throw behind.

But you will hear no complaints or excuses from Chandler. Not that he needs to complain, because he is having a fine season in his own right.

Through six games in 2002, Brad Banks was 5-1. The lone loss came at home against Iowa State. He had beaten Miami (OH) and Penn State on the road and orchestrated one of the most memorable game winning drives in Kinnick Stadium history in last year's win over Purdue. Thanks to Iowa's special teams scoring two touchdowns for him in that game, Iowa was in position to win it.

Chandler has ‘one-upped' Banks through six games, in my opinion. Chandler beat Iowa State in Ames, stopping the ugly five-game losing streak to the Cyclones, and his 41-yard run in that game will always be remembered. After a slow start against ASU, Chandler closed the game by hitting on 13 of his last 15 passes. On the game, he threw three touchdowns. Chandler was at the helm last week for one of the most memorable wins in Iowa football history, the 30-27 victory over #9 Michigan.

Chandler showed his guts on his six-yard touchdown run in the first quarter with Iowa trailing 14-0. The impact at the goal line knocked Michigan All-American defensive back Jeremy LeSueur out of the game.

Chandler also engineered Iowa's final scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, connecting with Jensen on 3rd and 11 and 3rd and 9 to keep the drive alive before throwing a 31-yard dart to Ochoa for the touchdown and a 10-point lead. Iowa fans will always remember that drive and the TD pass to Ochoa will also live in Hawkeye history.

Chandler is not as flashy as Brad Banks, but you cannot argue with his production.

Iowa is ranked higher through six games this year than the 2002 Hawkeyes were. Iowa made an appearance in the Top 10 this year earlier than it has since 1984. Chandler has 11 touchdown passes and three interceptions through six games where Banks had 12 TD passes and two INT's through six games.

Chandler is responsible for 13 touchdowns through six games, the same total as Banks had through six games.

Is Chandler going to be the Hesiman runner-up? No, but he is having a better season, statistically, than Ohio State's Craig Krenzel had during last year's National Title run for the Buckeyes.

'Nathan the Cool' has hit his progressions and check down reads all season long. I feel that he has a better grasp of the Iowa playbook and game plan than any Hawkeye signal caller in recent memory.

And yet, some folks have not been content with his performance and have called for the Iowa coaches to mix Drew Tate in a rotation.

As fans, we all have opinions and none of them are right or wrong.

The only opinions that do matter on Saturdays are those of the Iowa coaches. They are perfectly content with Chandler as their quarterback.

Oh by the way: Chandler is on pace to become just the third Iowa quarterback in history to throw for more than 20 touchdowns in a season. Chuck Long and Brad Banks are the only others. Not bad company.


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