Is this going to be an average football team, or do they still have what it takes to challenge for a league title?
As of right now, its hard to have much faith in the latter and much easier to bet on the former. However, Iowa was 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big Ten play at this juncture last season, with their loss coming to a team that would finish 7-1 in the league in Michigan.
We all know that Iowa tied for the league crown last year, as they never lost another conference game after returning from Ann Arbor. The 2004 season looks more and more magical the further it fades into history, doesn't it?
This year is a different year. Iowa is not coming home from a road loss where the defense showed up and played smash mouth and the offense didn't just commit five turnovers to only lose a game by 13 points.
Things are very, very different this year.
Where can Iowa improve? What can it do to get competitive? Let's have a look.
NO QUICK FIX FOR THE DEFENSE
Iowa has already blitzed more this year than they have in recent years, combined. They are doing that in order to help the very young front four stop the run and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The trouble is that their blitzes have not worked all that well.
I am sure there are some things they may try to tweak going forward in order to help their cause, but from where I sit, I don't know how much more they can do this year. Now, I should qualify that statement by saying that I am not a coach nor have I ever been a coach and am not going to pretend to be one.
But no matter how smart Norm Parker is, he cannot control time, and time is what Iowa's defensive line needs.
They need another off season with Chris Doyle, they need another off season to put on more weight and muscle and to physically mature to the point where they will be able to be able to handle things at the point of attack, rather than being handled the way they were for much of the game on Saturday.
On their first seven possessions, Ohio State amassed 409 yards of offense, which is nearly 60 yards per possession on average, and they averaged eight plays per drive. That is getting dominated, and I don't think Ohio State's offense is one of the best in the Big Ten right now, though they could become very good if Troy Smith continues to improve.
Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch can beat you with his arm and his legs, and the Boilers will run the ball against Iowa. Northwestern is going to put up yards against Iowa, as Brett Basanez can also hurt you with his legs as well as his arm.
What Iowa's defense needs more than anything this year is an offense that can bail them out while they try to keep the water out of the boat, much like last year's defense bailed out a struggling and injured offense.
TIME TO DEFINE THE OFFENSIVE PERSONALITY
After four games last year, Iowa had 159 rushing attempts compared to 103 passing attempts, averaging 25.75 passing attempts per game. Beginning with the Michigan State game the following week, Iowa changed it's offensive philosophy based on the team it had, and the Hawks threw the ball nearly 10 more times per game over the final eight contests.
Iowa threw the ball 37 times against Michigan State that week and Drew Tate threw for 340 yards. The Hawks rolled up on the Spartans and never lost a game the rest of the way.
The Iowa coaching staff brought that change, and made lemonade out of lemons.
It would not surprise me if they did the same thing again, starting with the upcoming game against Illinois.
This team does not have an identity on offense, other than the offensive line is still not coming together the way it would like, and Iowa is not getting the ball into the hands of its playmakers enough.
I expect Iowa to ‘revert' to last year's offensive philosophy and air it out. I hope to see them spread the offense out a bit, too, which should lessen the load being faced by the Iowa offensive line.
Through four games this year, Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel are not getting the ball in their hands nearly enough. Solomon has just 10 catches thus far this year, an average of 2.5 per game. Hinkel is averaging four catches per game.
The two have had more drops than they should, to be sure.
However, Solomon should be averaging six to eight grabs per game, getting at least two touches per quarter.
Iowa has the type of players on offense to create mismatches, but they are not getting it done.
Against Ohio State, when Iowa was in third and long situations in the first half, which was often, the Buckeyes rarely blitzed and chose to drop seven and eight defenders into pass coverage. Iowa was putting three, maybe four receivers into routes to go against that type of front. When you play a team like Ohio State, you are not going to win those battles.
It also didn't helo that Tate was sacked once when Ohio State had just a three man rush.
I need to say again that I am not a coach, and what I am suggesting might not be anything more than that of a wannabe Monday morning quarterback.
But it was the Iowa coaching staff that made last year's offense into what it became by changing its approach. They attacked, they brought the pace and they made the plays.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Before the season began, there were three pretty big question marks surrounding this team. One was how the young defensive line would perform, the other was whether or not the offensive line could pick things up to a higher level than what we saw in 2004 and the last question was the punting game, as David Bradley graduated.
Thus far, the first two questions have provided answers that are not promising, while the punting game has been an amazing bright spot.
Against Ohio State, a team that has two of the most dangerous return men in the country, Andy Fenstermaker averaged 43.4 yards per punt, and thanks to his distance and hang time and excellent coverage, Iowa's net punting total was the same 43.4 on seven punts. Five of those kicks were fair caught and three of them ended inside the 20.
On the season, Fenstermaker has 13 punts and nine of them have been fair caught with five of those being downed inside the 20. He has an average of 43.3 yards per punt. He is a junior.
Kyle Schlicher is a perfect 14 of 14 on PAT's and four of four on field goals, including attempts from 44 and 52 yards. He has made his last 13 field goal attempts.
Iowa special teams have been one of few bright spots on the season thus far.
Here is to hoping that starting this week against Illinois, Iowa comes out and sets the tone on offense and does their role in helping to carry this football team; they have yet to do that in the two challenges they have had this year.