One of the favorite early-season topics on the Hawkeye Nation message boards has focused on why Andy Brodell was returning punts. Surely, someone like Damian Sims or Herb Grigsby could do a better job, some people said.
Brodell answered those critics on Saturday, running back three punts for 61 yards, including a 31-yarder. He quieted the doubters for at least a week.
"Special teams are a big part of every game," said Brodell after Iowa's 27-17 victory against Iowa State on Saturday. "We try to put as much time into that in practice as we do on offense and defense. We saw some holes in (the Cyclones') punt coverage unit. We were able to execute the blocks and I was able to hit the seams and set things up for our offense."
Brodell accumulated 60 yards on seven punts combined during Iowa's first two games of the season. He was steady, just as was his predecessor, Ed Hinkle, who also was picked on as not being a guy that could break one.
Brodell's 12.1 yard punt return average ranks second in the Big Ten and 21st nationally.
"First of all, you have to have somebody back there that can field the ball," Brodell said. "The coaches are confident that I can do that. The first couple of games, I didn't get the return yards that we want. (Saturday) was a different story.
"But first and foremost, you have to field the ball, get what you can and get the offense on the field. You can't have somebody back there that is unreliable in that."
The perception that Brodell and Hinkel can't break a long return is misguided. Hinkel ran a 4.5 at last spring's NFL Combine and Brodell has been ranked among Iowa's fastest players on this year's team by several Hawkeyes that have spoken to Hawkeye Nation.
So, who would win a 40-yard sprint race between Charles Godfrey, Herb Grigsby and Brodell?
"Well, Godfrey has some good speed," Brodell said. "He definitely has some good speed. I'd like to think that I'm up there. Definitely when I came in from high school I felt like I could compete with those guys. We don't really talk about that. We just worry about going out there and preparing and getting wins. That kind of stuff is just kind of secondary."
TOUGH SLEDDING: Montana, Syracuse and Iowa State decided to stack the box and take away Iowa's running game. All three left the field losers.
That gives Albert Young hope.
"It definitely is at first, but you have to see the picture," Young said of team's stacking the box. "It's about getting the win. We can dump off the ball to the backs. That's just as good as running."
Young, who led Big Ten running backs in yards during conference play a year ago, has gained 223 yards on 55 attempts (4.1 a carry) so far this season. Overall, Iowa has averaged just 150.3 rushing yards per game, almost 25 yards behind last year's pace and the Hawkeyes haven't faced the Michigans and Ohio States of the world, yet.
Syracuse's game plan made sense with Iowa's starting quarterback Drew Tate sidelined by injury. Tate returned against Iowa State and completed 26 of 38 passes with three touchdowns with the Cyclones loading up for the run.
"It's pick your poison," Young said. "Are you going to let Shonn (Greene), Dame (Damian Sims) and myself beat you or do you want to let Drew? So, teams are going to have to play fair ball for once because as you see, Drew will throw for 300 on you if you don't. If you do that, he's going to hurt you. The thing about the pass game is that it strikes a little quicker. Teams are going to have to start playing more straight up. And Big Ten teams will."
BOUNCING BACK: After dropping a pass that ended up being intercepted against Syracuse, Iowa Tight End Tony Moeaki caught his first touchdown pass against Iowa State.
"It was definitely in the back of my head," Moeaki said of his drop against Syracuse. "I tried to drop it after I dropped it. It wasn't that big of a deal during the week. We won."
On a third and one from Iowa State's 19, Moeaki slipped off of the line and hauled in the first scoring pass of his career. The Cyclones definitely were guessing run.
"It was just a play we worked on during the week," Moeaki said. "The coaches decided if we got that look, we were going to go with it and we did. We executed; everyone together."
Some fans have called for Moeaki to get the ball thrown his way more, but Iowa also boasts Scott Chandler, who led all Big Ten tight ends in receptions a year ago and is leading the Hawkeyes with15 grabs this fall.
"I just go out every game and do what the coaches tell me to do," Moeaki said. "I don't really look into that kind of stuff. We're 3-0 right now. It's awesome."
Chandler was happy to see his teammate reach the end zone.
"That was a long time coming for Tony," he said. "He's a guy that works hard. It was great that we had that play set up well, and Tony did a great job of fighting his way into the end zone."
CAUGHT UP: Chandler admitted to being wrapped up in the emotion of the game when he got called for a personal foul when he threw the ball at an ISU defender after a reception.
"It was stupid," he said. "It was a good call. I got caught up in the emotions of the game and that's something as a senior you can't do. It wasn't a very good reflection of Iowa football or our family."
Chandler responded with a circus catch later in the half that set up an Iowa touchdown.
"Drew put the ball on me, and I felt like I should have caught it the first time," said Chandler, who juggled the ball before hauling it in. "You just stay with it and good things happen."
SILENT DOM: Iowa true freshman receiver Dominique Douglas has jumped on the scene with nine receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown through three games. He's yet to talk to the media because Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has shut off the line of communication.
"He's a good guy," Brodell said. "He's mature. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be in the position he is now. With Calvin going down, we're going to have to have it."
QUICK HITTERS: Wayne Larrivee and Kelly Stouffer will call this week's Iowa-Illinois game on ESPN-Plus…Ferentz could lift his win total at Iowa to 52 this week, which would put him into second place on the school's all-time win list behind Hayden Fry (142)…This is the seventh time in eight years that the Hawkeyes will open their Big Ten season on the road…the Illini has lost nine consecutive conference games dating back to '04. They are 1-23 in their last 24 Big Ten games…there are 12 players from the state of Illinois on the Iowa roster. There are no Iowans on the Illini team.