If the members of the Iowa Secondary stay healthy and work hard in practice, they should get better each week as they gain experience. Despite facing a third straight offense that attacked the Iowa Defense almost solely through the air, cornerbacks Antwan Allen, D.J. Johnson, and Jovon Johnson all played tighter coverage on Saturday and were much more aggressive in their tackling. Allen and Jovon Johnson looked much more comfortable in the game, and perhaps they will both be starting by the end of the season. Utah State does not have the passing attack of Miami of Ohio or Iowa State, but they do have a respectable attack. If the group can continue to perform like this and build on their success, the backfield may not be the Achilles Heel of the team after all.
The pass defense also looked better this week as a result of the front four collapsing the pocket and making plays even without the help of much blitzing. DTs Colin Cole and Jared Clauss played well, while DE Howard Hodges showed some improvement. Backup DE Matt Roth sometimes gets out of position, but he is very physical and athletic. As the converted linebacker learns his position, Hodges will have to step up his play or lose his job.
Fred Barr and the Iowa Linebackers made plays and were hitting all over the field, but they and the safeties need to start causing more turnovers. Barr has been begging for some team to try and run the football, and he may get his wish this week, as Penn State should test the Iowa front seven with RB Larry Johnson. Barr should be up to the challenge, and other linebackers are starting to show positive improvement. Backup OLB Mike Follett made two nice plays against Utah State, and everything for the redshirt freshman seems to be starting to click. Fellow redshirt freshman Chad Greenway just started practicing after rehabbing a knee injury from this spring, but his progress must be good because he is listed in the two deeps this week. If he can get clearance to play, Iowa should have a better chance against teams that want to spread the field to run and throw. Not only is Greenway tough, but he has great range.
The Iowa Offense has played better in other games this season than they did against the Aggies, but the OL looked very good. The offense produced 518 yards, and 300 yards on the ground, but certain skilled players struggled at times. QB Brad Banks had nice statistics as he was 15-29 for 185 yards and one touchdown in the air, but his throws were off early in the contest. Brad did have his best running game in an Iowa uniform as he ran seven times for 65 yards and a touchdown. The coaches made a point of calling more run option plays out of the pass attack, and future opponents are going to have to prepare their defensive game plans by also accounting for Brad as a possible runner. That should further open things up for everyone else on the Iowa Offense and keep teams from blitzing with reckless abandon.
The Iowa running attack was inconsistent this week, but it had more to do with who was running the ball than anything that the blockers did. RB Aaron Greving looked slow and struggled to exploit good openings in the Aggie Defense, but the 2002 Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP is not even close to being healthy. Aaron ran for 48 yards on twelve carries before leaving the game with a re-aggravated right ankle injury, and may need two to three weeks of rest to get his body back to full speed. RB Jermelle Lewis showed plenty of speed and quickness in his 75-yard touchdown scamper, but the sophomore seems to still be learning how to play at the college level. He ran for 112 yards on nine carries overall, but still is inconsistent on how and when to hit the hole. He also needs to pass block better.
The running attack could use the return of RB Fred Russell. After sitting out last week from a shoulder injury sustained in the Iowa State game, it was made very apparent in the Utah State game how much better the running game is with Fred. He has run for 471 yards in only ten quarters of action this year, and is perhaps the most productive back in the nation. Hopefully he can practice this week and hit the holes that the entire OL are continuing to provide. Tackle David Porter is excelling right now in both run and pass blocking, and stood out more than anyone else on Saturday. FB Edgar Cervantes also played well other than one holding call, and receivers like Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel have been blocking well downfield.
Utah State decided to double on Brown when he lined up in the slot receiver position, and Iowa made them pay as TE Dallas Clark had his best game this season. Doubling up on Brown left Clark with just a linebacker covering him at times, and the junior will win that match up most of the time. Dallas ended up with five catches for 67 yards. Although it was good to see that Clark is back in the offensive flow, the team will miss backup TE Erik Jenson who is out with a turf toe injury. Backup TE Tony Jackson saw extensive time Saturday in his absence, and looks and blocks like another lineman.
Although it is still early, who would have thought that the Iowa Receivers would be this solid? Brown has undoubtedly played better than anyone could have hoped as he has shown good hands, size, and consistency. Hinkel has muffed a couple of punts and had a very costly fumble against Iowa State, but, overall, has shown good hands, size, toughness when running after the catch, and seems to be a great blocker for a receiver. Returning starter C.J. Jones has been quiet so far this season, but his touchdown reception on the jailbreak flanker screen was a thing of beauty. Remember two years ago when Iowa ran that play all the time because the OL could not run block or protect the passer with any consistency? Now the OL and offense are so physical and so different from the 2000 unit that opposing teams have forgotten that the jailbreak screen is still in the playbook. After watching Iowa run the play on Saturday, Penn State and future opponents have even more to prepare for.
True freshman WR Clint Solomon is still skinny, but his hands and height combine to make him one of the potentially best young receivers in recent years. His 43-yard, one-handed catch down the sideline on Saturday was a thing of beauty worthy of being shown nationally on highlight plays of the week, but his seven-yard catch near the goal line was just as impressive. What made the latter catch so impressive was that it was in traffic and thrown behind him down near the end zone. How many receivers can make either of those catches?
The wide receiver position has shown more depth than anyone expected going into the season, but quarterback depth is still a concern. Nathan Chandler completed two of four passes for 33 yards, but he is still unproven. It is good that he has seen some time in two games, but the team desperately needs Banks to stay healthy at this point. None of the other quarterbacks on the active roster besides Banks and Chandler have yet to throw a pass in a game. The coaches are trying to redshirt both of the freshmen quarterbacks, but if Banks goes down there may be some serious problems.
The Big Ten is wide open for the taking, but whether Iowa can make a run for the title will depend on injuries and turnovers. Iowa is strong enough up front that the skill players just need to play at a solid level and protect the ball to almost ensure a good season. If they can do that and most everyone stays relatively healthy, this team should expect to win at least five Big Ten games.