As long as the players stay healthy, the Iowa Offense should continue to produce as well as the top offenses in school history. The Hawks are currently leading the Big Ten in scoring at 41.4 points per game, and lead in total offense at 485 yards per contest. Although it is a balanced offense, what separates Iowa from most schools in college football is a power running game and one of the best offensive lines in the country. As a unit, the line may be better at pass blocking than run blocking, but the rushing offense with averages of 259 yards a game and 5.8 yards per carry easily lead the league.
Many statistics are almost worthless at this point in the season since schools like Minnesota have only played cupcakes in the preseason, but many of Iowa's team statistics seem to be valid. Whether they played Miami of Ohio and Akron or Iowa State and Penn State, the Hawkeye Offense has been able to move the ball and score points early and often. The Hawkeye Defense has also been consistent in all of the contests, as they have stuffed the run but struggled in pass coverage. A great offense does not guarantee success if the defense can not do its part. Although the great Iowa offensive teams of 1983, 1985, and 1987 all won at least nine games, RB Ed Podolak and the powerhouse offense in 1968 only finished 5-5 because the defense almost gave up as many points and yards.
Penn State is less likely win the Big Ten title after a loss to Iowa and future tough road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State, but winning at Happy Valley was a huge win for this Hawkeye team. The Nittany Lions have about as good of skilled position players on offense as any group in the conference, and their defensive line is loaded with NFL potential. Despite the talent on the PSU side of the field, Iowa easily won the game in the trenches. Purdue has one of the faster defenses in the country and has a nice secondary, but if the Iowa Offense can win in the trenches against Penn State, they should be able to line up and do well against the rest of the schedule.
Opposing defenses are still going to put eight or nine defenders around the line of scrimmage to slow down the Iowa rushing attack, but QB Brad Banks made Penn State pay for that strategy on Saturday. In his best performance to date, Banks threw for 261 yards on 18-30 passing with four touchdowns and two interceptions. For good measure, he also gained 41 yards on eight carries. The lack of secondary help hurt Penn State especially on a third-and-four situation when Banks completed a short pass to WR Maurice Brown. Brown made one defender miss and was off to the races for a 54-yard TD.
Iowa should do well on offense all season since they have the best line in the league, a great running attack, a talented and improving QB, and a great group of receivers. Each part is complementing and taking pressure off of the others. Not only is the running game opening up the passing attack, but the surprising great play from the wide receivers has allowed Dallas Clark to often see single coverage. Clark usually wins the matchup if he is pitted against a linebacker, as he did on Saturday as he had four catches for 88 yards. C.J. Jones, Ed Hinkel, and Clint Solomon have all performed well, but Maurice Brown has been the difference. The junior has gone from being in Coach Ferentz's doghouse and never seeing the field in his first two seasons to competing for all-Big Ten recognition this season. Mo is still listed as a backup, but has played like anything but this season as he has 20 catches for 434 yards and five touchdowns.
The Iowa Offense carried the team out to a big lead Saturday, but they also left an opening for Penn State by turning the ball over twice at the goal line with a 35-13 lead. A 22-point lead should be enough for most teams, but teams that do not blow big leads are the ones that have a good defense. The front seven played very well at times on Saturday, but the defensive backs are still struggling.
Unlike other games, the secondary was in good position a majority of the time on Saturday, but the Penn State receivers were much better at making plays. Too many times a PSU player went up and made the catch with two Hawkeyes nearby who could have. The cornerbacks have gotten criticism for much of the season, but freshmen Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson both played better for the first 52 minutes of the game. However, the Iowa safeties did not get proper position on some cover-two defensive calls, and let receivers get deeper than them. The Iowa safeties are better than the corners and have to do more because the corners are not that good yet, but they need to adjust to what the team needs in order to be successful. SS Bob Sanders is all-world when corners can cover man-on-man and he is allowed to live around the line of scrimmage and decapitate opponents, but that is not the situation right now.
The front seven showed that they could shut down a good running attack and still put pressure on the quarterback. Penn State tried to run RB Larry Johnson and all kinds of option and other running sets intended to put stress on the defense, but MLB Fred Barr and WLB Kevin Worthy led the front seven with some great hits and stops that kept PSU one-dimensional. Barr's perfect hit caused Johnson to fumble, while sophomore defensive ends Jon Babineaux and Matt Roth both played their best game of their Iowa careers. Defensive tackles Colin Cole and Jared Clauss were great against the run, while DE Howard Hodges showed his athletic ability with a sack early in the game. PSU QB Zack Mills brought his team back in the game with a combination of some nice plays from him and poor play by the Iowa pass coverage, but the front four constantly was pushing the pocket back in his face and had nice pressure. Roth makes more mistakes than Babineaux, but both guys are fun to watch because they are so physical and Roth is always looking to hit someone.
The defense is going to continue to give up yards and points this season. What frustrates the coaches is that in both games that Iowa has given away a big lead, turnovers by the offense have been the prime reason. Some games the Iowa Defense will be able to hold teams down, but if Iowa wants to win six or more Big Ten games, the offense is going to have to protect the ball and outscore opponents. It does not hurt their chances to have, perhaps, the best kicker in the nation in Nate Kaeding. It is hard to believe that a team can be a Big Ten title contender without a great defense, but anything is possible as we have seen in the Big Ten these last couple of seasons. The league does seem better this season, however, so a team with a great offense and poor pass defense will probably win five league games at the most, no matter how good the kicker is. (Tune into Dan Cagley this evening as he represents HTO.com on "Hawk Talk" featured weekly on Tuesday evenings on The JOCK. If you reside in the Des Moines area, make sure to tune into either 96.1 or 107.1 FM. You can also listen online at http://www.kjjc.com. HTO.com will be appearing on the show around 5:10 CST weekly.)