Miller: Iowa Offensive Making Strides

Iowa tallied just 12 yards in the first quarter, and many fans were wondering if Iowa could pull off its second-straight come from behind victory. It took the offense a quarter and a half to get going, but when they did turn it around, several young hands made big time contributions in Iowa's 28-17 win at Northwestern.

I don't know if I wrote this after last week's game, so if I did, please forgive me…but it's about taking steps in 2007.

I think that's been written or said a lot this year by a lot of people, including Kirk Ferentz. The offense is still a work in progress, but it made some big time strides today as it was one against a tale of two halves for the Hawks this week.

Like last week, Iowa was unable to do anything on offense through much of the first two quarters, but it was a late spurt by the offense that made it a one possession game going into halftime, with the Wildcats leading 14-7.

Jake Christensen looked bad in the first quarter; there's no other way to say it. Iowa had 12 total yards after one quarter. The defense was on the field far too often once again.

But after that first quarter, the sophomore from nearby Lockport, Illinois stepped up and played arguably the best game of his young career.

Christensen was 21 of 36 for 299 yards and one touchdowns. He did not throw any interceptions on the day, and now has 13 TD passes to 3 INT's.

He showed some amazing touch after the first quarter, hitting several receivers on fade patterns during the course of the game. Iowa's three freshmen receivers tallied 14 receptions, led by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' 8 grabs for 119 yards. Sophomore Trey Stross hauled in a fade pattern for a touchdown at the end of the first half, and he caught another sideline fade in the fourth quarter that got the ball down to the seven yard line. That was a 53 yard reception, and Stross had three grabs for 91 yards on the day.

Iowa's defense was also victimized in the first quarter, giving up 196 yards. But they stiffened to hold the Wildcats to 200 yards over the final three quarters. This was one of the most aggressive game plans that we have seen out of a Norm Parker coached defense, and they mixed in several players. Northwestern ran 33 plays in the first quarter, according to the official game statistics, so they had to mix in some new faces on the defensive line.

The great news over the course of the last two weeks has been the emergence of Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn along the defensive line. They have played their way into the rotation, something this team has badly needed.

The purple heart awards have to go to Mike Klinkborg and Matt Humpal. Klinkenborg played the game with a significant cast on his hand that looked like he had a bowling ball attached to the end of it. Humpal was a game time decision, as he sprained his ankle in practice on Wednesday. Humpal recorded a key interception.

Bradley Fletcher also had an INT, as did Charles Godfrey.

Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher was incredibly accurate for two and a half quarters, but after taking a crushing hit on a safety blitz from Harold Dalton in the third quarter, Bacher was uneasy the rest of the way and threw three interceptions.

Iowa blitzed more in this game than any I can remember under Norm Parker. Freshman Jordan Bernstine received a lot of playing time as Iowa was mixing several defensive looks at the Wildcats. They ran their base 4-3, some 3-4 and some nickel. They were blitzing linebackers, safeties, and even a corner.

Northwestern's defense came into the game focused on slowing down Iowa's running attack. They held the Hawks to just 70 yards on the ground on 34 carries.

Iowa is not a finished product by any means. Again, they are taking steps, and this season is all about making progress now. The offense is showing some signs of life, Christiansen rebounded from another slow start and the young receivers grew up on Saturday afternoon and looked like they belonged on a Big Ten football field.

Iowa also won its first Big Ten road game in 405 days as well.

All of these things coming on the heels of what had been a year of frustration for many residents of Hawkeye Nation. At one time this year, Iowa had a four-game losing streak, the first such streak in seven years.

Inexplicably, Iowa is in a position to win five of its last six regular season game and make it to their seventh consecutive bowl game.

If Iowa beats Minnesota and Western Michigan at home to end the year, and they will be prohibitive favorites to do that, they would finish with a record of 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten.

If they can do that, they will play in either Orlando or Pheonix. No, that's not a guarantee, but if they finish strong and get to that mark, the traveling Iowa fan base will be energized to hop on a plane to someplace warm. No team in the league will have finished on such an upswing outside of Michigan or Ohio State and the momentum would be considerable.

The team would get those 15 additional practices, which are invaluable for a program that is still a work in progress right now with so many young moving parts.

That's putting a little too much hay in the barn for this team, who is not immune to offensive droughts.

But it's hard to have imagined this scenario being available to Iowa one month ago.

Iowa's destiny is in their own hands, and there is more sun shining through right now than there are clouds.

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