Following a 31-30 loss against Penn State Oct. 24, the Terps (2-5) will travel to Iowa City, Ia., for a bout against perfect Iowa (7-0) Oct. 31. One of the most resilient teams in the country, the nationally-ranked Hawkeyes have weathered significant injuries to seven starters en route to their undefeated record.
And it’s not like Iowa has taken advantage of less-than-stellar foes, either. The Hawkeyes have taken down Pittsburgh at home, in addition to road victories over Wisconsin and Northwestern, giving them three signature wins. The latter triumph in Evanston, Ill., was Iowa’s latest to date, a 40-10 beatdown against a resurgent Wildcats’ squad.
The Hawkeyes, led by 16th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz, were on a bye last week and figure to be refreshed and ready for a Maryland squad that dealt them a 38-31 blow in College Park, Md., last year.
The injury bug has plagued Iowa on both sides of the ball, but most apparently on offense, where as many as six starters have missed multiple games. That list includes the team’s top two running backs, the No. 1 left and right tackles, the go-to receiver and the starting tight end. But, in true “next man up” style, Iowa’s backups have stepped up with little dropoff in production.
The Hawkeyes, with third-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis anchoring the unit, are averaging 33 points per game this year, which ranks 49th in the FBS. They’ve averaged 421 yards of total offense (51st in the FBS), including 207 passing yards per (86th in the FBS) and 214.4 rushing yards per (25th in the FBS). They average 5.0 yards per carry and 7.6 yards per pass, recording 18 rushing scores and nine passing touchdowns.
Moreover, Iowa is controlling the clock to the tune of 33:15 a night (12th in the FBS), have converted a more-than-respectable 44 percent of third downs (29th in the FBS), and are averaging a middle-of-the-pack 51 penalty yards per. The Hawkeyes have let several redzone opportunities go by the wayside (81 percent conversion rate; 88th in the FBS), but they have scored 20 touchdowns of 32 inside-the-20 attempts.
Regardless of who the coordinator is, Iowa’s offense hasn’t varied much since Ferentz arrived in Iowa City before the turn of the century. It’s a strict pro-style, complete with a running back, a fullback, two receivers and a tight end. The idea is to grind opponents down with a power-rushing attack, eating clock and sustaining lengthy drives that keeps their defense fresh. Then, when teams stack the box, Iowa will go up top, attempting to hit the deep ball. There are very few tricks, variations or deviations slipped in, making for a less-than-exciting, though highly effective unit.
Now, the Hawkeyes have opened up the playbook a bit more this year, employing three-wideout sets every other series or so. Plus they were initially more inclined to throw the ball compared to past years, Davis calling passes about 45 percent of the time (during one early-season game, the Hawkeyes threw the ball 29 times). But with their quarterback hobbled recently, Iowa has returned to a 70-30 run-pass split, although the offense could revert to form provided the signal caller’s healthy.
After starting just one game in 2014, C.J. Beathard (Jr., 6-2, 209) has risen up and solidified a serious problem spot for Iowa. In fact, the junior gunslinger has been one of the Big Ten’s most effective quarterbacks thus far, completing 114 of 187 passes for 1,415 yards and nine touchdowns against three interceptions. He wasn’t quite as potent two weeks ago against Northwestern, but still finished 15 of 25 for 176 yards.
In general, Beathard’s passing prowess has allowed Iowa to take more chances, tossing the ball downfield and calling for more over-the-middle, thread-the-needle throws. But it’s important to note that Beathard’s been playing through a knee injury, limiting his ability to extend plays. Thus, the Hawkeyes have been more apt to run the ball than take a chance exposing their prized quarterback.
Even so, Beathard can sling it, possessing a potent right arm that defenses must respect. He’s completed numerous 25-yard-plus passes this season, including a long of 81 yards. Sometimes Beathard’s short and intermediate throws come in “too hot,” so he must develop more touch, but for the most part he’s been on-point and accurate (see: 61 percent completion rate). Plus Beathard, when healthy, can pick up yards when plays break down, flashing underrated wheels out in the open (194 yards and three touchdowns this year).
Moreover, Beathard has a terrific handle of the offense and commands respect in the huddle, the quintessential leader during his first year starting. He manages the game well, makes sound decision and takes care of the football, which is a considerable improvement over signal callers of recent Iowa vintage.
Beathard’s backup, Tyler Wiegers (Fr., 6-4, 222) has thrown four passes all season. He won’t see any action unless there’s an injury.
Iowa running backs are averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 214 yards per game thanks to a burly offensive line and a trio of potent runners, each of whom have had at least one 200-yard game. For the Hawkeyes’ sake, it’s a good thing they have three, because their No. 1 could very well miss the Maryland game with an ankle sprain.
Jordan Canzeri (Sr., 5-9, 192) was injured during the fourth snap against Northwestern and returned to the sideline in a boot. Although the Hawkeyes have two solid backups, Canzeri’s the breadwinner, racking up 698 yards and nine touchdowns on 136 carries. Although shorter in stature with a lithe frame, Canzeri’s stronger than he looks, possessing the power to grind and the speed to bust free. A three-down back, Canzeri’s combination of quickness, downfield acceleration, shiftiness and underlying strength gave foes fits this year. That said, Canzeri’s been injury prone throughout his career, and the bum ankle is just the latest he’s had to deal with.
While Iowa may be without Canzeri, the Hawkeyes should return LeShun Daniels (Jr., 6-0, 225), who has actually missed the last four games with a high-ankle sprain of his own. Daniels isn’t as fast, balanced or explosive as Canzeri, but he’s more powerful and apt to run defenders over. The junior won’t make up for the lead runner’s production all on his own, but he can grind out the tough yards and move the chains.
For the season, Daniels has 52 attempts for 226 yards.
In Daniels’ stead, Akrum Wadley (So., 5-11, 185) seized an opportunity, readily picking up the slack. The presumed successor to Canzeri, Wadley may be the best all-around back on the roster right now. Possessing speed, burst, cutback ability and wiggle, to go along with developing power, he’s produced several impressive runs this season. Wadley has had fumble issues, drawing Ferentz’ ire, but he’s not going in the doghouse as long as he keeps ripping off 40-yard jaunts like he did against Northwestern.
Through seven games, Wadley has 34 attempts for 239 yards and five touchdowns. He ransacked the Wildcats for 207 yards on 26 totes two weeks ago.
It’s also worth noting the fourth running back, Derrick Mitchell (So., 6-1, 212), a converted receiver who moved to the backfield during August camp. A bigger back with some downfield acceleration and agility, Mitchell gashed Northwestern for 79 yards on 10 attempts. He has 17 carries for 145 yards and a score this season.
In addition to the running backs, Iowa employs a traditional blocking fullback. Both Macon Plewa (Sr., 6-2, 244) and Adam Cox (Sr., 5-11, 234) rotate through, each seeing about 50 percent of the snaps (they sub in from series to series, with no rhyme or reason). The pair are considered outstanding point-of-attack forces, who routinely gain leverage and provide a clean hole for the Iowa backs. Plewa and Cox have both held up well in pass protection as well, neither allowing a sack so far.
The Hawkeyes’ main man out wide, Tevaun Smith (Sr., 6-2, 205), missed a pair of midseason games, but returned against Northwestern. Smith isn’t the most consistent receiver, and he tends to disappear during games, but he’s Iowa’s one proven deep threat. If nothing else, Smith’s ability to take the top off keeps defenses honest and opens up the offense. Now, if Smith could become a more dependable route runner and shore up his hands, he’d probably be one of the Big Ten’s best.
Smith’s pulled down 12 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns this year, including an 81 yarder. Acting as more of a decoy, he did not record a reception against the Wildcats, however.
Smith may be Iowa’s downfield threat, but Matt VandeBerg (Jr., 6-1, 185) is probably the squad’s most reliable target. At one point, he was leading the Big Ten in receptions and remains ranked among the conference’s upper-tier. VandeBerg lacks elite speed and he’s not a big-play type, but he’s developed a knack for hauling in tough throws and moving the chains. The tall, skinny wideout can gain separation thanks to his crisp route running, while his awareness/IQ have aided him in finding openings in-between the zone. Naturally, VandeBerg’s become Beathard’s go-to target on third downs.
For the season, he has 41 catches for 391 yards and two touchdowns. VandeBerg recorded eight receptions for 78 yards two weeks ago.
The third receiver, Jacob Hillyer (Sr., 6-4, 212), is lucky to catch one ball a game (he has seven receptions all year). But the Iowa coaches love him because he’s a potent blocker, which is essential in the Hawkeyes’ power offense. The staff asks all their wideouts to lock down the edge, and Hillyer may be the most proficient of the group.
One depth receiver to watch out for is Jerminic Smith (Fr., 6-1, 180), who saw time with Tevaun Smith shelved. The freshman is another outside guy who can hit the home run, possessing track-star wheels. Jerminic Smith, who is still developing and learning the game, only has four grabs for 118 yards this year, but he does have a 49-yard reception.
For an offense predicated on power running, it’s not surprising Iowa’s tight ends are blockers first and foremost. But they do split out 10 to 20 percent of the time, and have been especially effective inside the redzone. George Kittle (Jr., 6-4, 235), for example, only has six receptions for 91 yards all year, but three of those six touches have gone for scores. If the Hawkeyes march inside the 20-yard line, both Kittle and Henry Krieger Coble (Sr., 6-4, 250) must be accounted for down the seam.
Of the two, Krieger Coble is considered the better overall receiver (17 receptions for 165 yards), but the pair are mainly known for their in-line work . They are solid point-of-attack blockers, who have aided Iowa’s tackles in both pass protection and run blocking.
It’s also worth mentioning Jake Duzey (Sr., 6-4, 250), who has seen action in only two games after suffering a patellar tendon injury. Duzey would immediately become Iowa’s top receiving tight end after a standout 2014 campaign, but he’s yet to contribute thus far in 2015. Team media considers him “questionable” for the Maryland game.
Arguably Iowa’s most surprising unit, the offensive line has far exceeded expectations through seven games. Fact is, the two original starting tackles were already major question marks entering the 2015 campaign since they would be replacing a top-10 draft pick at left tackle and an All-Big Ten performer on the right side. But then the Hawkeyes lost both Boone Myers (So., 6-5, 300) and Ike Boettger (So., 6-6, 300) to various ailments, leaving Iowa with a patchwork group that featured guards shifting out to tackle; third-stringers moving into a starting role; and walk-ons assuming more snaps.
All Iowa’s done since then is roll up 321 rushing yards, average 5.8 yards per carry and score five rushing touchdowns against Northwestern. The pass protection hasn’t been quite as proficient with Myers and Boettger sidelined (two sacks allowed in the Wildcats’ affair and 12 total for the year), but it figures to improve following the bye week.
Due to said bye, Iowa hasn’t released an updated depth chart yet, but per team beat writers both Myers and Boettger have a chance to play against Maryland. The former has been out three games, but was questionable for Northwestern and should be ready to go with another week off. Boettger, meanwhile, went down with a high-ankle sprain in Week 6 and could return for the Terps’ bout, although there’s less of a chance of him suiting up than Myers.
If Myers is full-go, however, it would immediately boost the entire line. If nothing else, it would allow the others to return to their natural positions, but his presence alone should be a boon as he was successfully holding down the blindside.
Myers is only a sophomore, but he’s shown a propensity to stalemate edge rushers, while generating a push up front too. He shifts his weight well, typically comes off the ball low and hard and generally keeps defensive ends out of his body. Myers will suffer his share of underclassmen mistakes, but he’s mostly been solid.
With Myers out, Cole Croston (Jr., 6-5, 295) ascended to the starting role and did better than expected. A former walk-on tight end, Croston did a good job getting off the ball and sealing off his side, creating lanes for Iowa’s backs. He can be a liability protecting the quarterback, though, surrendering a couple sacks and pressures the last few weeks.
The left guard Sean Welsh (So., 6-3, 288) has been starting at right tackle in place of Boettger. But it’s clearly not Welsh’s ideal position as his arms aren’t quite long enough to deal with elite Big Ten defensive ends. When Welsh shifts inside, however, he’s one of the conference’s better guards. A strong point-of-attack blocker who maintains a low pad level, he excels at opening holes and pushing to the second level. Plus Welsh has held up in pass pro, picking up stray rushers and closing off the gaps.
At center, Austin Blythe (Sr., 6-3, 290), is a returning All Big-Ten performer who should be a first- or second-team candidate following this season. A consistent all-around blocker, Blythe is known for his football intelligence (what center isn’t?), blitz pickup and run-blocking prowess. He’s perhaps the strongest pound-for-pound lineman the Hawkeyes have.
Meanwhile, right guard Jordan Walsh (Sr., 6-4, 290) is practically a Blythe clone in terms of physical frame and ability. He too is a surefire All-Big Ten candidate, and might be the best right guard in the conference per team media. A multi-year starter who couples veteran savvy with power and blocking proficiency, Walsh is one of the main reasons the Hawkeye’s are averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
If Boettger reassumes the starting right tackle gig, it would solve some of Iowa’s recent pass-protection issues. Like the opposite tackle Myers, Boettger’s only a sophomore and will suffer second-year mistakes, but compared to the Hawkeyes’ other right tackle candidates, he’s practically Orlando Pace in pass pro. Boettger does some of his best work out on the edge on running plays, but he more than holds his own keeping pass rushers at bay too.
The backup right tackle had been James Daniels (Fr., 6-4, 285), but he resembled a swinging door during his brief stint. The freshman isn’t ready for Big Ten defensive ends yet, so he was promptly shifted to guard, while Welsh moved out to tackle. Daniels did perform better on the line’s interior, although he’s nowhere near the caliber Welsh or Walsh are. That said, expect him to assume the starting left guard role, with Welsh at right tackle, if Boettger can’t play.
Iowa’s offense has experienced the bulk of the team’s injuries, but the defense took arguably the single hardest hit. During the Hawkeyes’ victory against Illinois, defensive end Drew Ott (Sr., 6-4, 272) went down with a torn ACL, promptly ending his senior season. The likely early-round NFL draft pick (at least, pre-ACL tear) was not only of the foremost Big Ten pass rushers, but one of the best nationally as well.
Without Ott’s edge-rushing prowess, the Hawkeyes may be forced to vary their defensive scheme, compensating by employing more blitzes than normal.
Typically, Iowa, under 16th-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker, likes to sit in a gap-control 4-3, trusting their players to execute within the system. The feeling is, if the Hawkeyes remain disciplined, perform their respective assignments, keep plays in front of them and fly downhill, more often than not they’ll limit offenses. The longer the drive, as the old coaching cliché goes, the more likely the opposition is to make a mistake. Which remains true in 2015, Iowa recording 15 turnovers through seven games.
Of course, many of those turnovers have come courtesy of the Hawkeyes’ “Raider” package, the one “specialty scheme” Parker loves to employ on third-and-long. While most teams opt for a nickel or dime package in obvious passing situations, Iowa has a unique look that features six defensive backs; three linebackers; and just two down linemen. Before the snap, the Hawkeyes will have several of the nine stand-up defenders move all around the defense, some feinting a blitz; others dropping back; and still others switching from strongside to weakside. The idea is to force the opposing quarterback to identify who is going to rush, which gaps will be exploited and who is covering the flats.
More often than not, the signal caller will misread the coverage, resulting in an interception or a strip-sack. Indeed, Hawkeyes’ foes have put the ball on the ground nine times this year (six lost fumbles), while quarterbacks have tossed nine picks.
Raider package or not, Iowa’s been stout overall, even in the two games Ott’s been out thus far. The Hawkeyes rank 12th in the FBS in total defense, allowing 294 yards per game. They’re surrendering just 15.3 points per (10th in the FBS), an anemic 74 rushing yards per (third in the FBS) and 220 passing yards per (62nd in the FBS). Teams hold the ball for an average of 26:45, convert just 36 percent of third downs (49th in the FBS) and have scored a total of seven redzone touchdowns in 15 attempts (12th in the FBS). And while the sacks figure to take a hit moving forward, the Hawkeyes do have 22 so far this year, which sits 12th nationally.
There’s a reason offenses are picking up a miniscule 2.5 yards per carry against Iowa, and it starts with the Hawkeyes’ four down linemen. Granted, they lose five of their 22 sacks and countless quarterback pressures with Drew Ott out, but this remains a formidable unit capable of dominating -- at least in run defense.
The man asked to compensate for Ott is weakside end Nate Meier (Sr., 6-2, 252), who actually has more quarterback takedowns (six) than his injured teammate. Meier is a tad smallish for a Big Ten edge rusher, but he’s extremely quick off the ball with above-average athleticism. He possesses a variety of moves, showing the ability to deke outside before slicing inside, while also displaying the fast-twitch fibers to come around the tackle’s outside shoulder. Furthermore, Meier has the agility and open-field prowess to set the edge and catch backs in space. However, the conference’s better tackles can neutralize Meier by matching his off-the-ball quickness and getting into his body.
Meier has recorded 42 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2015. He had seven stops and a sack against Northwestern.
Stepping in for Ott on the strongside, Parker Hesse (Fr., 6-3, 240) has held up reasonably well during his two starts. He’s not a particularly strong pass rusher, nor is he overly potent at the point of attack (he’s only 240 pounds), but Hesse’s shown he can set the edge and stop the run. He excels in space, where his quicks and closing speed are most readily apparent. Hesse, though, can struggle in the gaps and scraping off blocks.
He’s racked up 16 tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in seven games. Hesse had a single stop and a fumble recovery two weeks ago.
Iowa’s 5-techniques may be a little undersized, but that’s not the case with the line’s interior. Jaleel Johnson (Jr., 6-3, 310) and Nathan Bazata (So., 6-2, 290) are both big boys who can move, making them two of the more competent tackles in the Big Ten.
Johnson, for his part, is an all-conference type who may be even better than last year’s NFL-bound 3-technique, Carl Davis (Baltimore Ravens). Johnson not only absorbs double teams and keeps blockers off the linebackers, but he generates a tremendous push up front. The junior is routinely in the backfield, disrupting passing lanes and gobbling up running backs thanks to a rapid-fire first step and a powerful thrust.
Johnson has 24 tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery this year. He recorded two tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against Northwestern.
Bazata, meanwhile, doesn’t garner the glory Johnson does, but he’s just as important to Iowa’s success. While he’s not yet a force and must continue developing physically, Bazata has mostly been serviceable. He can take on multiple blockers, hold up at the point of attack and catch backs in the gaps. Don’t expect him to knife in for a sack or make a play down the line a la Johnson, but Bazata’s hardly a liability in run defense.
For the season, he has 22 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a recovery. Bazata had three tackles in the Northwestern bout.
Now that Iowa is down a defensive end, the Hawkeyes will rotate through a couple depth guys. But most of the time the defense relies on its starting four, only using Faith Ekakitie (Jr., 6-3, 290), Matt Nelson (Fr., 6-8, 270) and Kyle Terlouw (Jr., 6-4, 288) for a series here and there. Of the three, Ekakitie figures to see the most time moving forward. He has a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery this year.
Terps’ fans will recall how Maryland’s offense ran roughshod over Iowa’s linebackers last season, the Hawkeyes’ unit taking bad angles to the ball; missing open-field tackles; and failing to wrap up after contact. The unit hasn’t quite done a 180 since then, but Iowa is much improved at the second level, to say the least. The Hawkeyes do lack depth, and the backers struggle catching speedy running backs in space, but at least they’re tackling better and plugging the gaps.
Strongside backer Ben Niemann (So., 6-3, 225) is one of the best athletes on the defense. A fleet-footed, sideline-to-sideline type, he’s been adept breaking down and corralling runners in space. Niemann’s also quite an aggressive blitzer, who loves to come in hot. Sometimes he overpursues and fails to maintain lane integrity, but his athleticism and speed is a welcome addition to Iowa’s defense.
In 2015, he’s racked up 26 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and two pass defenses. Niemann had four tackles against Northwestern.
At MIKE, the Hawkeyes feature a big hitter in Josey Jewell (So. 6-2, 230), known for his ability to attack the gaps and stuff the run. With the two down linemen clearing out blockers, Jewell’s been free to clean up inside the box. Jewell isn’t great with his drops, nor does he have ideal speed, but he’s readily performed what the coaches ask: Find the ball and don’t allow leaky yardage.
Jewell has 56 tackles, four tackles for loss, a pair of sacks, a forced fumble, a recovery and two breakups this year. He recorded six stops, 2.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two sacks against Northwestern.
Finally, weakside linebacker Cole Fisher (Sr., 6-2, 240) has been a revelation for Iowa. He wasn’t supposed to start this season, but he won the job during camp and has responded with a team-leading 61 tackles, to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss; three sacks; and four breakups. Fisher isn’t an extraordinary athlete, nor is he a thumper, but he quietly does his duties. He’s one of those linebackers who simply finds the ball, wraps up and ends up with double-digit stops by game’s end. Fisher can be exposed in coverage, however, while quicker backs give him problems out on the edge.
Also pay attention to backup linebacker Bo Bower (Sr., 6-1, 228), who enters when Iowa employs its Raider package. The former special-teams ace is getting serious run what with his quick first step and downhill burst. Bower has a pick, which he returned 88 yards, in addition to several pressures this year.
Senior Travis Perry (Sr., 6-3, 234) also rotates through, although he only plays sparingly and hasn’t had much of an impact.
There are some who believe Iowa has the most prolific secondary in the Big Ten, and while Ohio State and Michigan may have something to say about that, it’s tough to argue with 220 passing yards allowed per game; 5.9 yards allowed per pass; and nine interceptions. The Hawkeyes don’t play much man, but they excel in zone, keeping receivers in front of them and rarely surrendering game-changing plays.
Iowa’s No. 1 corner, and perhaps the second-best cover-man in the Big Ten, is Desmond King (Jr., 5-11, 200), who projects as a second-round draft pick. While the rest of the Hawkeyes’ secondary sometimes plays it safe, the coaches trust King to press up on receivers.
A physical, aggressive and athletic corner, King can take away his side of the field against the nation’s best (see: King versus Pitt’s Tyler Boyd). He’s loose, fluid and has plenty of short-area quicks and recovery speed. King anticipates well, recognizes routes and knows how to bate quarterbacks too. Plus he’s active in the air and battles for the football, evidenced by his six interceptions.
Through seven games, King has 31 tackles, six picks and an unheard-of 20 breakups. He had a pick and two pass defenses in the Wildcats’ bout.
Opposite corner Greg Mabin (Jr., 6-2, 200) has excelled in 2015, despite opposing signal callers picking on him (quarterbacks typically shy away from King). Granted, gunslingers may beat Mabin once or twice, but eventually he’s going to make them pay.
Mabin doesn’t have the same physical tools King possesses, although he compares favorably to most front-line Big Ten corners. He’s fluid, deft and quite fast, showing the ability to defend deep and stick to receivers’ hips. He also has soft hands and high-points the ball in coverage. Mabin’s not overly physical, however, while his field awareness will lapse once in awhile, which has resulted in a couple big plays up top.
So far, Mabin has 24 tackles, a pick and nine breakups. He recorded one stop against Northwestern.
The two corners are mostly reliable, but Iowa’s safeties had some struggles against elite wideouts earlier this year. Thus, both Miles Taylor (So., 6-0, 195) and Jordan Lomax (Sr., 5-10, 205) are asked to sit in deep center, ensuring they won’t get taken to task. The feeling is they do a better job coming forward than tracking back anyway, so the staff plays to their respective strengths.
Taylor, the former Gonzaga (Washington, D.C) star, is known for his hard hits, the strong safety shooting downhill to de-cleat receivers. The D.C. native also excels at taking down running backs, Taylor combining solid initial burst with tight closing angles to limit runners who break into the second level. Taylor will miss tackles from time to time, however, while he’s had issues picking up tight ends/wideouts down the seam. He’s not the type of safety who will ably provide over-the-top help.
For the season, Taylor has 27 tackles and four breakups. He had four stops and a pass defense two weeks ago.
The free safety, Jordan Lomax (Sr., 5-10, 205), is yet another DMV product who played his high school ball at DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.). Like Taylor, Lomax is known as a thumper, although he’s a more reliable wrap-up tackler than his fellow safety. Lomax identifies patterns well, closes quickly and usually allows little leaky yardage. But Lomax has had problems picking up wideouts throughout his career, the victim of numerous deep balls. He mostly keeps plays in front of him now, but elite receivers have been known to burn him.
Lomax has 43 tackles and six breakups for the season, while he recorded three stops against Northwestern.
For the most part, Iowa sticks with its four starters, but Josh Jackson (Fr., 6-1, 185) and Maurice Fleming (Jr., 6-0, 205) see plenty of time in that Raider package.
Jackson, a converted receiver, has done more than expected this year. Not only has he face-guarded slot receivers in coverage, but he’s come up with four breakups and recorded a few quarterback pressures too.
Fleming, meanwhile, is typically asked to pick up receivers in the Raider. He’s responded with eight breakups, but has given up his share of big plays too. The word is Fleming needs to be more consistent, or a younger Hawkeye will eventually supplant him.
Turns out Desmond King is a jack of all trades. Iowa’s version of Will Likely is a dangerous kick and punt returner, who has come close to popping one on several occasions. King’s speed, vision and acceleration make him a threat every time he touches the ball. That said, he has made some boneheaded mistakes, muffing a couple punts and fielding kicks he should have let roll. The reward, however, has been deemed greater than the risk.
King’s averaging 15.7 yards per punt bringback, with a long of 38 yards, while he’s picking up 22.5 yards per kick return, with a long of 40.
The Hawkeyes’ kicker, Marshall Koehn (Sr., 6-0, 200), has been fantastic throughout his career. With range out to 55 yards and deadeye accuracy, Koehn would seem to be a potential NFL candidate. But of late Koehn hasn’t been as dependable, leading many believe he’s suffering from the “yips.”
Koehn’s missed an extra point in three straight games after converting 90-plus consecutive attempts. Moreover, he has sent two “gimme” kicks wayward this season, when he’s typically automatic from 45 yards and in.
Through seven games, Koehn is 10-for-12 with a long of 57 yards and misses from 27 and 34 yards.
While Koehn’s had some troubles, punter Dillon Kidd (Sr., 6-2, 215) has been one of the conference’s best this season. Kidd routinely flips field position and has done a good job pinning opponents deep. In fact, he’s deadened a couple balls right up against the goal line.
Kidd, who did have a kick blocked this year, is averaging 45 yards per punt. He’s sent 10 boots 50-plus yards and placed 10 more inside the 20.