Over the next couple of weeks, GopherDigest will take an early look at the Minnesota Gophers football team’s opponents throughout the 2016 regular season. Today, we preview the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Oct. 8, 2016, time TBA
Iowa head coach: Kirk Ferentz (18th season)
Coordinators: Greg Davis (Offensive coordinator; 5th season) and Phil Parker (defensive coordinator; 5th season)
Iowa 2015 record – 12-2 (8-0 B1G): The Hawkeyes and Gophers played in mid-November last fall where the Hawkeyes won at home in a close game, 40-35. Iowa benefited from missing out on the powers on the B1G East and won the games they were supposed to, to make it all the way to the Big Ten Championship game.
2015 offensive stats: 72nd nationally in total offense (386.1 YPG), 54th in scoring offense (30.9 PPG), 89th in passing offense (204.4 YPG), 49th in rushing offense (181.7 YPG)
2015 defensive stats: 22nd nationally in total defense (341.0 YPG), 19th in scoring defense (20.4 PPG), 60th in passing defense (219.6 YPG), 15th in rushing defense (121.4 YPG)
Returning leading passer – QB CJ Beathard (2809 yards, 17 TD, 5 INT on 223-of- 362 passing): Beathard was a huge catalyst for Iowa's success last season with over a 3:1 TD to INT ratio and made key plays in crucial situations. He's absolutely one the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten returning.
Returning leading rusher – RB LeShun Daniels (665 yards, 8 TD on 143 carries): The Hawkeyes return their second leading rusher from last fall in LeShun Daniels, and he's going to a large part of Iowa's success on offense this fall.
Returning leading receiver – WR Matt VandeBerg (703 yards, 4 TD on 65 catches): The South Dakota native Matt VandeBerg returns for his fourth season at Iowa and returns at the top target for Beathard in this Hawkeye passing offense.
Returning leading tackler – LB Josey Jewell (126 tackles): The Hawkeyes return their two leading tacklers who both had over 100 tackles last fall, including Josey Jewell. He did a little bit of everything for Iowa with 10 passed defended, six break ups, four interceptions and three sacks.
Returning leader in interceptions – Desmond King (eight picks): One of the best corners in the country happens to be in Iowa City in Desmond King who had a ridiculous eight interceptions last fall and would have likely be a top 100 pick in this most recent draft, but he wanted to come back for his senior year.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY DEREK YOUNG OF HAWKEYE INSIDER
What was the biggest thing about this Iowa team that you drew from watching spring practices and its spring game?
DY: Biggest takeaway from the Spring was just that they were far from a finished product. C.J. Beathard was limited some and didn't play in the spring game. They only had one of their feature backs at full speed. They're still figuring out who the receivers will be. Three starting offensive linemen missed the spring game and some of spring practice. They're still figuring out the defensive ends. They were missing two linebackers. They were missing two cornerbacks. There wasn't a lot to draw from just because how dinged up and limited they were. We saw some young guys capable of breaking out such as linebacker Aaron Mends, cornerback Michael Ojemudia, free safety Brandon Snyder, defensive end Anthony Nelson, and wideout Jay Scheel. One of their best players this year that nobody really knows about yet just may be tight end George Kittle.
What are the three biggest story lines to follow this season?
DY: Three biggest storylines to follow would be how much pressure they can get on the quarterback, how the wideouts develop, and can they stay afloat on special teams.
Defensive end is in developmental mode. Parker Hesse played a lot last year but is undersized and not necessarily a gifted pass rusher just yet. Anthony Nelson and Matt Nelson are the other ends that should play but Anthony Nelson has yet to play a down and Matt Nelson has only played sparingly.
The wide receiver position is in even more developmental mode. They only have two proven guys return and one has been nothing outside of a fourth wideout only known for the go-ahead touchdown reception against Iowa State a year ago. The other is Matt VandeBerg who is more than capable but he may be alone. They'll have to have Jay Scheel and Jerminic Smith catch up fast.
What are Iowa’s greatest strengths for the 2016 season?
DY: The greatest strengths of this team will be that they have one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, their ability to run the ball, and all things considered they should have a stout defense.
C.J. Beathard was an all-conference selection a year ago and should help the receivers come along and he has the knack for turning plays with little promise into positive plays. They should be able to run the ball just as well as they did a year ago. Two of their potent backs return in LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley and they have a strong offensive line unit, one that is more suited to run-block than pass-block. The defense may have to manufacture a pass rush at times but they're more than solid in just about every other area. They have massive defensive tackles that control the middle of the line of scrimmage, an experienced core of athletic linebackers including all-american candidate Josey Jewell, and a loaded secondary lead by Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King.
What are the Hawkeyes' greatest weaknesses?
DY: Weaknesses have sort of already been mentioned. They may have to get creative to generate a pass rush due to deficiencies in that area. The passing game may take some time to find a groove, if it does at all. And if the receivers are struggling to get open, it could get hectic for the offensive line to hold up that long. They're already more suited to run downhill more than to pass it around the yard, anyways.
What is your outlook for the 2016 season for Iowa and what's your way too early prediction for their game against the Gophers?
DY: I think Iowa is probably a better team this year than they were a year ago, at least more talented across the board. However, it is likely that it won't mean that they duplicate the same kind of success. The schedule is still favorable but probably a bit more trickier. And going undefeated in back-to-back years is tough for schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and LSU, let alone Iowa. There's a lot of variables that go into it that make it difficult such as key injuries, surprising teams, letdowns, etc. So despite being more talented across the board, and probably a better team, they will obviously most likely not have the same success they did a year ago.
I still think the Hawkeyes can travel to Minnesota and get a narrow win. However, that could be one of the trap games that results in a letdown in 2016. The Gophers always give Iowa their best football, are the home team, and Iowa travels to Minneapolis after the Hawkeyes get Northwestern, likely their toughest game in the first month or two. I'll say Iowa wins in a narrow contest but it is way too early to know at this point.
You can follow Derek Young on Twitter @DYoungScout.
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COMPLETED EARLY OPPONENT PREVIEWS:
Oct. 15 at Maryland
Oct. 22 vs. Rutgers (Homecoming)
Oct. 29 at Illinois
Nov. 5 vs. Purdue
Nov. 12 at Nebraska
Nov. 19 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 26 at Wisconsin