Big Ten Spring Review: Iowa

The Hawkeyes will have a new starting quarterback, and he will need to find some new weapons to continue the improvement the offense showed last season.

Our review of spring football across the Big Ten continues with Iowa, one of the Big Ten West teams Ohio State will only face if both teams make the Big Ten Championship Game.

Quick 2014 review: Iowa started 5-1 last season before faltering down the stretch. The Hawkeyes lost at Maryland 38-31 on October 18 to kickoff a stretch of five losses in their last seven games. That included close home losses to Wisconsin (26-24) and Nebraska (37-34 in overtime) but also a 51-14 blowout at Minnesota. Iowa ended the season on a three-game losing streak following a 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

According to traditional statistics, the Hawkeyes improved through the air while stagnating in the run game. Passing efficiency showed a marked improvement as well, and the Hawkeyes ended up in the middle of the road in terms of total offense and scoring offense. The defense slipped a little after being a top 10 unit in 2013 with the main culprit being a run defense that declined somewhat. The Hawkeyes were strong against the pass but below average rushing the passer, and they struggled to generate tackles for loss and turnovers. Both the offense and defense struggled in the red zone but were pretty good on third down.

The Football Outsiders advanced stats tell a slightly different story, particularly on defense. The Hawkeyes finished only 10th in the Big Ten (but 63rd nationally) in defensive S&P+, a combination of measures of explosiveness and play efficiency. By those figures, the effectiveness of the run defense and pass defense flipped with the run defense getting higher marks (45th nationally) than the pass defense (90th). The offense ranked 11th in the Big Ten in offensive S&P+ with poor marks in nearly every category with the exception of passing and passing downs. A big culprit? The offensive line, which ranked only 97th overall in adjusted line yards.

Spring game recap: In a controlled scrimmage with a customized scoring system, the offense beat the defense 29-28 on April 25. The offense scored its point on a trio of field goals by Marshall Koehn and a touchdown run by Akrum Wadley. Standouts on defense included Cole Fisher and Brandon Snyder, both of whom had interceptions.

"The defense might be ahead of the offense after 15 practices, but that happens when you work against each other all spring, or in fall camp," head coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters in Iowa City after the contest. "It's nothing to be alarmed about. The defensive line had a good spring as a group; I'm more concerned about the fundamental things, ball security and such, that we need to clean up."

Issues addressed: Jake Rudock was the starter for most of the past two seasons for the Hawkeyes and had a year of eligibility remaining, but he opted to leave after finishing work toward his degree. With Rudock transferring to Michigan, starting duties would appear to have fallen into the lap of C.J. Beathard, a junior who completed 52 of 92 passes for 645 yards and five touchdowns last season. He played in nine games last season and started won, a victory against Purdue.

Ferentz said after the spring game he had seen plenty of progress from Beathard.

"This spring has allowed him to grow and empowered him to be more of a leader, and he has embraced that," the coach said. "For us to have a good football team, he will need to do that, and he is aware of that. I'm pleased with what we have seen, and there will be more to follow. The bottom line is he hasn't played a lot in games over the last couple of years. Getting out on the field and playing this fall is going to be good for him, and he's prepared for that. If we were playing tomorrow he would be ready to go, and that's a good thing."

Defensively, the Hawkeyes return seven starters, though the top two tackles are gone and last season seemed to leave a few areas open for growth overall.

Ferentz sounded generally happy with the progress he saw during the spring, including at linebacker where Bo Bower and Josey Jewell return as starters but others are pushing for time.

"We actually have five guys and it's almost flip a coin with those five guys in terms of who the starters would be," Ferentz said. "I just want to emphasize that (seniors) Cole (Fisher) and Travis Perry both had really good springs. The three guys that are on the younger side have done a really nice job and that's a good starting point there and we have to build from there."

The head coach also praised the defensive line, where ends Nate Meier and Drew Ott return but two new starters are needed inside.

"Both of the ends are good players and then right behind them, talking about guys that are coming up the ladder like Matt  Nelson and Parker Hesse keep pushing it," Ferentz said. "And then I think we have three guys in Jaleel (Johnson), Nate Bazata, and Faith (Ekakitie), those guys give us a good core. Kyle Terlouw is really coming along, so those are the guys. We've got to keep pushing them forward. The secondary is starting to clear itself out a little bit, but we've got some work to do there."

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