Opponents preview: Iowa offense

Part two of BadgerNation.com's three-part look at the 2005 Hawkeyes

As good as he was last season, what does Drew Tate have in store for Act II? Remarkably, he and the rest of Iowa's offense should be markedly better because this time around Tate and his receivers will not have to run the show entirely on their own.

2004 by the numbers

Total offense: 312.7 yards per game (No. 101 nationally); 322 yards per Big Ten game (No. 8 in the conference)
Scoring offense: 24.3 points per game (68); 24.9 points per Big Ten game (5)
Passing offense: 240.1 (37); 263.4 (2)
Passing efficiency: 134.8 (33); 136.7 (1)
Rushing offense: 72.58 (116); 58.6 (11)
Touchdowns:30 – 20 passing, 10 rushing; 21 – 15 passing, 6 rushing
Third-down conversions:37.8 percent on 71 of 188; 37 percent on 47 of 127 (8)
Turnovers lost: 19 – 14 interceptions, 5 fumbles (35); 14 – 9 interceptions, 5 fumbles (7)
Field goal kicking: 80.8 on 21 of 26; 85 percent on 17 of 20 (2)
Kick returns: 18.3 (95); 18.5 (10)
Punt returns: 13.7 (15); 10.8 (5)

Quarterbacks analysis

Last season, junior Drew Tate (6-foot, 185 pounds) was the best quarterback in a conference with its share of good ones. He dazzled with his ability to avoid trouble and make the big play, leading the Big Ten's No. 2 ranked passing offense.

After throwing for 20 touchdowns and nearly 2,800 yards in his first year as a starter, Tate could be in line for another breakout performance this year. He threw for more than 200 yards in 8 of 12 games last year and topped the 300-yard plateau three times.

Tate's backup, junior Jason Manson (6-1, 195) played in just two games last year and has attempted one pass in his career.

Offensive line analysis

Iowa has established a reputation as a team that plays physical football in the trenches and develops its fair share of top-level linemen. So what happened last year? Yes, the running backs were all in the trainer's room. But 58.6 yards per game rushing in conference play? What about allowing 40 sacks, 25 in league games? Well, the line was not as devastated as the tailback position, but it was hindered by injuries.

Still, the Hawkeyes' line must improve this year. Perhaps Tate can continue brilliantly pulling miraculous moments out of seemingly untenable circumstances, but imagine what he could do with a little more help?

It starts up front, where each of the three returning starters have All-Big Ten potential.

Senior center Brian Ferentz (6-3, 282), head coach Kirk Ferentz's son, missed the first four games last season while recovering from a staph infection after undergoing knee surgery. He started the last eight games of the year at right guard and played well. In another league, Ferentz would be a shoo-in for all-conference honors, but he may get overlooked in the center-loaded Big Ten.

Last season's starter at center, junior Mike Elgin (6-4, 277) will be an all-league player before his career his over. He is moving over to right guard this year.

Junior right tackle Mike Jones (6-5, 300) has a lot of potential; how much he improves this season will determine whether this line excels or is a run-of-the-mill unit. He started at left guard as a true freshman in 2003 and was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player at right tackle last year. He could also play left tackle.

Senior Ben Cronin (6-5, 285) looks like the starter at left guard, though senior David Walker (6-2, 295), who has been burdened with injuries, will push him.

The left tackle is senior Ben Gates (6-6, 286), who started a couple games last year.

Iowa's depth along the line is substantial, if inexperienced. Redshirt freshman Nyere Aumaitre (6-5, 290) and junior college transfer Marshal Yanda (6-4, 305) are the top reserve tackles. Redshirt freshman Seth Olson (6-5, 297) may figure into the competition at left guard. Sophomore Todd Plagman (6-3, 295) could fill in at either guard spot or at center.

Iowa brings in five true freshman scholarship linemen this fall, but barring considerable injury woes they should all be able to redshirt.

Receivers analysis

After spending his sophomore season at a junior college, Clinton Solomon (6-3, 195) emerged as a star last year. A second-team All-Big Ten pick, he had 58 catches for 905 yards and 6 touchdowns. One of his four 100-yard receiving games came against Wisconsin.

Solomon is right up there among the best receivers in the Big Ten and in the nation. Considered one of the top NFL prospects at wide receiver in college football, Solomon has the athleticism and size to be a game breaker. An 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season is a distinct possibility.

Want a great compliment to Solomon's dazzle? Iowa has it in senior Ed Hinkel's consistent, solid play. He has started 29 games the past three seasons — 12 each as a junior and as a redshirt freshman, and five in an injury plagued sophomore campaign.

Hinkel (6-1, 190) caught 63 passes for 744 yards and 7 touchdowns last year and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten. Hinkel just gets the job done. He is a great route runner and he snags everything that is remotely catchable. He was also the team's top punt returner in 2002 and 2004 and has averaged 11.6 yards per punt return in his career.

Junior Ryan Majerus (6-3, 245) is set to start at tight end, but junior Scott Chandler (6-7, 242) will play often. Chandler had 24 receptions for 324 yards and 2 scores last year. Majerus, the superior blocker of the two, had two catches for 15 yards.

There will be plenty of competition within the depth at wide receiver, where the top reserves are sophomore Herb Grigsby (6-0, 170), senior Matt Melloy (6-3, 208) and junior Calvin Davis (6-1, 197).

Running backs analysis

They have to stay healthy this year, right? After all the drama of just finding a healthy body last season, a whole fleet of tailbacks will compete for playing time this year.

The most likely starter is senior Marques Simmons (5-8, 202), but sophomore Damian Sims (5-9, 185) and junior Sam Brownlee (5-10, 200) could step up. Sophomore Albert Young (5-10, 207) is probably the most talented of the group, but he has not been able to stay healthy. Senior Marcus Schnoor (6-1, 198) will also factor into the depth.

Simmons brings a great deal of speed to the position. He had 194 yards and 3 touchdowns on 51 carries last year.

Brownlee led the team's feeble ground game with 227 yards. In nine games he never found the end zone and average just 2.4 yards per carry. Young had 92 yards and 2 scores on 27 carries and Sims rushed 17 times for 45 yards.

Iowa needs a back or two or three to emerge, and stay healthy, from this group. Behind a better offensive line the running game should at least be decent, which would be a vast improvement from a year ago.

Special teams notes

Junior Kyle Schlicher (5-9, 179) did a great job replacing all everything kicker Nate Kaeding a year ago. He does not have proven range, but that could change this year. Schlicher made 21 of 26 field goals and 29 of 32 point-after attempts. On field goals, he was 18 of 19 from within 40 yards and 3 of 7 from 40-49.

Hinkel is dependable as the punt returner. The kick return game struggled last year and is unsettled.

Matching up with Wisconsin

Tate proved last year that even if you take away the running game and pressure him mercilessly he can still make play after play. And though Iowa's running game and pass blocking will be improved, the Hawkeyes' offense will still come down to Tate and his receivers making plays against defenses that know exactly what is coming.

Yet, somehow that still seems like advantage Iowa. Tate, Solomon and Hinkel are just that good.

The Badgers will match up as well as anyone. Their defensive line should be able to get pressure on Tate and do its best to gum up the running game. Corners Brett Bell and Levonne Rowan will challenge Solomon and Hinkel. And UW's safeties and its depth in the secondary match up well with Iowa's depth at receiver.

This game is in Madison. It is Barry Alvarez's last home game as head football coach at Wisconsin and it is one of the best rivalry games in the Big Ten. This is going to be a very close game, but watch for Tate to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the end.

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