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Hawkeye offense needs to get back to ground and pound
August 3, 2013 - Andy Heintz
Without much expectations, the Iowa football team will try to return to a bowl game this year when the Hawkeyes take the field for another intense season in the Big Ten Conference.
Several fans of the Hawkeyes are already throwing in the towel. A 4-8 season can do that to a fan base.
However, the talent is there in key spots for Iowa to turn things around.
If the Hawkeyes and second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis decide to focus on the running game more than a hurry-up, pass-happy offense, the team should be able to move the ball and score points.
"We have a lot of experience coming back, but we need to be a group that leads," said senior tackle Brett Van Sloten. "Coach (Kirk) Ferentz gives the analogy that there are five of us and no other position has five people out there. We need to take that into our own hands and get everything started whether it is pass protection or run blocking."
The team’s strengths offensively coming into the season are at running back, tight end and the offensive line. All spots that would lead one to believe that there is strong potential for a solid rushing attack.
And with a new starting quarterback and plenty of inexperience at wide receiver, it just makes sense.
Brandon Scherff, Van Sloten and Austin Blythe lead an experienced and talented core in the trenches that also will feature Andrew Donnal, Jordan Walsh, Conor Boffeli and maybe even redshirt freshman Ryan Ward and junior college transfer Eric Simmons.
Scherff and Donnal proved how important a healthy offensive line was last year when they both went down in the midst of three plays against Penn State. The running game and overall offense were never the same following the injuries.
"We need to take that in our own hands and make holes for those guys," said senior Brett Van Sloten, who is expected to start at right tackle this season. "We have great runners, we just have to provide them opportunities to get to the second level.
"We have to do our job. If we do that, their (the running backs') job is going to be easier. That's how I feel we get back to the good ole' running game and getting yards we need on every play."
The running backs Van Sloten is talking about are Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock as well as Michael Malloy and Barkley Hill.
Due to injuries to Canzeri, Bullock and Hill last season, Weisman was pushed into the starting running back role after beginning the season at fullback.
It is hard to say who will emerge as the starter this fall, but the current Iowa roster on hawkeyesports.com lists Weisman as a fullback once again.
"Most of the time, we don't know who is in until after the play," Van Sloten said. "All the backs have different strengths and weaknesses. Mark is going to run right at you, he's not going to go around you.
"We need to make a hole for them, and they'll use their skill set to get those extra yards and get to the second level."
The offense can and will take a step forward if Davis finds a way to utilize a very talented and deep crop of tight ends, starting with 6-foot-7, 265-pound senior C.J. Fiedorowicz. Others expected to make an impact this year include 6-foot-5, 252-pound junior Ray Hamilton and 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore Jake Duzey. Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenberg rarely threw to his tight ends last year and the offense suffered mightily.
That has to change this season if the Hawkeyes want to return to the top half the Big Ten Conference. Van Sloten also feels like the pressure sits with the big nasties in the trenches.
"Our focus is improving each day during camp and then through our first opponent," said Van Sloten, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound lineman from Decorah. "We want to be consistent game-after-game.
"In order for us to do be more consistent, we need to have a little more sense of urgency in the trenches.”
The Hawkeyes will have a favorable schedule while attempting to get back to a bowl game. They will play seven home games, including dates with Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Missouri State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The toughest road games will be at Iowa State, at preseason No. 2 Ohio State and at Nebraska on Black Friday. Trips to Purdue and Minnesota are also on the Big Ten Conference schedule.
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