IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s no denying Iowa’s offense lived on the edge through the first six games.
That was until Purdue came strolling into Kinnick Stadium two weeks ago and exposed the unit in several areas. It was the first time this season the Hawkeyes couldn’t lean on their attacking defense for good field position. In return that put more pressure on the offense, and Iowa responded in the worst way imaginable.
The big boys up front allowed four sacks, quarterback Spencer Petras threw four interceptions and the backfield only mustered a season-low, 76 yards on the ground. That’s something Coach Kirk Ferentz kept on his mind throughout his team’s bye-week.
It just so happens that Iowa fell out of the AP top-10 and surfaced back during that span. Now the spotlight is back on the Hawkeyes for a pivotal matchup in the Big Ten West this Saturday. The rest of the country is awaiting what improvements were made during Iowa’s time off. And rightfully so, considering Ferentz’ team has one of the worst offenses in the country statistical wise.
Iowa (6-1) is 13th in the Big Ten and 120th in the FBS in total offense. Not to mention the Hawkeyes are 103rd in the country and 12th in the conference in rushing yards per game. That’s a red flag in a run-heavy Big Ten. To make matters worse, the offensive line has allowed 18 sacks this fall, which is tied for 90th in the nation and 12th in the league.
That’s mind-boggling, when the group been operating behind All-American center Tyler Linderbaum. However, Ferentz knows the unit has some youth, and a couple of players are still green, plus injuries hasn’t helped. It all has been a domino effect on the rest of the offense because everything starts up front.
“You might have a seven, five yard gain, somebody doesn’t get a block downfield that is doable, you’re eliminating those plays that are 15, 20 yards, even beyond that, Ferentz said. “Those are the battles we’re fighting.”
Although the Hawkeyes have pedestrian numbers offensively, they’re still one of the best teams in the country in terms of time of possession. That’s going to be significant for Iowa’s offense going up against an elite Wisconsin defense on the road.
The Badgers are numero uno in the Big Ten and second in the country in total defense. Paul Chryst’s squad been getting stronger as the season progresses, and they’re starting to hit their stride. Last week Wisconsin (4-3) slaughtered Purdue by three scores and generated six sacks. Iowa’s offense is in for a big challenge, especially along the offensive line. Ferentz been putting the group through an intense week of practice, hoping it’ll pay off on the gridiron.
The offensive line will need to make a statement early on in the trenches and establish the line of scrimmage. Ferentz will lean heavily on Linderbaum to accomplish that feat in this matchup. Linderbaum is the heart and soul of the group, plus his leadership and experience is second to none.
“With our youth, again, having two of our veteran guys missing time, somebody has to help lead the way,” he said. “He (Linderbaum) has been great that way.”
Although the offense has been somewhat of a liability, Ferentz ironed out all of the wrinkles during the time off. Fans are anticipating a defensive slugfest, and the winner could potentially take the top spot in the West, depending on how Minneota fares against Northwestern.
The 66-year old coach is preparing his team for the meat grinder of their conference schedule, and the West is still up for grabs. Ferentz is anxious to see how his players respond to adversity, and everything starts this weekend with the battle for the Heartland Trophy.
“I think the key thing is don’t overreact either way, just try to do what you can to keep moving forward and seeing what you can do to improve as a team.”