The second-most attended spring game in the Big Ten on Saturday was Iowa's annual scrimmage, and like Michigan's, it was more of a practice with drills and some live-game scrimmaging without an official score being tallied.
That said, some things became clear over the course of the afternoon.
The defense can't possibly be as passive as it was last year. Iowa suffered through its worst defensive season in over a decade last year, and that stemmed from two main factors: a lack of size up front—particularly in the middle—and a largely reactive approach that meant the line of scrimmage was frequently pushed forward by opposing offensive linemen. That's bad.
The good news is that Iowa blitzed frequently during the spring game, sending linebackers, safeties and even cornerbacks past the line at times. Not all at the same time.
Between that, the emergence of redshirt freshman DT Darian Cooper and an impressive performance for likely starting SS Nico Law, the Iowa defense looks at least better than before. Let's hold off on "good" for now, though.
Maybe there's some hope for the running game yet. Damon Bullock and De'Andre Jackson don't have the look of starting-caliber tailbacks quite yet—certainly they're not on the level of departed bruiser Marcus Coker—but the two accomplished good things on the ground over the course of Saturday, rushing for 237 yards on 29 carries with two long touchdowns.
Taking those scores away, each back averaged a little under 4.0 yards per carry, but isolated long runs almost always skew averages up over the course of a game.
The offense is not exactly finely tuned. Sure, top WR Keenan Davis was limited, and sure, there's little merit in trying to measure an offense's efficacy in situational drills, seven-on-seven drills and a quarter of scrimmage.
That all said, The Gazette's Marc Morehouse counted 52 attempted passes by Iowa's three quarterbacks—30 by starter James Vandenberg—and the final stat line was 24-of-52 for 185 yards. That is miserable.
Obviously it's not in Iowa's best interest to air the ball out deep early and often in a spring game, what with Greg Davis still teaching his offense to his players, but fans who grew tired of Ken O'Keefe's constant use of less-than-five-yard routes must be less than thrilled to see them back in play early and often this spring.
Where are the stars? C.J. Fiedorowicz is going to be a stud at tight end, and Keenan Davis has a real chance to stand out in a weak WR class. On defense, the aforementioned Cooper and Law have long-term potential, CB Micah Hyde is a second-team All-Big Ten player, and MLB James Morris should step into a leadership role this year.
And that's about it for Iowa players who are going to be matchup problems for opponents in 2012. Nobody stood out past that on Saturday, and that's just not enough to boost confidence for Hawkeye fans.