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Iowa Football: 5 Most Important Areas to Improve

Nick JuskewyczContributor IIIFebruary 5, 2013

Iowa Football: 5 Most Important Areas to Improve

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    It was a dreadful 2012 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

    A losing regular-season record for the first time since 2000, only two wins in front of the home fans in Kinnick Stadium, and retrieving only one of their rivalry trophies.

    For a program that made a BCS game only three years ago, several aspects of the team have taken a step backward to produce a 4-8 record.

    The 2012 Hawkeyes were resilient in finding a way to win at East Lansing against Michigan State. This brought Iowa to 4-2 with a 2-0 record in the Big Ten.

    Then Penn State came into Iowa City at night and whooped Iowa 38-14 (and it could have been a lot worse). It was all downhill for the Hawkeyes after that.

    Last year was the first season in the Kirk Ferentz era where the head coach had a new offensive and defensive coordinator, but it's time to see the transition produce results on the field.

    These are the five biggest issues the Hawkeyes need to fix in order to succeed in 2013.

Offensive Line

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    The offensive line is Kirk Ferentz' specialty.

    Once an offensive line coach with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, Ferentz has used his experience to produce several players that have moved from the Iowa program to the NFL.

    However, big holes in the running game and pockets in pass protection were in short supply in 2012.

    In an injury-plagued season, the Hawkeyes ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing yards with 123 yards a game. If Mark Weisman didn't emerge with his bulldozer style of running, the ground game could have been even more disastrous.

    When James Vandenberg took six sacks in Iowa's opener against Northern Illinois, it spelled nothing but trouble. Vandenberg did the best he could the rest of the season, but found himself checking down quickly in his reads to avoid the big loss. This is certainly one of the reasons why he only averaged 5.8 yards a completion in 2012. 

    It was a rough first year for offensive line coach Brian Ferentz (Kirk's son), and he will have to solve this puzzle  in 2013.

    Iowa will lose its center James Ferentz (also Kirk's son) and Matt Tobin to graduation.

    The Hawkeyes return both tackles in Brandon Scherff and Brett Van Sloten. Also with starting experience, Austin Blythe, Andrew Donnal, Nolan MacMillan, Conor Boffeli and Jordan Walsh all return.

    It seems likely that Scherff will remain the left tackle with Van Sloten on the right side, as those were their only positions in 2012. Scherff was the starting left tackle until he went down with a leg injury against Penn State. Van Sloten started every game at right tackle.

    The other three positions still appear to be up for grabs.

    The solution to this puzzle is the key for the Iowa offense. In a pro-style offense, the offensive line makes everyone around them better. This is top priority.

Pass Rush

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    For a defense that rarely blitzes, it's critical that the defensive line gets pressure on the quarterback.

    Iowa has had great success in the past only rushing four. According to sports-reference.com, since 2000, the Iowa Hawkeyes have produced eight of the top 50 career leaders in sacks in the Big Ten Conference (best in Big Ten).

    In 2012, Iowa ranked dead last in the conference in total sacks with 13 for a total of 70 yards. Not only were the Hawkeyes ranked 12th, they weren't even close to being ranked 11th. Michigan State held that position with 20 sacks for 151 yards.

    It's no wonder why an experienced secondary had issues at times in 2012. If the quarterback has time, the receivers will eventually get open.

    The Hawkeyes lose Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach from the line, with Gaglione earning five of Iowa's 13 sacks in 2012.

    Between Dominic Alvis, Louis Trinca-Pasat and other young players, people need to step up in 2013.

    As great as the Hawkeyes have been in the trenches on both sides of the ball the last decade, it's now their biggest concern. 

Big Play Production

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    While Iowa might not be known for being an explosive offense, there is usually at least one receiver the defense must be concerned with on the deep ball. 

    Marvin McNutt averaged 16 yards a catch for a total of 1,384 yards in 2011. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos became Iowa's all-time leader in receiving yards in 2010 before McNutt broke his record in 2011. Clinton Solomon racked up 1,705 yards and 13 touchdowns from 2004 to 2005 

    The Hawkeyes had only one pass over 50 yards in 2012. Keenan Davis has graduated and Iowa needs someone to stretch the defense in 2013.

    Kevonte Martin-Manley, who pulled in 52 catches for 571 yards in 2012, returns for his junior season. Another candidate for dynamic plays will be Jordan Cotton, who used his speed to average 14.3 yards a catch.

    Assuming Mark Weisman is the starting running back in 2013, and should he have a healthy and consistent year, this will open up the deep play-action pass. 

    If the Hawkeyes can find someone to make plays on the outside, it should also make C.J. Fiedorowicz's job at tight end a lot easier over the middle.

    There is just one more missing element on offense.

Quarterback

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    There were many pieces around James Vandenberg that led to his struggles in 2012. His senior year was troubling to say the least.

    With seven touchdowns to eight interceptions, Vandenberg only managed 2,249 yards through the air and only threw for over 200 yards in five contests.

    While the Iowa Hawkeyes aren't a team that will spread the defense out and throw the ball 50 times a game, Kirk Ferentz has generally had a great history at Iowa on creating a system that fits his quarterback's skill set.

    Who will try and restart this offense in 2013?

    There are few signs that point to an answer. As Mike Hlas at The Gazette points out, Vandenberg was the only quarterback of all 124 FBS teams that took every snap in the 2012 season. 

    Jake Rudock, who will be a sophomore next season, was in line to backup Vandenberg in 2012. Rudock is from Weston, Florida, and earned Old Spice USA Player of the Year by USA Today at St. Thomas Aquinas (via Hawkeyesports.com). 

    Another option is Cody Sokol, a JUCO transfer from Scottsdale Community College. Sokol spent the 2012 season as a redshirt and will be competing with Rudock for the starting job.

    It's possible someone else will challenge these two quarterbacks, but these are the two leading candidates for now.

    Whoever it is, he must find a way to put up more than the 19.3 points Iowa averaged a game last year.

Kinnick Dominance

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    When the Iowa Hawkeyes turned in three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2002 to 2004, there was one constant. They dominated in Iowa City.

    After Iowa fell to in-state rival Iowa State 36-31 in 2002, the Hawkeyes ripped off 22-straight home wins by an average of 24 points a game.

    Even with the its recent downswing, Iowa was 11-3 at home in 2010 and 2011 with all its losses coming against ranked Big Ten opponents. 

    The 2012 season only provided two victories for Iowa in Kinnick Stadium against Northern Iowa and Minnesota.

    While Kinnick doesn't hold over 100,000 people like Michigan or Ohio Stadium, it has the potential to be one of the loudest venues in the Big Ten with its seats so close to the field.

    The issue for Iowa is getting back to its winning ways. According to Steve Batterson at WCFCourier.com, the Hawkeyes failed to sellout their 2012 home finale against Nebraska. This was the first time Iowa failed to put 70,585 in the stands since its win over Arkansas State in 2009.

    If Iowa can correct some of its football concerns, another sellout streak should be on the way. 

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