Remember last year? Remember how almost every Iowa game was an invitation to cardiac arrest if you were a Hawkeye fan watching from the stands or on television?
The Iowa opener in 2009 against Northern Iowa was the first leg of a roller-coaster ride that taught the Hawkeyes all about being prepared to go the distance for a win.
Remember the lowest point of the season last year when Ricky Stanzi went down in the first quarter of the Northwestern game with an ankle injury that made him miss the remaining games of the regular season?
Iowa lost two games in a row without Stanzi at the helm. Sad and worrisome days.
During the second quarter on Saturday when Stanzi got up limping, Iowa coaches and fans felt a wave of terror. With a collective intake of breath, morale flattened momentarily because its high hopes for the season could never be realized if Iowa QB Stanzi were sidelined. Luckily, Stanzi was not hurt, returning shortly to lead Iowa on another scoring drive.
The whole state of Iowa breathed a sigh of relief.
The opener this year, however, has fully convinced Iowa fans that the only thing Iowa will do like last year is win––because there were few miscues and few turnovers. In fact, slow and steady progress on offense and stern and steady pressure from the defense ruled the day.
These 10 things were self-evident:
(1) We don’t have to worry about competency at running back...
With Brandon Wegher not playing and Jewel Hampton sitting out a one-game suspension, the whole running game fell on the shoulders of Adam Robinson.
We worried needlessly about that. Robinson scampered for 109 yards, scoring three rushing touchdowns in the first half of the game against Eastern Illinois.
This marks the third time in his career that Robinson rushed for over 100 yards in a game. Last year as a freshman, he set a record with 834 rushing yards. This year Robinson seems to have gained in experience and in strength. He will definitely be an impact player for the rest of the season.
Next week with Hampton returning to the Iowa backfield, Iowa’s running game should really be clicking. Totally Iowa had 179 rushing yards, the bulk of them coming from Robinson. Paki O’Meara also added 34 rushing yards
(2) We don’t have to worry about inconsistency at quarterback...
Iowa had two turnovers on the afternoon but none of them were interceptions thrown by Iowa’s quarterback. Last year, especially early in the season, Stanzi seemed to toss the ball into dangerous coverage much too often.
That was because he often pressed too hard and went for too much, ending with 15 interceptions contrasted to 17 touchdown passes in 2009.
Saturday against Eastern Illinois, Stanzi completed 18 of 23 attempts for 229 yards, scoring one touchdown on a one yard toss to Brett Morse, Iowa’s fullback.
Stanzi completed his first nine attempts of the day. When James Vandenberg came in to the game he completed three of three attempts for 27 yards on the afternoon.
(3) Iowa receivers made the connection through the air...
The passing game is crucial to Iowa’s success and has long been an important ingredient in the Iowa attack. On Saturday against Eastern Illinois, Iowa’s leading receiver was WR Colin Sandeman with four receptions for 59 yards.
In all ten players caught at least one pass from Iowa’s quarterback for a total of 256 yards. Only Brett Morse’s catch of a pass thrown by Stanzi in the fourth quarter ended in a score.
The average reception on the afternoon was 12.2 yards. Brad Herman, Iowa’s tight end had the longest reception on the afternoon with 35 yards. Herman was another of Iowa’s bright spots on offense. In addition to rushing, moreover, Adam Robinson managed to gain 43 yards with three receptions on the afternoon.
(4) The offensive line played pretty darn well...
One of the big question marks for the Iowa team coming into the 2010 season concerned the Iowa offensive line. Many of the starters from a year ago were gone. In fact three first time starters populated the right side of Iowa’s offensive line as they took the field on Saturday.
But the line held together in the heat of battle against Eastern Illinois with no holding penalties or false starts.
Iowa piled up 435 total yards of offense behind this fairly untested corps up front.
The offense got off to a whale of a start with 21 points in the first quarter with two touchdowns coming by Adam Robinson pushing his way into to the end zone and one with Paki O’Meara scoring on a blocked punt.
Coach Ferentz seemed pleased that the offensive line suffered no major meltdowns.
(5) The defense was an impressive as we thought it would be...
Eastern Illinois managed only 157 total yards and six first downs against Iowa’s stalwart defense. Many of those yards came when Eastern Illinois pulled off a convincing fake punt, scampering 36 yards before being hauled down.
Eventually the Panthers managed 81 yards on that drive for their only score on the afternoon. On the day, Iowa gave up 92 passing yards and 57 rushing. The defense also scored a safety in the third quarter when the Eastern Illinois QB Large’s screen pass remained out of reach of his receiver, going out of bounds.
(6) No Snafus in Iowa’s Kicking Game...
With Daniel Murray sidelined with injury, sitting out the opener, Trent Mossbrucker took over PAT duties on Iowa’s special teams. Mossbrucker went five for five, kicking the ball through the uprights after Iowa’s five touchdowns on the afternoon.
True freshman Michael Meyer contributed on kick-offs as Iowa coaches concentrated on this area of the Iowa kicking game, hoping to develop a kicker who offers more hang time. Meyer did not disappoint on the afternoon.
Then, of course, there is the underrated Ryan Donahue whose 43-yard punt with no return pinned Eastern Illinois deep in their own territory. The senior continues where he left off a year ago in the kicking department.
(7) Special teams turned out to be pretty "special" most of the time...
The special team units had some positives and some negatives on the day. Paki O’Meara blocked a punt in the first quarter, scooping up the ball and running it in for a score. That helped the Hawkeyes extend their first quarter lead to 21-0.
But in the second quarter, Iowa’s punt return team failed to recognized a fake punt that allowed Eastern Illinois to scamper for 36 yards and pick up a vital first down. This led to the Panthers only score for the day.
On Saturday Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returned two kickoffs for 59 yards while Colin Sandeman had one return for 14 yards. On punt returns Sandeman carried twice for 17 yards while O’Meara had one long return for 42 yards.
(8) There are some new players who will surely impact the Iowa game going forward...
Some new players hit the field for the first time on Saturday for the Iowa Hawkeyes, four of them true freshmen. C.J. Fiedorowicz at tight end, Christian Kirksey at linebacker, Michael Meyer at kicker and James Morrison also at linebacker––all saw action on Saturday when Iowa pulled ahead of the Eastern Illinois Panthers early.
Iowa also inserted three new starters on Iowa’s offensive line during the opener with James Ferentz at center, Markus Zusevics at tackle and Nolan MacMillan at guard––who himself was replacing first year starter Adam Gettis who was injured.
All these new players add depth and dimension to the Iowa team offering current as well as future success on the playing field.
(9) Eastern Illinois played exceptionally well against an overwhelming opponent...
The Eastern Illinois Panthers had an 8-4 record in 2009 and made an appearance in the FCS playoffs. In doing so, the Panthers won the Ohio Valley Conference Title, going 6-2. They came into the 2010 season, however, without an experienced quarterback.
But sophomore Brandon Large will take Saturday’s experience and use it to his advantage for the rest of the season, along with all the players for the Eastern Illinois football team.
The Eastern Illinois Panthers are predicted to finish as No. 1 in the Ohio Valley Conference again this year according to the Sports Network. They played exceptionally well against a superior team and left the field with high marks from Iowa’s coaching staff and fans.
(10) The Hawks have only just begun...
With the memory of playing Northern Iowa weighing heavily on the minds of the Hawkeye players and coaches, Iowa breathed a huge sigh of relief after Saturday’s opener. But there is no room to relax as Iowa must prepare for Iowa State next weekend, plus Arizona on the road in two weeks.
There are no gimmes on Iowa’s schedule this year and the Iowa coaches and fans remain well aware of that fact. If Iowa is going to win out, week after week, they will have to keep their nose to the grindstone, Iowa style.