All through the 2010 offseason, the analysis was the same for the Iowa Hawkeyes—the defense is good enough the win a national championship, but the offense will hold the team back.
According to the critics, quarterback Ricky Stanzi was too inconsistent, the running backs were unproven, and the offensive line was too inexperience.
But so far, the Iowa offense has exceeded expectations. Stanzi has been nearly flawless, the running backs have been outstanding, and the offensive line has held its own.
Yes, it's early, but for the first time since 2004, the Iowa offense may be a complement to the defense instead of being perceived as the unit that holds the team back.
Why the optimism?
Stanzi has been outstanding during the first two games and has shown vast improvement from 2009. He has 433 yards and three touchdowns and has completed 70 percent of his passes. More importantly, he hasn't thrown an interception, as his 15 last year was the main cause for concern heading into 2010.
Stanzi has also done a tremendous job of spreading the ball out to his receivers. The 2010 receiving corps, led by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt, could be Iowa's best in decades, and the deep unit has been extremely impressive so far.
DJK and McNutt both had long receptions in the Iowa State game and tight end Allen Riesner has proven himself to be a very solid replacement for Tony Moeaki. And while the Hawkeyes are still primarily a run-first team, offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe has allowed Stanzi to air it out much more often than he has in the last two years.
As I said earlier, Iowa is still a run-first team, and the Hawkeyes have used the run to help the passing game. Despite losing running back Brandon Wegher in camp due to personal reasons, the Iowa running game has been exceptional through two games.
Adam Robinson, a virtually unheard of high school recruit who came out of nowhere to take over for the Hawkeyes last year, has averaged 134.5 yards per game and has provided a Shonn Greene-like presence. He has been complemented nicely by Jewel Hampton, Greene's heir-apparent until an ACL injury sidelined him for the entire 2009 season.
Outside of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram in Alabama, Robinson and Hampton make up arguably the best rushing duo in the country. Together, they will likely exceed Shonn Greene's production in 2008.
Like Greene, Robinson and Hampton have been quick to credit their offensive line, which was a virtual unknown heading into the season.
Ferentz typically produces solid offensive lines, but with only two starters returning, the unit was Iowa's biggest question mark during the offseason.
After the Iowa State game, most of the questions have been answered. Ferentz's son, James, has been good at center and newcomer Nolan MacMillan has exceeded expectations.
Unlike most top offenses, the Iowa offense doesn't have any superstars, just a collection of players who complement each other extremely well.
The Hawkeyes almost always start the game out running, and thanks to solid line play and the emergence of Robinson and Hampton, they are able to chew up a lot of clock, jump out to an early lead, and control the game in the early going, which they failed to do last season.
Once the running game has been established, Iowa loves to use the play-action pass, rolling Stanzi out to the right and hitting either DJK or McNutt on a deep slant play.
Thanks to the run game, the solid line play, and the talented receivers around him, Stanzi has become more comfortable early in games, giving him the ability to air it out later in the game.
The running backs feed off the defensive backs playing off the line of scrimmage and the linemen have proven they can block for both the run and the pass.
In short, the line helps the running backs who help the quarterback, and vice-versa. There are very few holes on this veteran-dominated team, and as Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said following his team's 35-7 loss in Iowa City, there are no weaknesses.
As Rhoads also suggested, Iowa will be in the national title talk once again in 2010. And while defense may win championships, the offense has to get it there.
And for the first time in nearly a decade, Iowa has the offense to claim a spot in Glendale.
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