Insight Bowl 2010: Iowa Underclassmen Show Promise for Future

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Insight Bowl 2010: Iowa Underclassmen Show Promise for Future
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Tuesday night was supposed to be the game that Iowa's decorated senior class tried to send itself out on a high note.

Adrian Clayborn was supposed to return to 2009 form and Ricky Stanzi was supposed to rally his troops after a month of suspensions and arrests, even if the game ended in a loss.

Marcus Coker was supposed to try to just "not lose" the game for Iowa.

Micah Hyde, if he had listened to his coaches in practice, was supposed to run to the near hash and go down after an interception.

And most importantly, the college football experts told us that Missouri was supposed to win this game.

However, in a season that hardly ever went as it was supposed to, Iowa's 27-24 triumph over Missouri in the Insight Bowl was a fitting end to an otherwise disappointing season.

Ricky Stanzi put together his worst game of the season, throwing two interceptions and no touchdowns, and Adrian Clayborn decided not to show up, save for a couple plays in the fourth quarter.

The Hawkeyes' decorated senior class will go down in history as one of its greatest classes ever, and Stanzi will forever be known as one of Iowa's all-time great quarterbacks.

But Tuesday night was a showcase for the underclassmen, who proved that football fans in Iowa still have a lot to smile about in the future.

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With the departure of so many long-starting seniors, Iowa is being overlooked as a possible Big Ten title contender next season. In fact, Nationalchamps.net, a respected early preview website, ranks the Hawkeyes 47th in the 2011 preseason.

There are definite concerns, particularly at quarterback, but next year's starter James Vandenberg has been impressive in limited game action over the past two seasons.

Next year's Iowa team certainly won't have the talent that this year's team had, but it will be filled with those cliche Hawkeye players who are big, work hard, and play with a chip on their shoulders.

It was those players, the future of the program, who shined through in Tempe.

The most obvious breakout performer was true freshman running back Marcus Coker, who had 33 carries for 219 yards, both Iowa bowl records.

He helped revitalize a depleted Iowa running game—a unit that was supposed to be the deepest in the Big Ten this year—and filled in better than anyone could have hoped for Iowa's trio of running backs; Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher.

Coker was buried behind all three in August, nursing an injury that caused him to miss the season's first five games. However, Wegher sat out all year for personal reasons and has since left the program. Hampton was suspended for the first game of the year and was hurt in the Arizona game and has since transferred. Robinson played most of the year, but was suspended for the bowl game for "failing to meet team expectations." He was arrested on marijuana charges Monday night and likely won't be back next season.

That leaves Coker as the next man in.

The freshman electrified the crowd, the Mizzou defense, and as much of the country that stayed up for the 1 AM (EST) finish. He's a big back who runs hard on every snap and is reminiscent of former Hawkeye and Doak Walker award winner Shonn Greene, which is one of the reasons Coker came to Iowa from DeMatha High School in Maryland.

Running back will always be an uncertainty at Iowa, and after a decade of injuries and transfers at the position, the word depth has no real significance.

However, if the Insight Bowl was any indication of the year to come, Iowa may have found the future of its running game.

That was supposed to be Adam Robinson or Jewel Hampton or Brandon Wegher.

Now the future is riding on Marcus Coker.

Part of the reason for Coker's success against Missouri—the same as it was for Shonn Greene—was outstanding offensive line play.

The o-line is typically a strength for Kirk Ferentz-coached teams, but was more of a liability in the beginning of the year, most obviously in a loss to Arizona.

However, the unit clicked at the end of the season and put together its best performance of the season Tuesday night, creating huge holes against a highly-touted Missouri defensive line.

A majority of that unit will be back next season, and along with Coker, can take much of the pressure off of Vandenberg, much like Greene and his line did for Stanzi in 2008.

In what was supposed to be a showcase for the Tigers' run defense and star defensive end Aldon Smith, the Hawkeye offensive line held its ground.

And supposedly the weakest part of the Iowa offense delivered a win Tuesday night.

Unlike the offense, the Iowa defense was awful for much of the game.

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert lit up the Hawkeye secondary for 434 passing yards and looked unstoppable for the majority of the night.

However, the Iowa defense showed up in the fourth quarter, which it failed to do in its five losses earlier this year.

Micah Hyde picked off a Gabbert pass and sprinted across the field, before returning the pick 72 yards for a touchdown. Later in the quarter, Mizzou was driving, replaying the script that Iowa had come to know all too well this year.

This time, however, the Hawkeyes made a stop on fourth-and-six, sealing the win.

It wasn't Clayborn who came up with the big play in the fourth quarter, or any other member of Iowa's vaunted defensive line.

No, it was the least touted member of the Iowa secondary, a true sophomore, who came up with the biggest play in recent Hawkeye history.

Hyde gave the defense the late game spark it had been missing all season, doing the job the senior playmakers failed to do all night.

Missouri was supposed to run away with the Insight Bowl trophy.

Micah Hyde picked it right out of the Tigers' arms.

After a season of failed expectations, Iowa will no doubt be overlooked in the 2011 preseason rankings. The Hawkeyes will be picked to finish in the bottom half of the Legends Division because they lack the talent that others in their league possess.

But that's just what's supposed to happen. And as the Hawkeyes proved in Tempe, supposed to is far from a certainty.

Because no matter what the experts say is supposed to happen in 2011, Iowa's underclassmen proved that the Hawkeye football program has a bright future ahead.

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