On Saturday, September 3, the Iowa Hawkeyes beat the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, 34-7, in what could best be described as a weird and upsetting game.
First of all, the upsetting—true freshman Mika'il McCall was lighting the Golden Eagles up. Yes, it was the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, but he looked like a natural out there and I don't say that lightly.
Then he was tackled and his knee buckled and, according to Kirk Ferentz, he is likely done for the year. That was quite the buzz-kill when compounded with Marcus Coker's issues.
There is just something about Iowa running backs. If the Hawks weren't my team, I would be forced to laugh at it.
Due to the lack of continuity, the weather and the poor play of the Golden Eagles, I know only slightly more about the 2011 Hawks than I did before the game.
Nevertheless, there are some things one can garner from the win. The following slideshow will look at 10 of them.
Overall, starting running back Marcus Coker had a terrible game. When it was all said and done, he had 11 carries for 43 yards and 3.9 yards-per-carry. He also had two catches for 19 yards.
More notably, he had two fumbles. In fact, he had two fumbles in his first four touches.
On top of that, he didn't block especially well. In the second quarter, Coker failed to seal the weak side, necessitating quarterback James Vandenberg to scramble for five yards—a play I will get back to later.
Moreover, in a red zone play late in the half, Coker ran into JVB, which caused Vandenberg to throw from an awkward position. The throw wound up an incomplete pass to Zach Derby—a pass Derby still should have caught—but it would have been a bulls-eye if JVB had been able to set his feet.
After the second fumble, Coker was pulled for true freshman Mika'il McCall. We know how that went.
When Coker came back in he played tentatively, which is no way for any athlete to play. Hopefully, he will shake that off, but there are two elements of his game to consider.
Firstly, Coker was held out of contact drills for the majority of camp. Secondly, he was barehanded in the first half. In the second half, he was wearing gloves when he came out of the tunnel.
In the end, he had better get the fumbling under control, because Ferentz would sooner start a sure-handed Jason White than a talented, but fumble-prone Coker.
Of note is that now-probable third-string running back De'Andre Johnson also had one fumble.
Fourth-year junior Collin Sleeper got the start at strong safety. However, both Sleeper and fifth-year senior Jordan Bernstine got playing time.
Bernstine also saw time as a nickelback and a kick returner.
It has been well-documented that Bernstine had a great camp and I can't deny that I have been rooting for the heavily-recruited, but injury-prone, senior to get the start.
Nonetheless, Tennessee Tech didn't really test the inexperienced safeties, so it's difficult to say who was better.
Sleeper was in on the Golden Eagles' one big gain of the day—a 37-yard pass on Tech's first drive in the second half—but it looked like Micah Hyde, and not Sleeper, blew the coverage.
I wouldn't be surprised if there is more rotating at strong safety next week against Iowa State.
Early in the first quarter, Micah Hyde attempted to field a punt, but he wound up fumbling it. The refs later said that he had a knee on the ground; therefore, the ball was dead.
That end result is all fine-and-well, but Hyde needed luck to bail him out. In the coaches' eyes, Hyde still muffed the catch.
Last week, I noted how fumbles would be key this season. I was primarily concerned with the feature back's ability to take care of the ball—rightfully so, it would appear—but a fumble is a fumble.
As with the running back, Ferentz values the punt returner's ability to secure the ball over his ability to break a big return.
In effect, this week in practice, Hyde will have to reestablish himself as a dependable punt returner. If he doesn't, expect somebody else back there next week.
As was expected, the defensive line did a ton of rotating.
The starting four were Broderick Binns, Mike Daniels, Thomas Nardo and Dominic Alvis. However, Lebron Daniel, Joe Forgy, Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione also got substantial minutes.
Overall, they owned the line of scrimmage, but that doesn't mean much as the Tennessee Tech line and the offensive play-calling were lousy.
On the other hand, said defensive line missed a ton of potential sacks. I counted at least five, with three alone by Lebron Daniel.
Tech quarterback Tre Lamb seemed to be a slippery player, but make no mistake, this was not Michigan and he is not Denard Robinson.
The Iowa defensive line can expect a ton of tackling drills this week.
It is difficult to read too much into the play of the linebackers, as the Tennessee Tech offensive line and offense—in general—was jittery, which was surprising given their returning experience (10 starters). Also, last year's team traveled to Arkansas and TCU, while they went to Georgia in 2009. Therefore, a crowd of 70,000 shouldn't have unnerved them.
Nonetheless, the backers' speed was evident. This was especially true of sophomore James Morris, who went into the half with an unofficial stat line of seven tackles, one tackle-for-loss and one interception.
If they stay healthy, this might be the most athletic trio of linebacker's in the Ferentz era and should be as adequate as linebackers can be in covering the spread.
...the reason for that was because the only time they threw it anywhere near him, he picked it off and ran it back for a touchdown.
This was hardly unexpected, but it was nice to see.
Tennessee Tech had a lousy offensive game plan, but the avoidance of Prater's side of the field is a theme we will see throughout the season.
To the best of my recollection, JVB threw three fades. One of them was a successful 23-yarder to Keenan Davis. The other two were misses.
None of them were particularly well-thrown and the one completion would have likely been defended if Iowa were playing most of the other (better) teams on their schedule.
In short, he needs to learn to lead or overthrow the fade routes. Underthrown fade routes are easy picks for good defensive backs.
Also, Vandenberg took an unnecessary hit in that aforementioned five-yard scramble where Coker couldn't maintain his blocking. He has to slide there. That was an element of Ricky Stanzi's game that drove me crazy. JVB is far too valuable to the Hawks to risk his health over an extra yard or two.
As with many of the successful aspects of this game, don't read too much into it.
The Golden Eagles loaded up the box and gave Iowa man-coverage all day. In effect, Iowa's receivers had a chance to make some nice plays.
However, Iowa will face some really good cornerbacks this year in Johnny Adams (MSU), Ricardo Allen (PU), D'Anton Lynn (PSU) and Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska). All of those players could hear their names called in the next NFL draft, with the exception of Allen, who won't be eligible.
That said, Iowa's big receivers ate up Tennessee Tech's over-matched cornerbacks. Teams looking to load up the box and give up man-to-man coverage will be wary of that in the future.
Marvin McNutt's play was something you can read a good deal into. The senior finished with six catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
More impressive than his stats was the way he handled himself.
He was faster than last season, caught the ball away from his body—which was a problem in 2010—and had some incredible moves after the catch.
In fact, he looked like a pro receiver.
If he can keep up that sort of play, he will secure himself a spot in the second round of the NFL draft, though there are too many good receivers this season for him to get into the first round.
Oh, by the way, I know you're overflowing with confidence now, but Marvin, tuck the ball.
I was—and remain—apprehensive concerning Iowa's punting and kicking game, as both will be key this year. Place kicking is always imperative for Iowa as Kirk Ferentz tends to coach a lot of close games.
Nevertheless, with so many new faces on defense, the punting game will play a huge part in the field position game.
Thankfully, kicker Mike Meyer and punter Eric Guthrie looked solid, at least on Saturday.
Meyer was 4-for-4 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals. One of the field goals was a 39-yarder, which was no small feat considering the weather. It was a also a somewhat high-pressure kick, as the air had been taken out of Kinnick following Coker's fumbles.
Iowa needed those three points or the game could have taken an ugly turn.
Meanwhile, Guthrie had three punts for a 39.7-yard average, with two of the punts landing inside the 20. I'm not going to say it was a great day for the senior walk-on from Nevada, Iowa, but he proved dependable. For the time being, that is enough.