Iowa defeated Tennessee Tech on a soggy, slippery Saturday and started the season in somewhat-convincing fashion. But what did we really learn?
I suppose it's safe to say we learned Iowa is capable of monsoons—but then again, we knew that already, didn't we? It's not as if the state hasn't seen enough water in the last few years.
The win was convincing enough. Certainly, Iowa has done worse than 34-7 to open the season. The Hawkeyes didn't need last-second miracles like they did a couple years ago against Northern Iowa.
Yet, with the level of competition being what it was, Iowa wasn't really tested. The outcome of the game was never in doubt. There was never a reason for the starters to really step up and make something happen.
So, what do we take from opening day?
The running back situation is a concern
Let me be clear: One game does not a season make. Whatever happened on Saturday can be reversed in only a week.
What can't be reversed is what happened to Mika'il McCall. The nasty tackle that took McCall out of the game likely took him out of the season as well. Following the game, Kirk Ferentz pretty much said as much.
Luckily for McCall, he can redshirt and not lose the year of eligibility while trying to heal and rehab.
Unfortunately for Iowa, McCall appeared to be the best option to spell Marcus Coker—if not outright replace him. Once again, one of Iowa's most vital offensive positions is paper thin in the depth department. As it was, McCall is a true freshman.
The first two series against the Golden Eagles demonstrated exactly how important that depth can be. Coker fumbled twice in that time span, losing one of them.
I don't necessarily expect Coker's case of fumble-itis to carry on into the season. Coker is, by all accounts, a hard worker and there's little doubt he'll work very hard this week to correct his tendency to carry the ball in one arm and loosely away from his body.
However, we can't guarantee he'll fix the problem quickly either, can we? With Iowa State and Pitt up next on the schedule, Iowa can't really afford to be handing the ball over.
Losing McCall wasn't what Iowa wanted out of its first game. Much like years past, the Hawkeyes are scratching their collective heads, wondering who will step up next and how many times they can continue to dig into the barrel for talent.
The defense answered some questions, created more
It wasn't a perfect demonstration of defensive prowess, but Iowa did well Saturday considering the losses it sustained to graduation.
The line looked much better at getting penetration into the backfield than what we've seen in recent years. Tre Lamb spent a fair amount of time scrambling around, and even when the Eagles were moving forward you could see Hawkeyes pushing the line around.
The linebackers were flying around the field and getting quickly to the football. It's a warm welcome after last year's injury-plagued season.
The secondary did relatively well as Shaun Prater picked off a pass and took it back 89 yards for a touchdown. Tennessee Tech spent a majority of the day dropping off short passes and digging for hard yards.
Having said all of that, there's a lot of work still to be done.
For all of the time Iowa defenders spent in the backfield, Mike Daniels recorded just one sack—the only sack recorded on the team. On many occasions, Lamb was dead-to-rights, only to slip right by defenders, leaving them slipping in the mud.
Iowa's defenders looked alternately aggressive and timid. They vigorously fought their way past blockers only to appear as though they'd forgotten how to tackle once they got where they were going.
Tennessee Tech's offense is designed to be up-tempo, keeping defenders off balance. While they didn't showcase that much at all Saturday, they did do something even more disturbing: They connected on a couple of longer passes.
Micah Hyde looked decent in his new role at safety, but he's obviously still learning the position. A couple of times, he was late getting into the play and on a couple of others, the center of the field was left wide open.
With talent like Hyde and Prater, Iowa's pass defense should be pretty stout. Instead, there were some holes Iowa doesn't typically allow.
Lastly, Dontey Gay broke the century mark against Iowa's rush defense. In years past, few teams were allowed to break that milestone, let alone individual players. For a team like TTU to provide such a player doesn't speak well for Iowa's run defense.
James Vandenberg is just fine
With the departure of Ricky Stanzi, many Iowa fans were a little nervous about James Vandenberg taking over the starting role at quarterback. While he had a fantastic showing against Ohio State in 2009, he didn't really do anything in 2010 and time isn't always a great friend.
Any concerns were quickly put to rest, however.
Vandenberg completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 219 yards and a pair of scores. He avoided tossing any interceptions, made good decisions and largely put his passes in good position for his receivers to go after them.
Of course, they weren't all perfect. A few here and there went errant, but only one was particularly dangerous and it nearly ended up as a touchdown (Keenan Davis was ruled down inside the 1-yard line).
There's no reason for concern with Iowa's quarterback. He's obviously learned well behind Stanzi and appears to be a solid asset for the Hawkeyes. With Vandenberg at the helm, Iowa's offense should be a bonus again this year—that is, as long as the running backs can stay healthy.
Iowa had a slow start to its game against Tennessee Tech. It wasn't very pretty through the first quarter. As the Hawks shook off the rust, though, they started looking a little more like the Hawkeyes fans hoped would take the field this year.
However, there are still some concerns, and not a lot of time to fix them. In the end, the win against Tennessee Tech may have raised as many questions as it answered.
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