Big Ten

New faces take over for Hawkeyes' inconsistent run game


New faces take over for Hawkeyes' inconsistent run game

Even with an experienced running back and an offensive line that produced a pair of NFL Draft picks, the Iowa running game wasn’t exactly dominant last season.

The Hawkeyes ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in rushing offense, seventh with 163.1 rush yards per game.

And with that aforementioned running back and those aforementioned offensive linemen gone this offseason, what will the running game look like in 2015?

There are two main issues to address: replacing running back Mark Weisman and replacing the two stalwarts along the O-line, Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal.

In the backfield, it’ll be a multi-back job highlighted by LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri. Canzeri had 494 yards last season as Iowa’s second leading rusher behind Weisman. Daniels had just 15 carries in five games as a sophomore, limited by injury. Sophomore Derrick Mitchell Jr. is the team’s third back.

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Head coach Kirk Ferentz is excited about this combo, and he said their progression this offseason alleviated concern he had about the running game after last season wrapped up.

“My concern, it was significant back in January. I was really concerned about that part of our game and the running back position in particular,” Ferentz said during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “I think the good news is that LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri have had a good year going back to January. They’ve handled every phase of the program really well, they’re both practicing really well.”

As for how the Hawkeyes will split carries among their running backs, Ferentz had an answer for that, too.

“LeShun will start the game. But Jordan has done a great job. I think you almost have to talk about the two on the same line because that's how I see them,” Ferentz said during his Tuesday press conference. “They're different types of backs, but they both have had a good year. Again, I go back to January for both guys. They're healthy now. Every phase that we've gone through they've done a really nice job. As a coach, you kind of bank on what you see, how players work, how they practice. That's the best way to project how they're going to play. Both of those guys have been in games too, so it's not like it's anything new for them.

“But we'll just kind of play it by ear, see how it goes. I don't know if we'll go with the hot hand guy, maybe use Jordan a little bit more on third down. I think we have a nice opportunity to mix it up a little bit.”

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The other aspect, the offensive line, is a little less certain.

There are two players who have played a lot of games in Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. But the other three spots will be dominated by younger players, meaning a bit of uncertainty.

Still, unsurprisingly, Ferentz is confident.

“With our linemen, we have some new guys,” Ferentz said. “We knew we had some work to do there at some of the positions, but I also think we have some really good players coming up. I think they’ll do fine. They’re going to have some growing pains early in the month September, but I think based on what we’ve seen — and the players I’m talking about, for the most part, have been in our program for several years, so we just think they’re on the right path to ending up having really good careers here.”

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Part of that confidence, though, stems from the experience and leadership of Blythe. Can he follow in Scherff and Donnal’s footsteps and be one of Iowa’s next big-name O-linemen?

“Center is a really important position on just about every football team, and for what we do he's really important. He is our signal caller up front,” Ferentz said. “And it's important to have somebody in there that we have a lot of faith in, and that's certainly the case with Austin. He's earned that from Day 1. He's done a great job. I just mentioned (quarterback) C.J. (Beathard) getting better as a player, I would say the same thing about Austin Blythe, particularly since June, took off. He's really accepted the role of being a senior. That's important, not only as a leader on the line but our entire football team.”

The season-opener against Illinois State isn’t your run-of-the-mill non-conference cupcake game against an FCS foe. The Redbirds were in the FCS national championship game last season. And their run-defense numbers were stellar, holding opponents to just 121.9 rush yards per game, though that was against a schedule of entirely FCS opponents.

Still, it’ll be an important test for the Hawkeyes, who need to establish a more consistent and effective rushing attack in 2015.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?