Iowa has reason to be worried about suspensions on offensive line for opener
It’s never a good thing when you’re down one offensive tackle in a game. It’s really tough when both tackles are out, because bad things can happen.
Iowa faces that dilemma in its season opener against Northern Illinois next weekend. Sophomore tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson have been been suspended for a game, and that’s a problem.
Hawkeyes fans have good memories, and they can harken back to 2016 very easily. They had two starters out in 2016 and were shocked by North Dakota State in an embarrassing 23-21 loss at home in Week 3.
That could happen again.
Northern Illinois is a legitimate threat, one of the top two or three teams in the Mid-American Conference. They are 78-31 since 2010 and have a track record of playing teams tough. This is their moment in the sun, so to speak, and they would like nothing more than to get a win against a Big Ten team.
The suspensions put Iowa in a precarious position. Sure, they needed to happen because discipline is a thing that matters — especially in Iowa City. Wirfs had an OWI this summer and had to be punished for that. He’s lucky it was just one game. Jackson has been suspended after violating of team rules.
It’s tough for many reasons on Wirfs and Jackson. First off, they stepped up nicely as freshmen a year ago and played well. Wirfs was the first true freshman to ever start on the offensive line during Kirk Ferentz’s two decades in Iowa City. Jackson, as a redshirt freshman, started all 12 games. They helped put back together an Iowa offensive line that had taken some hits and were forced into action a little ahead of schedule.
And the suspensions, frankly, look bad. Standing on the sidelines when your teammates really need you is never good. They are, without question, letting their teammates and coaches down.
That shouldn’t be.
“I really felt like Tristan and Alaric were on the track of becoming leaders,” Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek said. “Obviously, they took a little change out of their pockets. We still value their voice, it’s just going to take some time to … Those two kids are so aware. It’s going to take some time for those guys to … They’ve got to earn it back.”
Hopefully the Hawkeyes can get through the opener without them.
“It’s an opportunity for other guys to step in,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “I’ve never been a part of a season where everybody played the whole year, so you might as well deal with it right away in Week 1. Look, come Week 4 or Week 5, we’re going to need these other guys, too. That’s what happens. Whether it’s suspensions or injuries, it happens.”
Still, it’s not the best way to start a season, especially after giving up 60 sacks as an offensive line over the past two years. They need to keep quarterback Nate Stanley upright this year, and getting your best players back on the field is critical.
Get through Week 1, and then go from there. That’s what the Hawkeyes are hoping for.