Three keys for Iowa in 2016
Leading up to the start of the 2016 season, we’ll preview three key factors for every B1G team to have success.
Here are Iowa’s:
1. Cause havoc in the backfield
Of the many things Iowa did well last year, getting tackles behind the line of scrimmage was not one of those. The Hawkeyes recorded 62 stops in the backfield last season, the lowest in the B1G and ranking 106th nationally. To make matters worse, the team’s best players at getting through the line, Drew Ott and Nate Meier, are gone.
Struggling to stop ball-carriers in the backfield obviously wasn’t devastating for the Iowa defense last season but with so many talented running backs on the schedule, the defense will want to get a good jump off the line.
Linebackers Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann, along with defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson, have the ability to be more disruptive this season. They combined for 19.5 stops for loss a year ago and will have prominent roles on the defense once again.
If Iowa’s defensive pursuit becomes more prominent, it could be an even better unit than it was in 2015.
2. Utilize the talent
Iowa as an offensive power? It could happen in 2016.
C.J. Beathard is a second-team All-B1G quarterback. Receiver Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle caught 85 passes for 915 yards and 10 TDs. LeShun Daniels, Jr. and Akrum Wadley were two of the team’s top three ball-carriers last season. The offensive line has been praised as the nation’s best by Ed Cunningham. This is going to be a tough team to keep off the scoreboard.
Kirk Ferentz wasn’t afraid to distribute the wealth last season, incorporating several players into the play-calling. Doing that again will keep defenses off balance and could lead to some high point totals.
Daniels and Wadley could be one of the best backfield combinations in the conference. The duo have combined for 1,519 career yards, picking up 1,142 of those last season. It’ll provide the Hawkeyes with an explosive one-two punch that isn’t available to many other teams.
The one area of concern is receiver. Outside of VandeBerg, the Hawkeyes are slim on experience. That will be an interesting position group to watch throughout the season. Still, Beathard has an accurate arm and should make life easy for his pass-catchers, even if they are younger than a typical Ferentz-coached squad.
Youth aside, this has the potential to be one of the most explosive offenses Ferentz has ever had at Iowa. Getting the ball to play-makers shouldn’t be a tough task.
3. Continue to be opportunistic
Thanks in large part to Desmond King, Iowa led the B1G in interceptions (19) and ranked second in forced turnovers (27) and turnover margin (+11). It was one of the leading factors in a 12-0 regular season.
Iowa returns 17 of those interceptions, including Josey Jewell who had four and Greg Mabin who snagged two passes. That’s a good starting point heading into the season.
King may not grab eight interceptions again this fall, but the Hawkeyes need to continue to be opportunistic and take advantage of mistakes. With a tougher schedule upcoming, turning over opponents becomes even more important for a team trying to get back to the B1G title game.