Commentary: 2011 Hawkeyes still a mystery


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Kirk Ferentz called Iowa’s 34-7 win over Tennessee Tech “strange.”

James Vandenberg described it was “a different experience.”

Maybe Collin Sleeper said it best.

“That was pretty crazy, wasn’t it?” the Hawkeye safety said. “It was like a monsoon out there.”

Almost every postgame interview focused more on the near-apocalyptic weather on Sept. 3 than the Xs and Os of an otherwise mundane, season-opening blowout.

Rightfully so.

The game revealed more about the potential of Mother Nature than the potential of 2011 Iowa football team.

Torrential downpours pulverized Kinnick Stadium, soaking those inside it. Then they stopped. Then they started again.

Just as intermittently, darkness descended upon the stadium. It also left. Then it came back.

Then there was the lightning that sporadically illuminated the eerily dark Iowa City sky and prompted a one-hour, 24-minute delay.

The actual football game paled in comparison to the show in the sky.

Sure, James Vandenberg reminded us all that the Hawkeyes have had a pretty good No. 2 quarterback in their pocket the last couple of years. The junior was 13-for-21 for 219 yards — especially impressive considering the less-than-favorable conditions and that his targets dropped no fewer than a half-dozen passes.

Marvin McNutt didn’t look too shabby, either. The St. Louis native grabbed two touchdown passes, including an 88-yarder that stands as the sixth-longest touchdown pass in school history.

Shaun Prater — just the latest in a string of solid Iowa No. 1 cornerbacks under coach Kirk Ferentz — showcased his impressive athleticism by out-jumping the 6-2, 225-pound Doug Page to snatch an interception before taking it 89 yards to the end zone.

None of the above were revelations.

Vandenberg showed us he was capable of this two years ago by nearly leading Iowa to a Big Ten championship-clinching win against Ohio State. McNutt was one of the conference’s best receivers in 2010, and he might be the very best one in 2011. Prater has racked up six picks and 14 pass break-ups over the last two seasons.

Of course, a season-opener against a team like Tennessee Tech — a Championship Series program probably just happy to receive its $500,000 paycheck for visiting Iowa City, let alone score a single touchdown — was never going to be an extremely telling litmus test. The Hawkeyes pounded Eastern Illinois last year, 37-7, and finished a disappointing 8-5. A year earlier, Iowa needed two-straight blocked field goals to salvage a 17-16 win against Northern Iowa. That squad finished 11-2 with an Orange Bowl victory.

Still, I can’t help but feel the identity of these Hawkeyes, especially, is the same as it was when we met them at media day in early August: a mystery.

So what do we know?

“We’re 1-0 and have a lot of work to do,” Ferentz said during his postgame press conference. “Pretty much simple as that.”

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