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Commentary: Iowa is built to win with an aggressive offense this year

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa offense has a lot of good going for it right now.

James Vandenberg owns one of the best arms we've seen on a Hawkeye quarterback in a while. A previously unproven receiving corps may prove to be the team's best unit. The line boasts anchors Riley Reiff and Markus Zusevics on the outside, and James Ferentz on the inside. There's also the Mack Truck disguised as a running back — Marcus Coker — who showed signs this past weekend of returning to Insight Bowl form.

But the defense? It's giving up 385.75 yards a game, ranking 77th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Defenses that rank better include Minnesota, which just lost to North Dakota State, and a Western Kentucky team that lost by 28 points at home to Indiana State.

The young group has made strides, but still has a ways to go — not a surprising for a group that lost four players to the NFL draft.

Luckily, it seems coach Kirk Ferentz recognizes his team's strength — the offense — and appears content with riding it to victory.

That's exactly what Iowa needs this year.

Sure, Iowa's 45-17 victory in Kinnick Stadium came at the expense of Louisiana-Monroe, a Sunbelt Conference team. But Ferentz showed a willingness to depart from the Hawkeyes' usual philosophies. He let the offense showcase its explosive potential and bury the opposition early — something Iowa has failed to do against less-talented teams in recent seasons.

It started with the Hawks operating in a no-huddle offense on the game's first drive. I couldn't believe my eyes — and the crowd seemingly couldn't either, as evidenced by the wild cheers. Vandenberg said the increased tempo functioned as a spark plug for the offense, and that's hard to debate after he finished 21-of-32 for 270 yards and three touchdowns.

It continued with not just one, but two fourth-down-conversion attempts, both of which came in the first quarter. The first — a fourth-and-goal from the Monroe 1-yard line — wasn't too surprising. The second — a fourth-and-one from the Iowa 49-yard line — was very surprising.

But it worked.

The Hawkeyes even ran a two-minute offense in an effort to get more points before halftime despite getting the ball at their own 26-yard line with just 45 seconds left in the second quarter. It didn't result in points, but it was a continuation of the theme of aggressiveness.

"We're doing whatever we have to do to come away with a victory," receiver Marvin McNutt said.

The more Iowa continues doing what it did Sept. 24, the more victories it will come away with. Ferentz and Company simply can't afford to leave points on the field when they have opportunities to score, such as the borderline fourth down on the game's first drive.

Iowa's defense will get better — it's too young not to — but I'm not so sure it'll grow enough that the Hawkeyes will be able to rely on it for Big Ten victories. The unit has too many holes to think it'll come anywhere close to the dominant forces that were the 2009 and 2008 defenses (10th and 12th nationally in total yardage), or even the less-dominant but reliable group it was last year (25th nationally).

Iowa's offense, on the other hand, is pretty good. The ceiling might not be anywhere in sight, either.

"I think that's what we're all excited about," Vandenberg said. "We can still get a lot better."

That's a scary thought for Big Ten defenses.


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