The Curious Case of 2011 Iowa Football


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The 2011 Iowa football team is still pretty damn difficult to evaluate after five games.

Iowa's offense showed an explosiveness for one quarter against Pittsburgh and for four quarters against Louisiana-Monroe that hypnotized many.

For just a while, many thought they had these guys figured out. The Hawkeyes were a squad with an uncharacteristically high-powered passing attack. A squad that didn't need to rely on lockdown performances from an inexperienced defense, but simply on timely stops when necessary.

Then Oct. 8 came, and so did a 13-3 loss at Penn State.

Quarterback James Vandenberg never found a solid rhythm. His receivers — the team's most consistent group this season — couldn't catch a pass when he needed it most. And too many times, the offensive line's pass protection withered against unrelenting Penn State defensive pressure.

So just how good — or bad — are these Hawkeyes?

The answer lies between the hyperbole.

Iowa's offense isn't nearly as inept as the Nittany Lions' defense (No. 4 nationally, allowing an average of 250.8 yards game) often made it look on Oct. 8. But don't expect to see the dynamism that gleamed in Iowa's 21-point comeback against Pittsburgh, or in its 35-17 drubbing of Monroe, on a weekly basis.

"In our program, none of us have claimed that we've done anything significant," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said following Saturday's loss at Beaver Stadium. "We haven't climbed any mountains yet."

The Hawkeye defense — though inexperienced — isn't exactly built from papier-mâché, though it looked that way in a 44-41 loss at Iowa State last month. For a group that lost four players to the NFL draft along with other 2010 starters, it has progressed steadily from the embarrassing performance in which it surrendered 473 yards to the Cyclones.

Still, Iowa won't end the season with a defense ranked anywhere near the nation's top-25 units, like it has in each of the past three seasons.

If that much wasn't already clear before the Hawkeyes visited Happy Valley, it was after Penn State running backs Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes both registered new single-game career-bests in rushing yards (142 and 60, respectively).

"[Redd is] a good back, and I'm trying to remember the last time Penn State didn't have good backs. Nothing different there," Ferentz said. "We have some things we have to get better at, clearly. Just fundamental things, defensive tackling is a big thing."

Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they're not the only Big Ten team with issues to address. The crucial part will be which teams can correct their respective issues first.

"The sky isn't falling. There are seven games left," linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. "There's not a team on our schedule that we can't compete with and can't beat. There's a lot of football left. If we clean things up, we'll be all right."

In today's issue:

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