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Three things to watch at Kinnick Saturday

BY DANNY PAYNE | APRIL 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Iowa football team is scheduled to have its final practice of the spring at 1 p.m. Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. To preview that event, the DI has three things to watch Saturday.

What is the balance between the running and passing game?

The biggest question so far this spring has been surrounding Iowa’s new-look offense, which will be led by junior C.J. Beathard. With Beathard having a better arm than two-year starter and future Michigan Wolverine Jake Rudock, it’s not a stretch to expect an expanded passing game.

However, that’s not the whole story of Iowa’s offense. As fourth-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Wednesday, the Hawkeyes have the deepest group of running backs since he arrived, led by Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels Jr.

If the trends under Davis are any indication, Iowa could be in for more passes in 2015. Excluding his first year, which was a complete failure (Iowa ran 793 plays in 2012, 931 in 2013, and 951 last year), the Hawkeyes’ percentage of passing plays jumped from 41 percent in 2013 to 46 percent in 2014.

There are other factors in play there too, such as increased familiarity in the offense with Rudock starting two seasons in a row, among other things.

Saturday will give fans and others surrounding the team an opportunity to see if Iowa uss Beathard’s big arm in a larger capacity than years past or if that run/pass trend plateaus.

How many linebackers are capable of playing well?

So far this spring, there has been a lot of talk regarding the depth Iowa has at linebacker. Talk is cheap, and Saturday will give a glimpse into how much real depth there is at those three spots. Even more, some are wondering how capable those backups are of playing effectively.

In theory, they should be able to make plays. Five of the six players listed as linebackers on Iowa’s two-deeps have at least one letter, the only non-letterwinner being co-backup weakside backer Aaron Mends, a redshirt freshman from Kansas City, Missouri. And for what it’s worth, linebackers coach Jim Reid praised Mends’ physical ability and toughness earlier this spring.

Depending on how you look at it, the fact seniors Travis Perry and Cole Fisher are listed as No. 2s is either a good thing or bad thing. It could mean Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Bo Bower are showing that much promise, or it could mean the Hawkeyes may not be as deep as they look at face value.

Only time will tell.

How much will Beathard run?

While the run/pass balance will likely be a realistic peek into the offense, the number of times Beathard uses his feet may not be so realistic.

Davis and other coaches on Iowa’s roster have said they like the idea of a gunslinger with the ability to use his feet — Beathard’s average of 5.6 yards per carry last season solidifies that — but he’s the only signal-caller on Iowa’s roster who has played a game. Put simply, the Hawkeyes want to use him in the running game as much as possible but not to the extent of risking an injury.

He will wear the red “don’t touch me” jersey Saturday and could take advantage of that attire, knowing he won’t be tackled, but we probably won’t see how much freedom to run Beathard has until Iowa’s opener with Illinois State on Sept. 5 in Kinnick.

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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