The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Iowa Football: The Questions and Uncertainties Continue

How often have we seen it over the last few years? Our beloved Hawkeyes are in one of their patented down-to-the-wire games only to come up short in the end.

It was not all that long ago when Iowa fans would never count the Hawks out of a game until the clock struck zero. In 2009, Iowa won their first nine games of the season, three of which (Northern Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State) came down to the last few plays of the games. However, these heroics have seemed to have left Iowa City along with the legendary players that made these come backs, and victories, possible. As the loses continue to add up, Hawkeye Nation has been left searching for answers.

It’s easy to pinpoint when the wind was taken out of the sails of the once promising future of the Hawkeye football program. Iowa entered the 2010 season fresh off an Orange Bowl victory and was ranked as a top ten team in the country. After starting 2-0, the Hawks took a trip to Arizona on September 18, 2010. On the first drive of the game, Ryan Donahue’s punt was blocked by Arizona, and the problems only stockpiled from there. Even though Iowa only lost by 7, there was a strange feeling that came over the fan base. Where was the game winning drive that had become commonplace to Iowa? How about the key defensive stand that was part of every successful Kirk Ferentz team? After rounding out the 2010 season with an 8-5 record, the attitude around the Iowa fan base had changed. The optimism and elite talent was gone.

After last years underwhelming 7-6 season, Kirk Ferentz readjusted his coaching staff, and a new sense of intrigue came back to the program. New Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis was expected to bring the spark Iowa needed on offense to begin the long climb back to the top of the Big 10. But after facing 5 mediocre opponents and starting 3-2 (including arguably the most embarrassing loss of the Ferentz era to Central Michigan), the hype brought by the new coaching staff is gone, and fans are beginning to look for answers yet again.

Vandenberg avoids a sack last year against Michigan State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the glaring deficiencies seems to be the offensive skill position depth. After Marvin McNutt’s historic 2011 season, a gaping hole has been left at the wide receiver position. Drops plagued every receiver, including tight ends, in the first few games, but now an obvious lack of depth has greatly hindered the offense. When the top two receivers, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, have been covered, there has really been no other target to throw to downfield. This has left quarterback James Vandenberg to check down to the running backs for minimal gains. There just haven’t been those one or two deep passes per game that were always expected when McNutt or even Derrell Johnson-Koulianos were playing for the black and gold. If the Hawks want to improve, a third wide receiver and deep ball threat, must emerge. Perhaps Jordan Cotton is the man for the job. He showed off his speed in the Minnesota game, but is yet to contribute on a regular basis. Who ever it is going to be, Iowa needs someone to step up.

Another problem, and probably the most important, has been the performance of senior quarterback James Vandenberg. After having a very impressive junior season, Vandenberg is yet to show the skills or consistency that led him to be one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks in 2011. He has missed many receivers and is yet to flash the talent that everyone knows he has. He has shown signs of catching on to the new offense, but still has not had the kind of game that turns heads. He has to step up his play if Iowa wants to win many more games.

Mark Weisman may be the best running back on the team and he isn't even a running back. Just one of many signs that the Hawkeyes may struggle to win games this year. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)

However gloomy this season has started, there are signs of life amongst the team. The defense has played well all year and has shown signs of greatness. The Iowa defense, lead by linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey, has been able to  make big plays that have kept Iowa in games. Also, the emergence of fullback-turned-runningback, Mark Weisman, has led to a consistent power running game, which has lightened the load for Vandenberg. Weisman has strung together one of the most impressive three game stretches by any Iowa running back. Since he stepped in for the injured Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon, Weisman has accumulated 515 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Even though Iowa has had a roller-coaster type season thus far, do not give up on them yet. Last weeks bye week hit a great time in the season. After getting to 3-2 by a commanding victory over Minnesota, the Hawks have a chance to get healthy and prepare for one of the best defenses they will face all year. Next week will go a long way in determining what kind of team Iowa has. Will the Hawks come out flat or will they continue to improve and pull off a shocker? Stayed tuned Iowa fans, the season is still young.