Saturday, September 04, 2010

Thoughts on Iowa vs. Eastern Illinois

The Hawkeyes looked good in their season-opener, but not too good. I think Kirk Ferentz is happy about that. Iowa played like a Top Ten team much of the game, but several mistakes illustrate that the Hawks (like most Ferentz teams in September) are still a work in progress. The 27 point win over Eastern Illinois gives the team confidence, but the mistakes and turnovers should keep the Hawks from getting over-confident.

Ferentz has his most talented team since 2002, and Ricky Stanzi is one of the main reasons why. Stanzi is the unquestioned leader of the Hawkeyes, which is why a hush fell over Kinnick when he limped off the field. Even after James Vandenberg replaced Stanzi and continued Iowa's scoring drive, the silence at Kinnick was noticeable. It wasn't until Stanzi returned the following series that the 70 thousand inside the stadium (and hundreds of thousands across Iowa) collectively exhaled. Stanzi said after the game that he merely tweaked his knee, and there was no structural damage. But I wouldn't be surprised if he underwent an MRI anyway, not that we'd ever know about it.

Stanzi's injury aside, I saw a lot of growth in Stanzi's game on Saturday. He had a better rhythm in the pocket, his release seemed a fraction quicker, and I counted at least three times where Stanzi "lived to play another down," meaning he threw the ball away or tucked it and ran when his receivers were covered. Most importantly, he didn't throw an interception, although his fumble inside Eastern Illinois' five yard line surely cost the Hawks points.

Another player that I thought improved significantly from the Orange Bowl was Adam Robinson. There was so much talk about Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher in the off-season that maybe a few people forgot A-Rob set a freshman rushing record last season. When Robinson gets through the line and to the "second level," it's nearly impossible for just one player to bring him down. And he has a knack for spinning and always falling forward for positive yards. And although A-Rob doesn't have game-breaking speed, a couple different times on Saturday I saw a burst of acceleration that wasn't there last season.

My biggest concern going into the season was the offensive line, and the unit proved to be a little shaky on Saturday. The good news there - the offensive lines under Ferentz, like most of his teams, tend to improve dramatically as the season wears on. And getting Adam Gettis and Josh Koeppel healthy will certainly help the depth.

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