Cornhusker Preview: Part 12 of 12 (Iowa Hawkeyes)

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"What? Kirk's buyout is HOW much?"

Friends, when discussing Iowa football, it is important to remember to pity, rather than mock.

Because mocking is mean. And let’s face it, just because Iowa athletic director Gary Barta‘s balls are in a $17,531,360 vice doesn’t mean it was necessarily anyone’s FAULT that they got there. You know, besides Barta himself.

($17,531,360, by the way, is the size of the buyout Iowa would need to cough up if it were to fire Kirk Ferentz, a coach who went 4-8 in 2012, which is approximately the GDP of Luxembourg.)

And it’s not anyone’s FAULT that the college football gods decided to go all Egyptian Plagues on the Hawkeyes’ running back corps last year. (And actually, the college football gods have a name: AIRBHG, which stands for “Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God,” and it even has the Urban Dictionary entry to prove it.)

Yes, it’s not often a school finds itself in a position quite like Iowa’s, with mediocre head coach you can’t fire.

That said, all hope is not lost for Iowa. (Really.) Ferentz has made diamonds from coal before. The program is only four years removed from an 11-2 season in 2009, and, even though it has regressed steadily since (8-5, 7-6, 4-8), history has proven that Ferentz has been capable of making program-saving decisions.

IOWA OFFENSE

That said, hiring disgraced ex-Texas Longhorn offensive coordinator Greg Davis probably wasn’t one of them. The man presided over the collapse of the Longhorns under Mack Brown in 2010 (100th in the NCAA in efficiency) and didn’t do much better at Iowa in 2012 (94th).

At least the Hawks can look to some better luck at running back in 2012. Finally, all four backs are healthy, and Mark Weisman was a pretty dependable ball carrier before getting hurt.

At quarterback, sophomore Jake Rudock has been named starter. Rudock did not play a single snap in 2012. It can’t be too hard to be better than James Vandenberg, although Rudock has about the Big Ten’s worst receiving corps to throw to. Because Rudock himself isn’t exactly a threat to run, expect a lot of short passes and a lot of handing off to experienced running backs who, while not particularly explosive, can hopefully at least truck for a couple of yards. He should at least get decent protection from an offensive line that was decent at not allowing sacks.

Iowa fans, be patient with Rudock, it’s not his fault the offense will produce about 50 yards against Michigan State.

IOWA DEFENSE

To say that the Hawkeye defensive unit performed about average is, for this team, about as high a praise as you’ll find. About as good was it got was keeping close losses to fellow Big Ten bottom-dwellers Purdue and Indiana from turning into blowouts.

When your offense can only score about 16 points a game (what the Iowa offense averaged down the stretch) and you play for the Iowa defense, you get the rather unenviable task of trying to stop the other guy from scoring . . . 17 points.

And during that stretch of six games, they couldn’t do it. Iowa’s foes averaged 28.7 points, thanks mostly to a miserable pass rush (only one returning defensive lineman recorded a sack in 2012) and a secondary that lived and died by the play of Hawkeye-turned-Green Bay Packer Micah Hyde.

So what to do now? This unit was solid at stopping the run, as it proved against Nebraska in the finale. Iowa will have to lean on that strength and force opponents into passing downs, then hope the secondary can hold up on third and long.

Sadly, the days of Adrian Clayborn are behind Iowa. At least for now.

IOWA SPECIAL TEAMS

Decent special teams play. Punter Connor Kornbrath was a decent field-flipper and placekicker Mike Meyer was just about automatic inside of 40 yards. The punt and kickoff returners could stand to average a few more yards per, especially given that their offense isn’t looking ready for many 80-yard drives this season.

SO WHAT NOW?

That schedule, man. It only opens with Northern Illinois and quarterback Jordan Lynch, who, y’know, played in the Orange Bowl last year. And starting October 5th, the Hawkeyes play a vicious slate of Michigan State, at Ohio State, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. There’s a week of respite against Purdue, and the Iowa closes out the year against Michigan and then a visit to Nebraska. Yikes. I foresee a 2-10 or 3-9 year for Iowa, tops.

NAMES TO REMEMBER: QB Jake Rudock, RB Mark Weisman, P Connor Kornbarth

Nebraska plays Iowa in Lincoln on November 29, 2013. Nebraska leads the all-time series 28-12-2. They last met in Iowa City on November 23, 2012, and Nebraska won 13-7.

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