Sure, Iowa just beat Louisiana-Monroe, 45-17. But what was important about beating the Warhawks? How much do we really know? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
Kirk Ferentz got on the drugs. Kirk Ferentz opened up a game using a no-huddle spread for the entire first drive. I can't overestimate what a system shock this is. This is P.J. Carlesimo writing for Free Darko. This is Vince Lombardi trading in his glasses for Macho Man shades. This doesn't happen.
And yet happen it did, and of course, Iowa rolled to the most delightful first-quarter touchdown against a Sun Belt team in program history, going 73 yards in 9 plays for the first of six Hawkeye TDs on the day. The fans convinced that Kirk Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe were conservative to a serious fault (/raising hand) had even less of a case to make than after the fourth quarter of last week's comeback, and all of a sudden, Iowa looked like the type of opponent that could rip off quick points if a defense got lazy with its substitutions and pre-huddle preparation. Again: Iowa. That.
Of course, let's see if Ferentz actually keeps that gambit in his playbook against a real defense, because ULM certainly does not qualify in that regard, but at the very least it's a card that he has played, and therefore one that conference opponents are going to have to respect in some regard going forward -- so long as it doesn't become a relic along the lines of "Greg Helmers, 3-point threat."*
Um, oh my god, the Iowa passing game: Coming into the season, Phil Steele ranked Iowa's QB unit 10th of 12 in the Big Ten, and the receivers tied with Nebraska's at 7th, right behind Minnesota. I would venture a guess that Steele would revise both of those rankings just a tad after these first four weeks. James Vandenberg is still a considerable distance away from being an All-Big Ten QB in a conference that boasts Denard Robinson, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Nathan Scheelhaase (and probably a 100% Dan Persa, but god, who knows how that's turning out anymore), but he's making passes that basically nobody has made for Kirk Ferentz before. That fade route to Marvin McNutt this week? The out route to McNutt that went for a long score against Tennessee Tech? The game-winning pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley against Pitt? Those were perfect throws. That doesn't make Vandenberg a perfect quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, of course; he's currently going through progressions at a level a little below Brad Banks, which is to say not very well, but JVB also has another 20 starts in front of him to make strides here. We expect he will.
Of course, it helps to be throwing to a crop of wideouts like the one Iowa's boasting.
It would be inaccurate to say that Kirk Ferentz doesn't have a history of getting a lot out of his wide receivers; look at the 2002-2005 spree that WRs like C.J. Jones, Maurice Brown, Ed Hinkel, and Clinton Solomon went on. Hell, Ferentz got dozens of starts out of Andy Brodell and Colin Sandeman. That's talent optimization there, right?
And yet, it is an inescapable fact that since the hiring of WR coach Erik Campbell after Michigan dumped Lloyd Carr in favor of Rich Rodriguez (hee!), Iowa's wideout situation has never been better. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos rewrote the record books for receptions and receiving yardage, and even though he'd have been gone this year regardless of the drug arrest, the 2011 Iowa WR crop is even better this year than in years past. Marvin McNutt's not going to touch DJK's numbers in receptions and receiving yardage, but McNutt is well on the way to not only breaking but obliterating Iowa's career receiving touchdowns mark; he's only one score away from tying Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes at 21. Being that McNutt has four scores in four games already this season, they've already commissioned a casket and hearse for that career record.
More than that, though, McNutt and Vandenberg have a rapport that is at times unstoppable. We've already mentioned two scoring passes between the two, but those are only the most consequential of several passes from JVB to McNutt that, frankly, Ricky Stanzi wasn't throwing. Don't get us wrong, Stanzi-to-McNutt was a very good connection. JVB-to-McNutt is better.
It also helps that Keenan Davis is a legitimate, no-questions-asked second option at wideout, having improved to a degree that we're not used to seeing from Iowa WRs, like, ever. Davis has always have prototypical size, speed, and other measurables, but he doesn't even resemble the player he was as a freshman. He's not going to touch any career records, but it's not out of the question that he challenges the Iowa season records like Keith Chapelle's 1037 receiving yards or Mo Brown's 11 receiving TDs in 2012 -- if McNutt doesn't push past those numbers this year.
And then, of course, Kevonte Martin-Manley is already making big plays in this, his redshirt freshman year with the program. If he too stays healthy, lord only knows how far up KMM finishes in Iowa's record books.
All of this is to say, barring injury or other career-shorteners, this is likely going to end up being Iowa's best WR corps ever, and it delights me to know that a QB as talented as James Vandenberg is throwing to them and will likely have two full seasons to do so. Similarly, it's great to see that JVB has such a talented WR corps to throw to and isn't dealing with a situation like "starting wide receiver Herb Grigsby" or something similarly disastrous.
Vandenberg probably isn't going to keep up this torrid pace once the Big Ten season starts, since he's struggled significantly in the face of legitimate pressure so far. It's one thing to throw immaculately placed passes against ULM's pass rush; it's another to do so with 2.7 seconds before a Big Ten linebacker comes untouched on an outside blitz. If Vandenberg can make the strides there that Stanzi did during his own Hawkeye career, he'll probably go down as one of the best post-Chuck Long QBs in Hawkeye history.
And finally, the best day for the RB corps yet. Much will be made of Marcus Coker's 114 yards on 6.3 yards a pop on Saturday, and that's a welcome development for sure. Once again, Coker consistently gained positive yardage against a defense that was selling out to stop him, and he even uncorked a few long gains after breaking tackles, as he had done more reliably last season.
But at the same time, again, this is just ULM, and the Big Ten has no shortage of tailbacks who can put up a hundy on ULM's rush defense. There were tackles broken yesterday that aren't going to be broken when it's a Nebraska or even Michigan linebacker attempting them, so let's not make too much of a deal out of Coker's big numbers.
No, the real story is the welcome emergence of two change-of-pace backs in freshmen Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri, who both showed flashes of the same dynamic rushing style Mika'il McCall brought to the table before his ghastly ankle injury in Week 1. Neither Canzeri nor Bullock are big enough to put in more than 5-10 carries in any given week, to say nothing of the liability they both present in pass coverage, but they're also significantly better than Coker at getting to the point of attack with the right amount of force and timing when it actually comes to rushing the ball. Coker is by far the strongest runner Iowa has had since Shonn Greene (if not, oh, Nick Bell), but watching Canzeri and Bullock hit the holes as they open in that Ferentzian one-cut style served as a stark contrast to the odd, slow-developing nature of Coker's carries. It also doesn't help that Coker hasn't been 100% since before the season started, of course, but all the same Iowa finds itself in a position where its most productive and complete running back is also the one with the worst footwork right now, so the more Canzeri and Bullock can spell Coker, the less wear and tear Coker can accumulate during the year and the more he can work on getting back to his 2010 level of production. This is a very, very good thing. For now. I hope I didn't just provoke Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God right now, but if we're being honest with ourselves, all of these men's fates were sealed the moment they signed with Iowa, so if they're all going to suffer EVERY RUPTURED TENDON anyway, there's no harm in pretending it might not happen and discussing that like this.
NEXT OPPONENT: BYE. Um... bye to you too.
*I've probably told this story on BHGP before, but my old man and I went to the jNWU-Iowa basketball game back in '97 or so where Iowa went 15-20 from 3-point land. It was one of the funniest games I've ever seen. At one point, Greg Fucking Helmers stepped behind the arc and, of course, drained it. It was the closest CHA has ever come to the crowd shutting the game down a la Rucker Park. Anyway, on the radio after the game**, Tom Davis said Helmers had that long-range ability, and promised that we would see more of that aspect of his game going forward. I probably don't need to tell you that Helmers would finish his Hawkeye career 1-1 in 3-pointers.
**It was also during this radio program that I was disabused of the notion that Kyle Galloway had a squeaky high voice to befit his comically boyish appearance. Never have I been so disappointed in the aftermath of a Hawkeye basketball blowout victory