The ifs came true. Perhaps the most striking thing about Iowa's victory Saturday is how, well, easy it all looked. Yes, Illinois State is an FCS program, but it's one of the best, and FCS teams have been putting scares in teams for years now—nine FBS-FCS games ended in one-possession margins last week. Illinois State-Iowa was, uh, not one of them.
There were plenty of reasons to be cautious (or outright pessimistic) coming into the season, question marks peppering the depth chart. Sometimes these things work themselves into strengths, but often they don't. Here's a look at a few of them.
If C.J. Beathard can play within the system... Hey, no complaints, right? 15-24, 211 yards and a score, plus a 6-yard rushing touchdown is just fine, especially with Iowa running a dialed-down version of its passing offense and not asking Beathard to chuck it deep. His timing was solid, he led receivers when he needed to hit them in stride, and he appeared trustworthy—crucial for any Kirk Ferentz quarterback.
If LeShun Daniels is the real deal... Daniels' 26 carries removed any semblance of doubt that he has Ferentz's confidence, as did his 126 yards and seven first downs.
If the line can keep Beathard alive... Beathard wasn't sacked all day long. Boone Myers was totally competent at left tackle, the guards were substantially improved from 2014 (yes, against an FCS opponent, but remember what a rough go they had against the likes of even UNI and Ball State last year) and Austin Blythe looked worthy of the hype. Maybe Drew Ott is as good as we hoped he is. Hey, speaking of which:
If Drew Ott is as good as we hoped he is... Ott was the ringleader of a jarringly ferocious defensive line, which beat blocks routinely and harassed Tre Roberson into misery until garbage time. Iowa logged five sacks on the elusive Roberson, including a pair by Ott in a span of three plays right after Iowa drove 99 yards to go up 14-0. The Redbirds managed eight first downs in the first three quarters, and Roberson's inability to get settled in the pocket was a big reason.
If the linebackers can keep up with a speedy back... Marshaun Coprich, the reigning Walter Payton Award winner and FCS rushing champion of 2014, was an absolute non-factor. Coprich ran for all of 32 yards on 13 carries before Brock Spack just plain gave up on the running game. The Cole Fisher - Josey Jewell - Ben Niemann unit wasn't perfect and it'll be tested weekly, but this was an easily passed test, and decidedly ahead of where Iowa's 2014 linebacker play was.
If the punting situation is any better... A 38-yard touchback is less than ideal (and it's not a great position for a punter to be in to begin with), but Dillon Kidd later boomed a punt 56 yards—again for a touchback, but those can be forgiven from across midfield—and let Hawkeye fans know what kind of leg strength led to him picking up a scholarship last year.
If the play-calling finally catches up with the 21st century... Perhaps we're overreacting to a failed fake field goal, but if anything could be emblematic of the page turning with the Ferentz (and more recently Davis) offensive ethos, that was it. Mr. Vint already fleshed it out ably, but suffice it to say the level of worry that pervaded the outlook for the 2015 season has, if only for one week, abated.
That's not to say this was a perfect game, obviously. Maurice Fleming looked rough in the fourth quarter and Iowa's probably going to need more than two cornerbacks at some point in 2015. Niemann ran himself out of a couple plays. You'd like to see more than five targets for Tevaun Smith. As a whole the depth didn't really flex much muscle, and Iowa's not going to romp through the Big Ten riding only its top 22. And as 2012 showed, if Iowa doesn't have depth on its side, things can go sideways in a frightening hurry—and never straighten themselves out.
So this is not a "buy your Big Ten Championship tickets now" post. It was one nice game against an FCS opponent and Iowa still only won by 17. But it sure was nice to see the ifs come true. And if those stay the case, this just might be a fun season of football.