Another year, another cupcake opponent to start off the season. Iowa football is officially back, baby!
When you bring up Iowa’s football schedule, it’s common to focus on the big games or games you feel will present the Hawkeyes with a challenge. Games like home against Michigan or Wisconsin, or maybe even on the road in a hostile environment against Penn State. However, my guess is that the week one matchup against Miami University isn’t exactly a game that’s putting you on the edge of your seat with anticipation, other than the fact that it’s the first contest of the season.
With that said, I’ve found that the more I know about your favorite team’s opponent, the more my own personal viewing experience has been enhanced, so I decided that in this article, we’d go over a few interesting dynamics to pay attention to in this Week One clash with the MAC.
Struggles at the Quarterback Position
Last season, the RedHawks’ offense wasn’t exactly efficient, productive, or, to be honest, impressive and a big reason for that was the poor play at quarterback.
Throughout the season, the RedHawks struggled to find an answer at quarterback, as they started off the year with senior Drew Kummer before transitioning over to true freshman Billy Bahl for the final seven games. Even when the coaching staff officially announced Bahl as the starter it felt noncommittal.
With Kummer graduated, Bahl has been given the keys, but don’t surprised to see backup Gus Ragland come in when they want to show some option or quarterback run looks. Last season, Bahl struggled mightily early on as he completed just 37 percent of his passes with only 1 touchdown to 9 interceptions through the first five games. With that said, there were more than a few instances where receivers couldn’t haul it in. As the season progressed, however, Bahl did show improvement, as he would go on to complete 47 percent of his passes with 7 touchdowns to 4 interceptions through the final seven games. Although those numbers aren’t exactly the most encouraging, it did show that he was, at the very least, improving, which is you want to see from a true freshman.
This is the QB Iowa faces this Saturday. Desmond King may pick up right where he left off. pic.twitter.com/0HXYOx3sJt— Rob Donaldson (@DraftCharge) September 1, 2016
When you turn on Bahl’s tape from last season, too often you see him crumbling in the face of pressure; he loses his posture, drops the ball to his side, messes up his footwork and makes a lot of poor decisions. This is a rather common concern amongst young, inexperienced college quarterbacks; however, what is concerning is that Bahl didn’t show a whole lot of strides in this area as the season progressed. Unless Bahl has been able to make some drastic improvements this offseason, which is a possibility, I’d expect the Hawkeyes’ secondary to go buck wild with pass breakups and interceptions. I’m looking at you, Desmond King.
With all that being said, there are some positives to Bahl’s game. For example, although Bahl isn’t the most efficient runner out there, he is functionally mobile, meaning he’s able to get out of the pocket and extend plays with his legs. In addition, Bahl does put a fair amount of velocity behind his passes when it comes to short or intermediate routes. When you combine that with the fact that RedHawks like to run a lot of timing patterns and screens, it’ll definitely test the Hawkeyes’ linebackers’ and cornerbacks’ ability to disengage and get through blocks as well as close on the ball while it’s in the air because of how quickly the ball is able to get on the receivers.
A Test for the Offensive Tackles
Last season, both offensive tackle spots for the Hawkeyes were unquestionably shaky from start to finis. And although the Miami pass rush isn’t exactly one of the more revered in college football, senior offensive tackle Cole Croston and redshirt junior Ike Boettger will have their work cut out for them, as they go up against defensive end J.T. Jones.
Jones, a redshirt senior, was one the MAC’s top pass rushers last season, as he was able to rack up 10 sacks and a whole lot of pressures on the quarterback.
Jones’ impressive mixture of quickness, flexibility, power and length will present a real challenge for both Croston and Boettger, as Jones has plenty of experience lining up on both sides of the field.
A player that Jones reminds me of, that I think a lot of Hawkeye fans are familiar with, is Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot. In last season’s matchup with Illinois, Smoot made getting around both Boettger and Croston look easy, as they both lacked the foot quickness and fluidity to keep up with Smoot on the edge. Containing Smoot became so difficult in that contest that the Iowa coaching staff made the decision to use both tight ends, George Kittle and Henry Krieger-Coble, throughout the game as in-line blockers to assist both Boettger and Croston.
Although Jones is more of a “poor man’s” version of Smoot, if Croston and Boettger haven’t made some serious improvements compared to last season, we’ll be able to tell very early on this season, as Jones could end up giving the pair fits while putting pressure on C.J. Beathard.
A Team Still Finding Their Footing
If I haven’t already made it obvious enough for you guys, the RedHawks aren’t exactly one of the top teams coming out of the Group of Five or one even of the top teams from the MAC, as they haven’t been bowl-eligible since their 2010 MAC title run and they’ve experienced five straight losing losing seasons, including nine of the last ten.
With that said, the RedHawks project to be a bit better this season for a few reasons. The first reason being that head coach, Chuck Martin, is heading into his third season with the program, after serving as Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Prior to Notre Dame, Martin had experienced plenty of success at Division II’s Grand Valley State, as he concluded his tenure with the program with an impressive 74-7 record that included two national titles in only six seasons. At Notre Dame, Martin experienced an equal amount of success, as he helped lead Notre Dame to the 2012 National Championship Game and a 9-4 record the following season.
Now, with three offseasons under Coach Martin’s belt, I think it’s reasonable to expect some improvement as his roster begins to look more and more like he wants it to.
The other big reason I feel it’s reasonable to expect some improvement is that this team is returning ten starters on offense and six on defense. Although you can argue that may not actually be a great thing, considering how poorly the team performed last season, experience is invaluable and this team is still relatively young at numerous positions.
There’s no reason as to why the Hawkeyes should struggle in this game, as they outmatch the RedHawks from an overall physical and talent standpoint. However, crazier things have certainly happened.