So in case you’ve been off the internet for a few days now (how did you do it? I can’t seem to pry myself away, send help), you already know that Matt VandeBerg has been ruled out indefinitely with a foot injury. The news shook Hawkeye Nation, which is now left wondering what the Hawkeyes are going to do for offense in the absence of the Meerkat. We’re not mind readers, nor do we claim to know exactly what it is that Kirk Ferentz and Greg Davis plan to do, but they sure do have a plethora of options. Let’s take a look at the many solutions the Hawkeyes can take until he comes back next year (you know, assuming he gets the medical redshirt that he is eligible for).
First off, let’s take a look at the wide receivers. How will the Hawkeyes replace his 300+ yards of total offense? Well, at the slot receiver, a pretty good solution could be Riley McCarron. He’s undersized, but that would fit in well with slot receiver abilities, as he’s not quite big enough to catch jump balls over opposing defensive backs, but could settle into the soft spots of opposing defenses. He’s also seldom used by the Hawekeyes, as he has just 14 receptions and 142 yards in his career. I’m not sure why I thought he had more, but I guess he’d be as good as most to be that next man in.
McCarron is somewhat of a known commodity since he’s been on the team for a while now, but the new guys that Iowa fans are still trying to figure out will also need to step up if the Iowa passing offense is going to flourish for the remainder of the season. It’s already been fairly well-documented that C.J. Beathard isn’t the same gunslinger he was last season and that he doesn’t seem to have any trust in his receivers, but with MVB out, it’s obvious that he’s going to need to find it in himself to throw the ball to the younger guys whether he trusts them or not.
Jerminic Smith would be the obvious choice, as he’s spent the season as the starting wide receiver across from VandeBerg. After catching three balls for 51 yards and a touchdown against Miami, he only has four catches for 46 yards since. That’s not exactly great for the receiver who now leads the Hawkeyes into the rest of the season. CJB is going to have to get him the ball a lot more now, and hopefully these opportunities allow him to show that he’s capable of being the playmaker the Hawkeyes have missed all season.
For the guys lower on the depth chart, Jay Scheel is someone that Hawk fans have been waiting and waiting for, for what seems like forever. He had a catch at the end of the Iowa State game and then that one really weird end around at the end of the Rutgers game, but otherwise has not been utilized. Scheel is supposed to be the one player with a ton of big play ability that we haven’t seen anything from yet, and this injury will surely give him plenty of opportunity to touch the field in the coming weeks. Devonte Young and Ronald Nash traveled with the team this past weekend to New Jersey, but didn’t see the field. In the event of an injury, it could be possible that they’ll see some usage this season. Along with them, Ryan Boyle changed from quarterback to receiver during the spring, so if he’s progressed enough to get some playing time, he could be thrown into the mix as well.
Adrian Falconer is currently still out with an injury, he’s not going to be able to help the receiving corps right away, and maybe at all, depending on the severity of the issue. Naturally, we’re not sure what this injury is, but he did play as a true freshman, so there is some sort of idea that he could provide a spark at the position if and when he’s available. But you know who is available? Jonathan Parker is back!
Although Parker’s technically a running back, he lines up pretty naturally as a receiver. I’m not saying that Iowa will use him more as a receiver, but that’s definitely a big play threat that the Hawkeyes have been looking for out of the receiver spot. He’s normally used as a decoy and teams tend to keep an eye on him when he hits the field, so hopefully Greg Davis can get creative with his usage as to not make things too obvious when he’s on the field. Also in the running game, Derrick Mitchell is back this week, too, and although he won’t be converting back to a wide receiver based off one injury, DMX could prove to be useful in a 5-WR set where he has lined up occasionally this season.
Moving to tight ends, it’s pretty obvious that George Kittle is now the most trusted pass catcher that the Hawkeyes have for Beathard, and he’ll likely see his usage increase in the coming weeks. He’s caught only 10 passes on the season, but that would be good for second on the team. Clearly CJB has not been throwing the ball around very much. At the other tight end spot, Peter Pekar has touched the field a ton this season but has yet to catch a pass. In fact, the only other tight end to catch a pass this season is true freshman Noah Fant, who has one catch for two yards. Woof. Pekar could see some targets now too in order to keep defenses honest and not let them zone in on Kittle play-in and play-out, although if the Hawkeyes are going to throw the ball to tight ends, Fant’s tape makes me a bit more confident in his pass catching abilities. Junior tight end Jon Wisnieski is also back from an injury, although he’s only played against ISU this season.
All-in-all, the running backs are going to need to step up this season even more than they needed to before, while CJB is definitely going to need to develop a rapport with his young wide receivers. There is a lot of talent on this year’s team, but the main problem is that this talent hasn’t been developed and integrated into the actual game plan. Maybe this Matt VandeBerg injury could prove to be a good thing, as we’ll now see who belongs and who doesn’t, and we can finally stop saying that this team lacks playmakers. Next MandeBerg up, who’s going to step in and earn the scholarship?