Who are the 2017 Iowa Hawkeyes?
Three games into the season the Black and Gold are 3-0. None of those three wins, however, have inspired all that much confidence.
Are they the team that’s been majorly suspect in pass coverage? Are they the team that’s allowing just 10.3 points per game in the second half and overtime (with two shutouts) while scoring 20.3 points of their own in the same span?
Are they the team that has 19 penalties through three games — a mark that is tied for fourth in the conference? Maybe they’re the team that’s first in the Big Ten with six fourth-down conversions and also owns the third best third-down conversion rate (47.83%).
They certainly could be the team that ranks in the middle of the pack in offense per game. There’s also an outside shot they could have the most breakout players this season of any Iowa team in recent memory. Nick Easley. A.J. Epenesa. Josh Jackson. Nate Stanley. Noah Fant. T.J. Hockenson. Miguel Recinos. Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Heck, you can even add Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin in there too after a fantastic display in relief against the Mean Green.
Maybe this is a season that’s building towards something great. Maybe it’s going to be an injury-riddled nightmare.
With the non-conference slate out of the way and arguably the best team in the conference coming to Kinnick this week, I think it’s fair to start to wonder just what exactly Iowa is.
There’s things to like, and they were on display against North Texas on Saturday. Brian Ferentz is thinking outside the box, and it seems Kirk is letting him do a lot of different stuff. Nothing really crazy, but it seems there’s far more motion in the offense this year and the ball is being spread around better than I’ve seen it spread in a long time.
There’s still the traditional stuff, of course. Iowa’s linebackers and run defense have (mostly) been above-average. The Hawkeyes obviously still use the power run game, something that helped Iowa put to bed an upset-minded crew from Denton, Texas.
Special teams have again been good, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Recinos has been one of the best kickers in the conference in this young season. Iowa blocked a field goal, something which was very good to see.
But yet... there’s still a little nervousness. It’s taken most of a game to put away two Group of 5 teams that have gone — including this year — 18-39 over the past three seasons.
An Iowa State team in the midst of yet another rebuild opened up a 10-point lead on the Hawkeyes and nearly took them out in overtime.
It seems like once you almost get a handle on what this team is, something shifts. The inexcusably-called penalty on Akrum Wadley. The weird end zone fumble. An AWFUL roughing the passer call on Epenesa. Without a doubt, this was a weird game and there have been a lot of... odd moments so far this year.
That said, everything is still on the table. The West Division title, for example. Nebraska sucks, Northwestern doesn’t look as good as we thought and while Purdue looks pretty damn special through three games...they’re still Purdue.
Wisconsin is good, of course, but they don’t look unbeatable. Minnesota seems middle-of-the-road. This is almost certainly an Iowa team that’s going bowling. The Hawkeyes are 3-0 for the seventh time under Ferentz and the others — 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2015 — aren’t exactly a bad group to be thrown in with.
Feel free to disagree, but I don’t think any of those teams exactly compare with this years Iowa squad though it’s still not something to completely ignore.
So where does that leave us right now?
Well, AIRBHG has made a return.
Hi— AIRBHG (@Real_AIRBHG) September 16, 2017
Though, perhaps, its powers have been slightly diminished in the deities lengthy disappearance.
From Kirk, in the postgame presser:
Akrum tried to walk out without an ice bag, so sent him back in for that, but it doesn't look like anything serious. He just didn't feel real confident in that second half. James, we'll have to see. I don't think it's anything overly -- I will probably know more Tuesday but I'm not overly concerned, but hopefully he will be okay.
So, there’s a positive or at least a bit of relief — the injury to James Butler looked especially nasty — as Iowa really can’t afford to lose two of their most consistent playmakers.
Nate Stanley had his second good game in a row, finishing 16-27 for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was sacked once (just the fourth time all season, a serious and underrated positive) and hurried four times.
Iowa rushed for 238 yards, the most — by 74 yards — they’ve gained in a game this year. That came on 59 totes: 19-81 from Young, 11-74 from Kelly-Martin, 16-77 from Butler, 8-26 from Wadley, 1-0 from Smith-Marsette and 2-5 from Stanley. Iowa also kneeled twice.
The turning point of this game, really, was this fant-astic playcall and throw on 4th-and-5 early in the middle of the third quarter.
That was the end of a 14 play, 76-yard drive that really took the wind out of North Texas’ sails.
Iowa followed that up with a 16-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that took 8:50 off the clock on its next offensive possession. It was capped with Kelly-Martin’s first collegiate touchdown and the game was basically over once he crossed the goal line.
The season, however, is just beginning. Shit is about to get very, very real over the next week. Penn State comes to Iowa City to play under the lights. I’m not going to talk much about what the Nittany Lions did to Iowa in 2012 because I saw that in person and it was horrific.
This seems — maybe — like a more well-rounded Iowa team than last year, but like I started this piece with, we still don’t know exactly what this team is.
I believe we’re about to find out.