Hawkeye football mailbag: Have expectations changed after Iowa's 2-0 start?
More encouraged about the season because of the defense?
Or more worried about the season because of the offense?
That seems to be what Iowa football fans are talking about after their team is off a 2-0 start entering Saturday's 6:30 p.m. meeting with Northern Iowa. And that served as the backdrop of the many great questions we received at Wednesday’s Facebook Live chat at HawkCentral.com.
After two weeks, any alterations on your expectations for the season?
From what I see, I choose to be more encouraged at this point. I picked Iowa to finish 8-4; but I now believe 9-3 or better is more in play than 7-5 or worse.
The fact that Iowa has a dominant defensive line to date is an excellent sign. That’s not a position group you can re-invent in-season; either you have the horses, or you don’t. Iowa has the horses in Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson, Parker Hesse and A.J. Epenesa.
If I’m a coach and I know my defense can keep my team close in every game I play … what a great starting point.
The quarterback play, I think, will come. Nate Stanley may be pressing, as Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday, but he also showed in spots in 2017 that he’s got the arm and talent to do big things.
There was something Ferentz said after Saturday’s 13-3 win against Iowa State that sounded like a coach who knows something much better is coming.
“We'll keep swinging the bat (on offense), but it will come,” Ferentz said. “Guys are working hard, and we've got the right guys.”
We’ve got the right guys.
Remember that quote.
Other stuff that cropped up on Facebook Live …
TOPIC: How far can this defense carry the team, if the offense keeps struggling?
Too early to say. And let's not rush to crown the defense as dominant. Take away sack yardage, and Iowa's rush defense is still giving up almost 4.0 yards per carry.
That said, if the defense is as good as it's been most of the season and Iowa's offense continues to rank 113th in the country, the ceiling is eight wins.
TOPIC: Why does UNI always seem to give Iowa fits?
A valid question, considering Northern Iowa — which plays at the FCS level and has 63 scholarships to give (compared with 85 at the FBS level) — has lost by one (2009), 11 (2012) and eight (2014) points at Iowa in the past decade.
Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase had a great answer about this Tuesday, saying the Panthers are typically “a bunch of tough kids that are kind of like us. Tough, smart, physical guys that are going to go out and play hard.”
Nine of UNI’s 11 offensive starters are from Iowa; so are five defensive starters. You can bet many of these kids grew up dreaming of a chance to play for or against the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. And this is their chance.
Iowa is a 20-point favorite.
TOPIC: How long does Iowa play the starters on offense if the game isn't in doubt?
The question was referring to the first-teamers needing as many game reps as possible, given the struggles through the first two weeks.
My view: There should be no change in approach. Given the magnitude of next week’s home game with Wisconsin, Iowa keeping its best players healthy is paramount. Plus, if — and it’s a very big if — the Hawkeyes can build a three-touchdown lead, the fourth quarter would become a more valuable depth-building time period.
On offense, getting freshman backup quarterbacks Peyton Mansell and Spencer Petras a series or two apiece would be ideal. Perhaps athletic tight end Shaun Beyer can get some extended run. Maybe even plug in a high-upside play-maker such as Tyrone Tracy in there, to introduce him to the speed of the college game.
TOPIC: With the Wisconsin game in mind, how much is Brian Ferentz holding back?
No doubt, Iowa coaches spent time in the offseason studying ways to take down Wisconsin — the reigning king of (and favorite in) the Big Ten West. And although Iowa’s offensive coordinator has shown a wide variety of formations and personnel, the plays themselves have been pretty straightforward.
I’m guessing he’s got a better plan in mind for Wisconsin than he did for last year’s 38-14 loss in Madison. And I wouldn’t expect to see many new wrinkles against UNI ... unless things get surprisingly interesting Saturday night.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.