Brown: 'Whatever it takes' defines this 2015 Iowa football team
EVANSTON, Ill. – I asked Sean Welsh if he’s a guard or a tackle now.
“Whatever it takes,” he said.
And there you have Iowa football, 2015. Ranked 17th nationally, about to go higher and wrapped in a “Next Man In” 7-0 package.
The sophomore moved from offensive left guard to right tackle for Saturday’s 40-10 crushing of No. 20 Northwestern at Ryan Field. No big deal, said Welsh, who missed spring practice for personal reasons, but has returned to be a big part of this feel-good season.
“We’ve got injuries everywhere,” Welsh said. “Once your number is called, you have to go out there. And it’s just as simple as doing your job. It’s not a complicated deal.”
A season that started with little expectation outside the Iowa locker room is now getting national attention. Iowa is 3-0 in the Big Ten's West Division, and clearly in the driver’s seat, after clubbing the Wildcats by a 24-0 margin the second half. Two Big Ten road games against ranked foes. Two victories.
“How good we are, I have no idea right now,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But I do know this. This team plays extremely hard, and they’ve got a lot of guts.”
It starts with quarterback C.J. Beathard, who saw limited practice time all week because of injuries, but answered the bell.
“Talk about resiliency,” Ferentz said. “He embodies every bit of that.”
On Saturday, Beathard became the first Iowa quarterback to ever win his first eight starts. And he could care less about history.
“We’re 7-0 with this team,” Beathard said. “That’s what I’m excited about.”
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Defensive end Drew Ott is done for the year. Starting offensive tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers couldn’t play, the reason for the Welsh shuffle. Running back LeShun Daniels hasn’t been able to go at full speed since the second game.
And then Saturday, running back Jordan Canzeri injured his left ankle in the first quarter and couldn’t return. The Canzeri who rushed for 256 yards last season.
Next man in? That would be running backs Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell. They’d combined for 15 carries for 87 yards entering play Saturday. Wadley tied a school record with four touchdowns and rushed for 204 yards on 26 carries. Mitchell had 10 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown.
“The biggest concern with both of those guys has been ball security,” Ferentz said. “They stepped up big. I think they got caught up in the wave with the rest of the team. We needed them badly.”
STATUS REPORT: Iowa wins physically, and on scoreboard
As the game went on, the reworked offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against a Northwestern defense that entered the game ninth nationally in total defense at 269.5 yards a game. Iowa finished with 492.
“Everyone knows what to do,” guard Jordan Walsh said. “I had no doubt Akrum would do what he did. Same with Sean at right tackle. They did a helluva job.”
And Iowa’s defensive line was equally impressive, dominating the line of scrimmage. Nate Meier, Nathan Bazata, Jaleel Johnson and Parker Hesse, Ott’s replacement, made it look like the men against the boys in the second half.
“During the course of a season, there are a lot of obstacles that get in the way,” Hesse said. “You’ve got to stay positive, and make the next play.”
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As Ferentz talked to reporters afterwards, he sounded like a proud father as much as a 60-year-old football coach who knows this team is something special.
“Needless to say, this is a really resilient bunch we’re coaching right now,” Ferentz said. “It seems like whatever we throw at them, whatever comes their way good, bad or indifferent, they seem to respond in a positive way.”
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.