Hawkeyes seeking a cure to the red-zone blues

Andrew Logue
Jake Rudock (15) directs the Iowa offense during a practice session at Kinnick Stadium   on Saturday. The junior quarterback accounted for five of the Hawkeyes' 17 rushing scores in the red zone last season.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The more Macon Plewa talks, the more his eyes light up.

Plewa, a junior fullback, is discussing red zone offenses and what it will take for Iowa's football team to be successful in those situations.

"You've got to have the fundamentals down there, but it's (also) attitude," he said. "You've got to believe in yourself.

"You've got to believe you can beat the guy across from you, and as a unit, everyone is going to do their job."

Last season's results left room for doubt.

Iowa ranked 11th out of 12 Big Ten teams when it came to scoring from inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

The Hawkeyes converted 75.5 percent of their chances (40 of 53), but only scored touchdowns 50.9 percent of the time (27 of 53).

"We know when we get down there, we've got to convert," Plewa said. "We got in some big games last year where we failed.

"We thought if we did (score), we could maybe win those games."

Iowa boasts most of the ingredients needed near the goal line, including a powerful offensive line and a versatile corps of running backs.

It also helps to have a nimble quarterback such as Jake Rudock, who accounted for five of the Hawkeyes' 17 rushing touchdowns in the red zone.

"When we get on the 1-yard line, my role is a lot more minor," Rudock said. "It's important to secure the snap, secure the handoff and secure the throw.

"But it's really those guys up front."

Another key contributor was 6-foot-7 tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who is now a member of the NFL's Houston Texans.

Fiedorowicz caught six of Iowa's 10 touchdown passes in the red zone.

"We know losing C.J. is a big void," junior tight end Henry Krieger-Coble said. "All of us are working as hard as we can to do the best we can to fill that hole."

Iowa's short-yardage packages suffered a blow last week when fullback Adam Cox, a projected starter, was lost for the season with an ACL injury.

"We've had some ups and downs this week," said Plewa, who grew up in Franklin, Wis., "but I think we're definitely starting to come together.

"We're finally starting to play as a team."

Plewa looked capable during Saturday's public scrimmage, blasting into defenders as LeShun Daniels Jr. burrowed into the end zone.

"That's prime-time fullback, right there," Plewa said with a grin. "Hopefully, the running back is right behind you and you can plow a way for them.

"That's just as good as running it in yourself."

If nothing else, experience should help.

The Hawkeyes have eight starters back on offense, and others have a been-there-done-that mentality.

"When you're down there, things move faster," Krieger-Coble said. "It gets a lot harder to maybe see your assignment or do you job.

"It's something where you have to dig down a little deeper."

Iowa's hopes of contending for the Big Ten's West Division title could hinge on reaching pay dirt more consistently.

The Hawkeyes were 4-0 last season when converting on at least four red zone chances in a game, going a combined 18 for 21 against Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa State and Missouri State.

They posted a 4-5 record when scoring on three or fewer opportunities, going a combined 22 of 32.

"We're focusing on being in the red zone and being able to convert in those tough situations," Plewa said. "We have some guys who are stepping up, and as a unit we're stepping up."