Hawkeyes come out of off week with lots of questions

Andrew Logue
Defenders like Nate Meier (34) will try to slow down Indiana running back Tevin Coleman

Losing is aggravating.

What's happening with the Iowa football team is alarming.

The Hawkeyes, who took a 5-2 record into their off weekend, have lost their way. With five games remaining – including this Saturday's return against Northwestern – Iowa lacks direction on offense, looks vulnerable on defense and seems completely confused on special teams.

"We just need to execute and be more consistent out there," running back Mark Weisman said. "We know what our identity is, we've just got to execute it."

Statistics leave you wondering who and what the Hawkeyes have become:

-- Iowa ranks 11th out of 14 Big Ten teams in rushing offense, once a point of pride under coach Kirk Ferentz, with 146.3 yards per game.

No tailback has run for more than 100 yards in any of the past 10 games (dating to Jordan Canzeri's 165-yard performance last November at Purdue).

-- The defense allowed a total of 518 rushing yards the past two weeks (at a clip of 6.1 yards per carry) after giving up 1,669 yards on the ground all last season (3.6 per carry).

"That's unacceptable," defensive tackle Carl Davis said after a 38-31 loss to Maryland. "We don't do that, especially two weeks in a row. We really need to put an end to this."

-- Special teams have been spotty.

Marshall Koehn settled in as place kicker after struggling early (hitting seven of 10 field-goal tries), but the punting job is now a tag-team operation, with Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd sharing those duties.

Punt returning appears to be a necessary evil, with Iowa last in the Big Ten at 4.6 yards per attempt.

As if that's not bad enough, the normally disciplined Hawkeyes were called for a season-high seven penalties at Maryland.

"That's definitely not us," Weisman said. "That's not how we play. We stay ahead of the chains, don't give them free first downs. It's inexcusable."

The schedule becomes more difficult moving forward – Iowa's five opponents entered the weekend with a combined record of 22-12 – and Ferentz faces tough questions.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis was hired in 2012 to diversify the offense, but something was lost in transition.

The Hawkeyes are stuck in the middle of a Big Ten pack when it comes to throwing the ball (242.4 yards a game), and in three seasons under Davis no quarterback has looked completely comfortable.

The offensive line anchored by left tackle Brandon Scherff, a projected first-round pick in next spring's NFL Draft, struggles to protect the passer.

Receivers don't get open downfield and have a habit of dropping catchable passes. Weisman has 2,216 career rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, but coaches have expressed concerns about over-using him.

"It hurts right now," Weisman said after rushing for 78 yards on 10 carries against Maryland. "It's always tough to lose."

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker inherited a unit known for bending but not breaking. Now it's getting punctured.

The secondary was expected to be hit and miss and the linebacking corps lacked experience. But Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat anchor what should be a stout interior and defensive end Drew Ott is emerging as an all-Big Ten candidate. So why are the Hawkeyes getting pushed around?

"We've got to be more physical up front," Davis said. "We've got to get off blocks and everybody has to be running to the ball."

The real answer may be even simpler: In order for the Hawkeyes to rebound and reach lofty expectations, everybody needs to get on the same page.