Iowa takeaways: 'A lot of good things' on offense, good problems on defense
IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’ll be a consistent theme, perhaps weekly, this football season: How is Brian Ferentz’s first Hawkeye offense coming along?
Consider the boss — Brian’s dad — pleased through Week 1.
“A lot of good things, certainly. I can't remember a game there wasn't a call you would like to have back or things you wouldn't do differently, that type of thing,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “I'm sure he feels the same way. I thought he did a good job. It wasn't exactly a smooth road for him. ... We never plan turnovers, and that obviously affects your thinking.”
The Hawkeyes coughed up four turnovers — including three lost fumbles, which exceeded the 2016 team’s total of two in 13 games — in a 24-3 win against Wyoming.
Iowa gained just 40 yards in the first quarter on four possessions, then spent most of the fourth quarter milking the clock with a run-heavy play-calling diet.
“The flow of the game certainly affected our play-calling in the second half,” Ferentz said.
So, it seems like a lot was kept off the table in the new offensive coordinator’s 56-play, 263-yard debut.
“We’re trying to see what works, trying to mix and match stuff,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Coach Brian Ferentz has a great offensive mind. We’re just trying to incorporate a lot of stuff he’s learned (in four years on staff with the New England) Patriots, and obviously from his dad.”
Starters now backups
Two of last year’s starters in the trenches are adjusting to new roles as backups.
Junior Matt Nelson has moved from a first-team defensive end to a reserve role at tackle. And senior Boone Myers, who has started 22 games on Iowa’s offensive line, now finds himself sharing time.
Nelson was asked Tuesday if he considers himself a full-time tackle now.
“I think I’m a defensive lineman. I can play either,” he said. “I try to keep fresh with the stuff the ends do as well as the tackles. So if my number’s called to say, ‘Hey, go in to end,’ I can just do it without a hitch.”
The biggest adjustment for Nelson, at 6-foot-8, has been learning to keep his pad level low enough to get leverage on the shorter blockers he’s encountering. Senior defensive tackle Nathan Bazata is helping him with that.
“Bazata sometimes says if they end up getting you a little too high, get down and make a pile,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to do what you can to not get blown off the ball.”
Myers was in line to start at left tackle has been hobbled a bit by injury. Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson took over that spot, with Myers listed as his backup. In Saturday’s win over Wyoming, Myers took five series at left guard behind starter Ross Reynolds’ eight.
Kirk Ferentz didn’t say that Jackson has taken the job from Myers.
“We'll play Boone at guard and tackle,” Ferentz said. “As long as Boone can go, he's still a really good football player in our mind.”
Brincks in the plans
Speaking of the defensive line, you may have noticed a new regular in the robust eight-man rotation.
Junior Sam Brincks participated in 30 of Wyoming’s 70 offensive snaps as a backup left defensive end. It’s notable that a walk-on from Carroll has moved ahead of impressive-looking redshirt freshmen Chauncey Golston and Brandon Simon.
“I always feel like I’m trying to improve and get better. As you develop as a player in the weight room, you develop on the field as well,” said Brincks, who carries a 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame. “I was just happy to get out there. I want to contribute more and more.”
Brincks’ emergence means he’ll be in the plans this week at Iowa State.
One of the toughest tasks he sees is holding the edge against impressive Cyclone running back David Montgomery (5-11, 219), who rushed for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in Week 1 against Northern Iowa.
“He seems like he has a low center of gravity. Looks like he has good balance,” Brincks said. “Runs low, runs kind of mean, I guess. We’ll have to swarm to him, get to the ball.”
It’s not often that a starting lineup gets healthier from Week 1 to Week 2, but that seems to be the case for Iowa.
Ferentz said center James Daniels, who missed the Wyoming game with an unspecified injury, “had a good day” at Tuesday’s practice. He is on track to play Saturday.
And then there’s the return of cornerback Manny Rugamba, who was suspended in Week 1 for violating team policy. Rugamba is considered the team’s top corner, but the sophomore now has more experienced company. Josh Jackson (in his second career start) and Michael Ojemudia (in his first) were outstanding Saturday as Iowa held Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen to a pedestrian performance.
“I think Ojemudia did pretty well last game. I don’t know if there’s going to be a huge change with (Rugamba’s return),” linebacker Josey Jewell said. “Anybody we put out there right now in our two-deep is pretty good.”
Jackson first emerged in spot duty two years ago in Ames while covering Cyclone standout Allen Lazard.
Now, he goes back in a bigger role against Lazard (6-5, 222) and fellow tall receiver Hakeem Butler (6-6, 219).
“You have to play physical, get in their face, try to get your hands on (them),” Jackson said. “I’m going to try to use my size as well. I’m 6-2. I’ll try to make that a little edge.”
Akrum Wadley’s first kickoff return as a Hawkeye was his only one in the opener vs. Wyoming. It went for 30 yards.
“It was decent,” he muttered Tuesday.
“I had one guy to miss,” he said. “When you watch it on film. I just wish I had that back. … But there’s plenty more opportunities.”
A fun guy to interview, Wadley said it was his first kick return since high school. He was asked if he ran his last one back for a touchdown. He couldn’t remember.
But he answered anyway.
“I know I was taking everything back in high school,” he recalled. “So it probably was.”
Hawk Central's Mark Emmert contributed to this report.