CLOSE

Chad Leistikow and Danny Lawhon recap the Penn State loss and talk about what it means for the Hawkeye's Big 10 future. Brian Powers, bpowers@dmreg.com

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Well, the Penn State showdown obviously could have gone more according to plan. Of course, virtually nothing about that game went to script. 

But the good news regarding the latest draft of the 2018 Iowa football story is that the Big Ten West remains firmly there for the taking. If the Hawkeyes can win out and reach 10-2, there's ample room for a less-than-impressive Wisconsin to throw in one final slip-up.

Very little of this talk will matter, though, if Iowa fails to take care of business the rest of the way, starting with Saturday's 2:30 p.m., ESPN2-televised game against Purdue.

Let's take a look at the projected Iowa starters for this one ...

OFFENSE

Quarterback: No. 4, Nate Stanley (6-foot-4, 242 pounds, junior) — Insert stomach-churning noise. You could blame the Maryland game struggles on the wind, but last Saturday's 18-for-49 train wreck sends doubt creeping in. Plus, there's that injured thumb, so good luck guessing what kind of Stanley you'll get this weekend, assuming you get him at all.

CLOSE

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley explains what he learned from the loss at Penn State. Listen in: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Running back: No. 21, Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, sophomore) This position is becoming a committee, ride-the-hot-hand approach. Despite Kelly-Martin's designation here, one has to think that Mekhi Sargent (16 carries, 91 yards) earned a bigger slice of the pie with his inspired effort last week.

Fullback: No. 46, Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, senior)  In some of the time since Brady Ross' injury, Kelly has been on the field for a couple of career-high rushing performances — there was Sargent's last week to go with Kelly-Martin's from the week before against Maryland (98 yards).

Tight end: No. 87, Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.) — Wait, who's this guy? It's apparent the Iowa offense had forgotten, as well. I don't know how much I buy the whole "it didn't fit our formations and reads" concept with the junior. He's a great player. Find him more ways to be involved. It sure wasn't a problem in the fourth quarter last week (five catches, 56 yards).

CLOSE

Junior tight end Noah Fant discusses Nate Stanley's health after Penn State, plus his own usage. Fant had no first-half targets in Happy Valley. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Tight end: No. 38, T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, Soph.)  All the while, Hockenson powered on with another 63 yards receiving to lead the team against Penn State, and if Stanley could have hit him wide-open in the second quarter, who knows what kind of atmosphere we're talking about, with the Hawkeyes likely riding to 7-1? Even though he didn't make that reviewed catch in the final minute, the effort and that crazy-dirty jersey should be an endearing image to Iowa fans, all the same.

Split end: No. 12, Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.)  Smith had a solid game last week, with four catches and 42 yards, but it was a day of "almosts" for the developing receiver, as Stanley missed him on short routes early and late.

Wide receiver: No. 84, Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.)  Was limited to slot action given Penn State's defensive scheme. Still found a way to haul in four passes in spite of the off day from the quarterback.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Left tackle: No. 77, Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Soph.) — We were talking about the spate of career rushing days for the Iowa backs. That run extends back to the Indiana game as well, when Toren Young rushed for his all-time best of 96 yards. Someone needs to crack the century mark, though.

Left guard: No. 59, Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, Sr.)  Reynolds was one of several guys in the right place at the right time for the Hawkeyes. The offense had three fumbles, but recovered them all, including Reynolds' scoop on a mishandled snap between Stanley and center Keegan Render.

Center: No. 69, Keegan Render (6-4, 307, Sr.)  Stunts, blitzes, traditional rushes — you name it, and Iowa's offensive struggled with it in keeping Stanley from feeling like he was under fire in the pocket last week. It was the first real sign of prolonged struggle for the unit this season.

Right guard: No. 76, Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.)  The much-ballyhooed low sack total (I keep mentioning it, so it's just as much my fault) ballooned by 50 percent form six to nine after last week.

Right tackle: No. 74, Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.)  There could have been a fourth Penn State sack to end the game last week, but Stanley pitched the ball to Wirfs, who lumbered for a 15-yard gain to close the afternoon. There's a caveat to that noteworthy play, however: Wirfs was able to receive the pitch because he let his man by. Whoops.

CLOSE

Tristan Wirfs: 'I hate getting Nate hit because he's trying to make plays for us' Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

DEFENSE

Left end: No. 98, Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.)  Penn State put up 30 points, but Iowa's defense played well in stretches. That effort might start with Nelson, who compiled 1.5 sacks on the afternoon and now has surpassed A.J. Epenesa with 6.5 on the season.

Left tackle: No. 90, Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.)  That fake field goal over-the-shoulder catch was a thing a beauty. It's a shame it wasn't in a win because you could run that play back 100 times and not get sick of it.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Right tackle: No. 96, Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, Sr.) This week's "The Other Nelson," all he did was tie for the team lead with six stops, which is always a good side when that figure comes from someone who plays at the line of scrimmage.

Right end: No. 40, Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, Sr.)  Hesse moved back into a tie with position-mate Epenesa with a tackle for loss at Beaver Stadium. He now has eight on the year.

Outside linebacker: No. 49 Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, Soph.) — Amani Hooker got the start at this position for the fourth straight week. Niemann participated but did not register in the box score. He appears not to be at game speed yet following the leg injury last month.

Middle linebacker: No. 48, Jack Hockaday (6-1, 235, Sr.) or No. 34, Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr.)  Flip a coin and take your guess at what the real starting lineup at linebacker ends up being. The depth chart is split here because Welch sprained his foot last week against Penn State. But all signs are that he's going to play. Iowa has five different starting linebacker combinations through eight games.

Weak-side linebacker: No. 32, Djimon Colbert (6-1, 234, freshman)  To that end, though, Colbert has earned his keep, if the coaches' lineups are any indication. This shapes up to be Colbert's fifth consecutive week guarding the weak side.

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Left cornerback: No. 20, Julius Brents (6-2, 180, Fr.)  Matt Hankins' status has gone from up in the air to being grounded for a week following a suspension. The freshman will continue to learn on the job, although early returns have been promising.

Strong safety: No. 27, Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.)  For the past four weeks, Hooker has started at the outside linebacker spot, while this position has gone to Geno Stone. And all Stone did was gather up a quartet of tackles to go with a pick-six.

Free safety: No. 30, Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.)  Gervase and Hooker have been the two stalwarts in terms of secondary durability. They're the only two guys beyond the front four to have started each game this season.

CLOSE

Iowa safety Jake Gervase explains how the team is bouncing back from the 30-24 loss at Penn State, in context with Big Ten West title hopes. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Right cornerback: No. 33, Riley Moss (6-0, 185, Fr.) D.J. Johnson and Josh Turner are waiting in the wings for depth, but this position looks like Moss' for the time being. There are struggles, but there are blips of growth, too. Five tackles last week wasn't exactly a sign of being picked on, as has been the case in previous Big Ten games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: No. 91, Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.)  Recinos was his usual, reliable self last week, making a couple of field goals in sloppy conditions. The 49-yarder was a boomer, and could have been good from 55.

Punter: No. 7, Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.)  Not the best week for Rastetter, with a long of just 41 yards on seven kicks. But hey, there was that beauty of a pass on the fake field goal.

Kickoff returns: No. 6, Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.)  He almost broke one in the second half when Iowa needed a little momentum. He averaged 34.3 yards return, including that 49-yard scamper.

Punt returns: No. 14, Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.) Short of returning a kick for a touchdown, Groeneweg couldn't have done anything more helpful than what Penn State's own special teams did for the Hawkeyes: one blocked punt, one bad snap, two safeties.

CLOSE

Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said he hopes his junior quarterback will start Saturday at Purdue, then makes an excellent baseball analogy. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

PURDUE PROJECTED STARTERS

OFFENSE

Quarterback: No. 11, David Blough (6-1, 205, Sr.)

Running back: No. 1, D.J. Knox (5-7, 210, Sr.)

Wide receiver: No. 4, Rondale Moore (5-9, 175, Fr.)

Wide receiver: No. 12, Jared Sparks (6-1, 210, Soph.) OR No. 9, Terry Wright (5-11, 180, Sr.)

Wide receiver: No. 7, Isaac Zico (6-1, 200, Sr.) OR No. 80, Jarrett Burgess (6-3, 215, Sr.)

Tight end: No. 88, Cole Herdman (6-4, 245, Sr.) OR No. 89, Bryce Hopkins (6-5, 245, Jr.)

Left tackle: No. 78, Grant Hermanns (6-7, 290, Soph.)

Left guard: No. 75, Shane Evans (6-4, 310, Sr.)

Center: No. 53, Kick Barron (6-2, 300, Sr.)

Right guard: No. 64, Dennis Edwards (6-1, 305, Sr.)

Right tackle: No. 78, Matt McCann (6-6, 300, Jr.)

DEFENSE

Defensive end: No. 92, Giovanni Reviere (6-5, 270, Fr.)

Defensive end: No. 98, Kai Higgins (6-4, 255, Jr.)

Defensive tackle: No. 9, Lorenzo Neal (6-3, 31,5 Jr.)

Defensive tackle: No. 44, Anthony Watts (6-4, 295, Soph.)

Linebacker: No. 21, Markus Bailey (6-1, 240, Jr.)

Linebacker: No. 46, Cornel Jones (6-2, 240, Soph.) OR No. 55, Derrick Barnes (6-1, 240, Soph.)

Linebacker: No.55, Derrick Barnes (6-1, 240, Soph.)

Cornerback: No. 14, Antonio Balckmon (6-0, 195, Sr.)

Cornerback: No. 2, Kenneth Major (6-0, 195, Fr.)

Free safety: No. 27, Navon Mosley (6-0, 195, Jr.)

Strong safety: No. 41, Jacob Thieneman (6-1, 215, Sr.)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: No. 13, Spencer Evans (6-1, 200, Sr.)

Punter: No. 31, Joe Schopper (6-0, 205, Sr.)

Kickoff and punt returns: No. 4, Rondale Moore (5-9, 175, Fr.)

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE