5 questions Hawkeyes hope to answer vs. Ball State
IOWA CITY, Ia. – On a scale of one to 10, Saturday's Iowa-Ball State football game doesn't rate very high.
That's because you're only looking at the surface.
To find the real beauty of this 2:30 p.m. matchup televised on ESPN2, you have to cut through perceptions and appreciate the inner intrigue.
First off, this is not the same Ball State team that visited Kinnick Stadium in 2005 and 2010 — losing by a combined score of 101-0.
The Cardinals finished 10-3 in 2013 and have won 17 of their last 19 regular-season games.
Secondly, the Hawkeyes were far from flawless in last week's 31-23 win over Northern Iowa.
Saturday afternoon, we'll find out if it was a case of season-opening hiccups or an indigestible trend.
Keep an eye on these five questions for the Hawkeyes, who are 17½-point favorites:
Will the front five become a force?
The offensive line never really gained much traction against the Panthers, and right tackle Andrew Donnal was in no mood for excuses.
"Yeah, it's a season opener, but we have high expectations for our unit," Donnal said. "We're striving to be perfect. We know that's impossible, but we want to be as close to it as we possibly can."
If Donnal and company cannot impose their will against Ball State, it doesn't bode well for the final 10 games, all against power-conference schools.
"Us five have a good grasp on the things we need to do better," Donnal said, "We're going to practice this week to kind of clean that stuff up and hopefully perform better."
Can the play-calling be too creative?
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis used crafty play calling to help receiver Tevaun Smith, quarterback Jake Rudock and reserve tailback Jonathan Parker rush for a combined 73 yards on yards six attempts.
Meanwhile, the workhorses — Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and LeShun Daniels — muddled their way to just 81 yards on 28 carries.
"It's just us figuring out the plays we want to run against a certain team," Canzeri said. "We're not specifically thinking about, 'We need to find out who is the go-to guy.'
"We know everyone can contribute on the offense, and we want more weapons."
It's fun to watch the Hawkeyes put defenders on their heels. It'd be more reassuring to know they can run them over.
Still a matter of kick and miss?
Dillon Kidd made his debut as Iowa's punter last week, and his first attempt went a respectable 42 yards.
But he averaged just 34.3 yards on his next three kicks.
"He can punt better, he has punted better, and I think that'll come," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Guys have to practice well and they've got to perform well, and yet at the same time ... it's no good if they're looking over their shoulders."
Ferentz is absolutely correct, but it's easy to see why fans may wince.
Marshall Koehn also experienced mixed results as the place kicker, hitting a 40-yard field goal but missing wide from 37 yards.
Has the "Raider Package" served its purpose?
Remember last season when the Hawkeyes would sometimes have their defensive front stand upright in passing situations?
It was a novel and effective twist, but Northern Iowa was ready.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker took a more traditional approach after getting burned early. The good news is, Iowa may be able to get pressure on Ball State quarterback Ozzie Mann quarterback without tinkering.
Defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat and end Drew Ott combined for 2½ sacks vs. Northern Iowa.
A little help, please?
Senior linebacker Quinton Alston was left on an island whenever Panthers tailback David Johnson broke up field, but the entire back seven was exposed.
A couple communication breakdowns may have been expected — especially since Iowa is replacing all three linebackers from a year ago — but everybody should be following the same script when Ball State drops back to throw.
"It's stuff that's easily correctable," Alston said. "When you look back at the film, there's a lot of bad things.
"But there's a lot of good things."