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August 17, 2013

Opponent Breakdown: Iowa

As the 2013 season approaches, BroncoBlitz.com will break down each opponent, in an order of what we feel will be the most anticipated games. We've determined that the 6th most anticipated matchup is WMU's third Big Ten game, with the University of Iowa.

Iowa Hawkeyes

2012 in review

4-8 overall (2-6 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

Iowa suffered through a down year by anyone's standards in 2012, finishing fifth in their division and only grabbing more conference wins than 0-8 Illinois.

They also had an interesting year against the MAC, going 1-1 in a pair of one point games. Even more strange is that the win came against MAC champion and Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois and the loss to middling Central Michigan.


For really the first time in his long tenure at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz may be starting to feel some heat. 100-74 over 14 years with the Hawkeyes, Ferentz's Hawkeyes have suffered a steady decline since their Orange Bowl winning team of 2009.

Hawkeye fans hope the team hit bottom last year with their 4-8 effort, and that's a believable thought considering the long list of close losses. Clearly Iowa was a couple of rungs below the top of the conference, but losses by three points or less to CMU, Iowa State, Purdue and Indiana and a 13-7 decision against Nebraska would suggest a team that also ran into some hard luck.

Ferentz had better hope so, because a similar effort this year could have some fans calling for the axe.

Passing Game

Key departures: QB James Vandenberg (57.3%, 2,249 yd, 7 TD/8 INT), WR Keenan Davis (571 yd, 1 TD)

Key returnees: WR Kevante Martin-Manley (571 yd, 2 TD), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (433 yd, 1 TD))

A highly inefficient machine last year, Iowa's passing game might experience addition via subtraction with the graduation of quarterback James Vandenberg. At least that's what Iowa fans are hoping for.

A sophomore and a junior, Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol, are in competition for the starting job, with Rudock perhaps the leader as last year's second team QB. Interestingly, Iowa was the only team in all of FBS football to have one quarterback take every snap, so there's no experience at this point.

The winner won't have a whole lot to work with at wide receiver, either, with Kevante Martin-Manley and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (legitimately an all-conference candidate) providing the top two targets and little to work with after that.

Iowa is working with running back Damon Bullock out wide to help remedy the situation, but the fact is that if this offense is going to move the ball it's going to be mostly on the ground.

Running Game

Key departures: C James Ferentz

Key returnees: RB Mark Weisman (815 yd, 5.1 ypc, 8 TD), RB Damon Bullock (513 yd, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), RT Brett Van Sloten

Options abound at running back. Mark Weisman has the size and power (6-foot, 236 pounds) to be an every-down back, but he shouldn't even need to with the depth the Hawkeyes bring back.

Bullock is likely to see snaps at running back even if he does work more in the slot, and don't forget about Jordan Canzeri, who made some impression as a true freshman, even starting a game before missing his sophomore year to injury.

They'll run behind an experienced and talented offensive line. Iowa always seems to do a fine job under Ferentz of having game-ready linemen to replace departed starters (and three of the five starters from last year do return).

Expect the Hawkeyes' 3.7 yards per carry and 123 yards per game to go substantially up in 2013.

Run Defense

A trio of returning senior starters at linebacker make this a formidable front seven. Along the defensive line, Louis Trinca-Pasat lends experience and size to the middle and huge Carl Davis, by all accounts, is ready to step in and fill a big role.

It's the linebackers that will be the heart and soul of the defense, though, led by one of the best in the Big Ten, James Morris. Morris racked up 113 tackles and nine for loss in 2012 en route to all-conference honors. OLB Anthony Hitchens actually led the team with 124 tackles, though, and Christian Kirksey added 95 on the other side and was notable for returning two interceptions for touchdowns.

With all the experience and talent returning at linebacker and defensive tackle, there is no reason this shouldn't be among the best overall areas on the entire team.

Pass Defense

Top cornerback Micah Hyde is gone. Two sophomores will compete for the starting job alongside returnee B.J. Lowery. Sean Draper may have the edge based simply on recency of experience-- he saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman while Jordan Lomax was in a similar spot as a true frosh in 2011 but missed last season with injury.

Whoever wins the job will have plenty of support between Lowery and the experienced safety tandem of Tanner Miller and Nico Law. Law is more of a question mark, but Miller lends huge support in the run game and has shown past ability as a ball-hawk with three picks in 2011.

The loss of Hyde from an occasionally shaky 2012 unit shouldn't be downplayed as a cause for concern. There's enough talent returning, though, at least in the secondary itself.

Don't forget about the pass rush, though, which needs to take a big step forward. Sacking the opposition only 13 times in 2012 is not doing the back end any favors, and unfortunately there aren't a whole lot of reasons for optimism on this front going forward.

Dominic Alvis returns for his senior year, and will have to improve on his three sacks as the de facto leader of this defensive line. Iowa is looking to Drew Ott and former linebacker Nate Meier to help out on passing downs, but they haven't proven anything yet.

Special Teams

Mike Meyer is a senior, an 80-plus percent kicker, and a very solid kickoff man (21 touchbacks in 51 attempts in 2012). Add that to solid coverage units and one of the best kickoff return men in the country in Jordan Cotton, and this is a strong, strong area.

Connor Kornbrath, while notable for being a 240 pound punter, was inconsistent last year averaging a sub-standard 37.9 yards per boot. That's the only real question mark here, and considering he is going into just his second year, that's not a bad situation to be in.

Overall Outlook

Most expect the Hawkeyes to take a step forward after last year's debacle. While that's probably fair, the size of the step is in question. This team's ceiling is probably around seven games, and that's if they can get past Northern Illinois in game one to get rolling (a big if).

The second half of the schedule is a killer. After six winnable games to start the year (though a couple are toss-ups at best), the Hawkeyes go to Ohio State, Purdue and Nebraska and host Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan. There's not a gimme to be found, and they may be favored in one.

So the Hawkeyes had better make hay early. One of those early games is Week Four's tilt with Western Michigan. The opener against NIU will tell us a lot about WMU's chances, but remember that this is a team that dropped what should have been a win against an average CMU team a year ago. It's hard to feel great about the Broncos' chances, but it's equally hard to discount them altogether.

Bold Prediction

It's way too early to even begin to predict specific results for games, but BroncoBlitz.com will, almost as ridiculously, predict certain events in each game this fall.

With Western Michigan coming into this one at 1-2, P.J. Fleck will pull out all the stops at Kinnick Stadium to pick up a signature win in year one. This isn't to say the Broncos will necessarily pull it off, but expect multiple trick plays and gadget formations from Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca.

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