By Tory Brecht
As far as home openers go, Iowa’s relentless and workmanlike choke out of a pretty game Wyoming squad was solidly satisfying.
Super exciting plays were in short supply, but anytime you can overcome four turnovers and cruise to a comfortable 21-point victory, you’re doing something right.
I also think if Coach Kirk Ferentz could draw up his ideal opening game, this one would be pretty close to perfection. As I’ve noted before, I think Ferentz views out-of-conference games as analogous to NFL pre-season games and really stresses the “learning” aspect.
On Saturday, there were plenty of lessons to be learned and mistakes to clean up, but the Hawkeyes still managed to physically dominate their opponent on both sides of the line-of-scrimmage for much of the game.
The biggest lesson will certainly be Nathan Stanley and ball security. As Coach Ferentz said in his remarks after the game, you could tell Stanley hadn’t been hit during fall practice and he found out pretty quickly the intensity of such hits is ramped up when you aren’t in the game during mop up time against an already beat up opponent. Of course the good news is this is an eminently teachable skill, and I’d much rather see Stanley get it out of his system in a win than, say, on the road in Ames.
As for the rest of the post Greg Davis offensive era debut, I think Brian Ferentz’s game calling was a shot of adrenaline for fans lulled into a stupor by two yard outs and off tackle dives. Sure, the Iowa offense will never resemble an air raid juggernaut under Ferentzian direction, but there were enough new wrinkles and enough downfield shots to intrigue. And that was with what is always a pretty vanilla game plan against an out-gunned foe early in the season.
If they clean up the miscues and continue to hit deeper passes while limiting drops, this offense can be more than serviceable. Akrum Wadley is going to continue to break off jaw-dropping runs where he leaves multiple defenders dazed and confused, James Butler is going to pound and wiggle for more yards and Stanley will just keep learning and improving. Mark me down as seriously optimistic.
And that defense. Wow. I really can’t remember the last time I couldn’t point to a handful of missed tackles or blown assignments off the top of my head. I thought all 11 defenders knew their assignments, moved to the ball with purpose and brought the boom when making clean tackles.
When Ferentz has a defense like this, watching his game theory approach to football is a thing of beauty. He knows his offense can just chip, chip away without taking risks and the defense can keep everything in front of them until a big play puts the opponent off schedule and then Iowa brings more pressure. It’s like watching a boa constrictor slowly asphyxiate its prey by tightening harder and harder. It may not be that aesthetically pleasing to all, but I find the brutal dominance quite enjoyable.
Speaking of brutal dominance, it’s Iowa State week again and while I’d enjoy to see dominance on par with last year’s 42-3 shellacking at Kinnick, I can’t in good faith predict that outcome.
That isn’t to say I think the Cyclones suddenly have a particularly good team, but I do think they’ve got some talent and built some identity since the early going of the 2016 season. I also know that Iowa all-too frequently has weird things happen to it in the Jack Trice Experimental Wind Tunnel at Ames.
These concerned caveats aside, if the Hawkeyes are going to hit the 8-4 record I predicted, they really can’t lose this game. The rest of the schedule is just too daunting.
I have faith that Brian Ferentz’s saltiness and pride is going to add some much-needed juice to the Iowa attitude going into this blood rivalry and Iowa’s size and strength on both lines will eventually grind the Cyclones down in a similar fashion to the way Wyoming was worn down.
This may be trite and cliché to say, but it’s undeniably true: if Iowa just holds on to the ball, this game is a win.
It is time for Iowa to string multiple wins over Iowa State together for a few years and to finally bump the elder Ferentz’s all-time record versus the Cyclones to over .500.
After all, this is the Hawkeye state.
Follow me on Twitter @ToryBrecht and @12Saturdays.