Aug. 27, 2010
By Larry Watts
Faced with the toughest road schedule in the Big Ten, Iowa's Hawkeyes proved to be road warriors in 2009. The Hawkeyes claimed wins at Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State after taking a nonconference victory at Iowa State as they marched to a 6-2 record in the Big Ten (tie for second). The Hawks then sealed a 11-2 season with a convincing 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Along their trail to a 9-0 start, quarterback Ricky Stanzi led the Hawks to come from behind victories over Northern Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State. However, Stanzi sustained an ankle injury during a 17-10 loss to Northwestern and was on the sidelines the following week when his team bowed 27-24 at Ohio State in overtime.
Stanzi, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior, returns for his third season as a starter, where he has compiled an 18-4 record. Fifteen other starters join Stanzi as the home schedule heavily favors the Hawkeyes for another BCS bowl run under 12th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz (81-55 at Iowa).
OFFENSE: When Stanzi is on target, he is very good. He passed for 2,417 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009. However, the Hawkeye field general must improve on his consistency. He completed 56.2 percent of his passes with 15 interceptions last season. Fortunately, his top two targets, senior Darrell Johnson-Koulianos and junior Marvin McNutt, are both back in the fold. Johnson-Koulianos, a three-year starter, caught 45 balls for 750 yards last season and is now 30 receptions and 400 yards away from the top spot on Iowa's all-time receiving list. The 6-4, 215-pound McNutt, a converted quarterback, presents a huge target and took advantage of that to average 19.8 yards on his 34 receptions last year. Senior Colin Sandeman and sophomore Keenan Davis should also be in on the receiving end of several Stanzi passes. Senior Allen Reisner has earned the starting nod at tight end. With Jewel Hampton fully recovered from the ACL surgery that sidelined him last year, Iowa was expected to have three solid options at running back. However, sophomore Brandon Wegher (641 yards, 8 TDs) left fall camp early and his situation remains unclear. Sophomore Adam Robinson rushed for 834 yards (4.6 average) and five scores in 2009. Hampton rushed for 463 (5.1) and seven touchdowns as a true freshman in 2008. Senior fullback Brett Morse is back to clear the way in the running game. Iowa has sent five offensive linemen to the NFL in the past two seasons, so the Hawkeyes have a big rebuilding job with three new starters joining sophomore tackle Riley Reiff (6-6, 300) and senior guard Julian Vandervelde (6-3, 300), who has 24 career starts. Juniors Adam Gettis (6-4, 280) and Markus Zusevics (6-6, 295), who has gained 55 pounds since he was first recruited, are expected to hold down the right side at guard and tackle, respectively. Sophomore James Ferentz (6-2, 275) holds a slight edge over senior Josh Koeppel (6-2, 273) in a tight battle at center.
DEFENSE: With all four starters back, Iowa's front line rates as one of the fiercest in the nation and it will have to be since the Hawkeyes graduated two starting linebackers. Between them, defensive ends Adrian Clayborn (6-4, 285), a senior, and Broderick Binns (6-2, 261), a junior, combined with senior tackles Karl Klug (6-4, 270) and Christian Ballard (6-5, 297) to log 52 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 16 pass breakups and seven forced fumbles in 2009. With 11.5 sacks and 20 TFLs, Clayborn, who is on five national award watch lists, is the leader of this fearsome foursome. At weakside linebacker, senior Jeremiha Hunter, who as second on the team with 89 tackles last year, is the lone starter returning to the second tier of the defense. Special teams veterans Jeff Tarpinian, a senior, and Tyler Nielsen, a junior, will get the call in the middle and on the outside, respectively. Cornerback Amari Spievey passed on another year and headed off to the NFL, so sophomore Micah Hyde will replace him. However, the Hawkeyes are hardly at a loss in experience in the other three positions as junior Tyler Sash (six interceptions) returns for his third season at strong safety, senior free safety Brett Greenwood is a fourth-year starter and junior Shaun Prater is in his second season at the other corner.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Even though senior Daniel Murray tied for the Big Ten lead with 19 field goals, two shy of the Iowa record, last year, coach Ferentz was not happy with his consistency or that of sophomore Trent Mossbrucker coming out of the spring. Murray hit 19 of 26 attempts in 2009 while Mossbrucker took a redshirt season after connecting on 13 of 15 as a true freshman in 2008. Senior Ryan Donahue rated among the best of the Big Ten punter's last season with a 40.9-yard average and opponents only averaged 5.9 yards per return. Johnson-Koulianos was second in the conference with a 32.9 average on kickoff returns and should be back again along with Davis. Sandeman averaged 9.0 yards on punt returns in 2009.
MISCELLANEOUS: There is no shortage of national award candidates among the Hawkeyes. Clayborn tops the preseason watch lists with early recognition for the Lombardi, Nagurski, Bednarik, Camp and Hendricks awards. Joining Clayborn on the watch lists are Sash (Nagurski, Bednarik and Thorpe), Stanzi (Heisman, Maxwell), Murray (O'Brien and Groza), Binns (Lombardi), Klug (Outland) and Johnson-Koulianos (Biletnikoff). Both Hampton and Binns have drawn suspensions for alcohol-related incidents for the season opener with Eastern Illinois on Sept. 4. Don't bet against the Hawkeyes when a trophy is on the line. Under Ferentz, Iowa has won its last nine trophy games.