TUCSON AZ - SEPTEMBER 18: Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes watches from the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 18 2010 in Tucson Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 34-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
This week, we turn our attention to perennial Penn State nemesis, Iowa. The usually stout Hawkeye defense had several lapses, as did the offense, and those lapses turned what might have been a chance at a BCS bowl into a disappointing season. Heading into this season, Iowa needs to improve its pass defense to return to the upper echelon of B1G teams.
2011 Recap: Kirk Ferentz’ crew finished a disappointing 7-6, with a 31-14 loss to #19 Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl. One of Iowa’s losses was a 13-3 loss to Penn State in Happy Valley. Iowa’s season, while showing some promise, was done in by poor pass rush from the D-Line, poor play in the defensive backfield and inconsistent offensive performance. However, Iowa also lost two nailbiters to Iowa State (in 3OT) and Minnesota.
Statistically, Iowa had some decent performances in 2011. QB James Vandenberg , for example, was fourth in the B1G in passing per game (237.2). Meanwhile, RB Marcus Coker (1,384) was second in the B1G in rushing, behind only Montee Ball. Despite the decent seasons turned in by Coker and Vandenberg, Iowa was done in by key breakdowns, offensively and defensively, at key times which cost them two wins and a possible spot in the B1G title game.
Jaleel Johnson-DT-6’2”, 277 lbs., Lombard, Il. Jaleel Johnson is a mean, nasty, large individual who has the potential to dominate along the defensive line for Iowa in the future. Playing both ways in high school, Johnson repeatedly found himself playing on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, whether it was putting a quarterback on the ground or clearing a path for his team’s ball carrier. While the physical tools are there, Johnson’s technique still needs some work, as he does not display any of the moves he’ll need to become an elite interior pass rusher. However, if he chooses to work at it, Johnson has the physical tools and temperament to be a dominating force on the defensive line.
Greg Garmon-ATH-6’1”, 200 lbs., Erie, PA. Garmon is lightning quick, running a 4.4 40. Garmon played on both sides of the ball, playing in the defensive backfield, running back and was split out wide on passing downs. Currently, he is listed as running back and, if that’s the case, Garmon has the height and build to put on another 20 lbs. of muscle, in order to become an elite B1G runner, as he demonstrated playmaking ability. However, Garmon also takes too many chances with the football when running from he backfield. When running a sweep, he will often turn around, run 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage and attempt to turn the ball back up field (think Barry Sanders). However, Garmon must learn to take what is there on this level, lest he put his team in an insurmountable hole. While listed as a running back, given his size and the Hawkeyes’ needs in the secondary, it would not surprise if Garmon ended up playing corner back, as he has the size, speed and coverage ability to handle the better receivers in the B1G.
Faith Ekakite-DL-6’2”, 255 lbs., Lake Forest, Il. Ekakite was a two-way player in high school, playing OT and DE. He projects as a defensive end in college. While his listed 40 time is only 5.2, Ekakite is one of those players who looks quicker on film than his time would suggest. Ekakite, like Jaleel Johnson, spent a good deal of his high school career on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. The difference, and what puts Ekakite ahead of Johnson at this point is Ekakite’s technique. For a high school player, Ekakite utilizes his hands effectively to shed blockers and has shown the ability to go around or through blockers in route to the quarterback. Assuming Ekakite continues to improve, it seems likely that Coaches O’Brien and McWhorter will have to game plan for this young man for the next four years.
Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class represents a fairly balanced approach, with 12 players on offense, 10 players on defense, a kicker and two athletes. However, two of the three highest ranked players addressed deficiencies which surfaced last season, namely the pass rush. In addition, should Iowa choose to utilize Garmon’s length in the defensive backfield, it would address yet another of last year’s deficiencies. Nevertheless, Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class is comprised mostly of three star athletes, which tends to indicate that Iowa will, in the future, be what they always seem to be: a good team that, with a few breaks, could contend for a B1G championship game. Overall grade: B