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2017 Big Ten football preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa’s Josey Jewell (43) tackles Wyoming’s Avante Cox during the 2017 season opener on Sep. 2. The Hawkeyes went on to defeat the Cowboys, 24-3. Credit: Courtesy of Ben Smith | The Daily Iowan

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

2016 record: 8-5 (6-3)

Head coach: Kirk Ferentz

Current record: 2-0

All time record vs. OSU: 14-46

What has happened thus far in 2017

The Hawkeyes outlasted in-state rival Iowa State, 44-41, in overtime in Week 2. In its season opener, Iowa’s defense stymied Wyoming’s offense, led by likely first-round pick Josh Allen, and the Hawkeyes won, 24-3.

Impact Player

While senior linebacker Josey Jewell is a menace, the Hawkeyes’ inexperience on offense places greater importance on running back Akrum Wadley. The senior rushed for 1,081 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, in 2016. Through two games, Wadley has 234 rushing yards and a touchdown. Wadley can be dynamic in space, which he showcased late against Iowa State when he turned a short catch out of the backfield into a 46-yard, game-tying touchdown, made possible by three broken tackles and a slick stutter-step.

Strengths

Because some things never change, Iowa’s running game will be sturdy behind an experienced offensive line and the legs of Wadley and James Butler, a graduate transfer from Nevada who owns back-to-back 1,300-plus rushing yard seasons. The O-line was dented in Week 2, with right tackle Ike Boettger lost for the year, but because the Hawkeyes often substitute linemen to keep players fresh and develop young talent, they should have enough depth to overcome Boettger’s injury.

Jewell, a preseason All-American, leads a defense that returns six of last year’s front seven. The Hawkeyes should be stout against the run and put pressure on opposing offensive lines. The reason they limited Wyoming’s Allen to 174 passing yards was because Allen had little time to throw.

Weaknesses

The Hawkeyes are inexperienced at quarterback, receiver and defensive back. Whether Iowa is a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten West or is its usual eight-win self comes down to the performance of those units. Sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley showed promise against Iowa State, throwing for 333 yards and five scores, but it’s a small sample size.  

Junior college transfer wideout Nick Easley has 11 catches so far, giving Iowa another target alongside senior receiver Matt Vandeberg, whose 2016 was cut short by a broken foot. Even so, the Hawkeyes lack a game-changing playmaker on the outside.

Safety Miles Taylor, a three-year starter, is the only returner in the secondary. Other players, like sophomore Manny Rugamba, have seen the field, but not consistently. If the secondary is at least average, the Hawkeye front seven is good enough to handle the rest.

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