Dr. Saturday

Debriefing: Not-so-great expectations play right into Hawkeyes’ hands

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

The least you should know about the 2011 Hawkeyes. Part of Big Ten Week.

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You just had to get our hopes up. 2010 got off to such a promising start. The Hawkeyes were 5-1 heading into a pivotal game against Wisconsin and ready to take the reins of the Big Ten. But the final half of the regular season wasn't nearly as rosy. The Hawkeyes lost to Wisconsin thanks to some fourth quarter flubs that turned a 30-24 Iowa lead with less than 9 minutes remaining into a 30-31 loss. The fourth quarter continued to plague Iowa. The Hawkeyes allowed 14 unanswered fourth quarter points to Northwestern, a late touchdown to Ohio State, and a shocking loss to Minnesota. Iowa turned a 7-2 season into a 7-5 disappointment heading into the bowl game.

Last year was "the year" for Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz. Unfortunately, it probably foreshadowed much of what fans will come to expect in 2011. With just nine returning starters and a lot of the long-time talent gone because of defections, illness and other issues, this could be a rocky season for the Hawkeyes as they look back on the year that got away.

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Air apparent. With Ricky Stanzi gone, James Vandenberg steps in as the team's primary signal caller. However, Vandenberg's short career inspires very little confidence.

Yes, he has a stronger arm than Stanzi, but early results indicate he doesn't always know how to harness that power. After redshirting in 2008, Vandenberg earned a little bit of playing time in 2009. He raised eyebrows in 2009 when he threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns in two quarters against Ohio State, but he also threw three picks, which ultimately led to the Hawkeyes' overtime loss with the conference title on the line. In two seasons, Vandenberg has completed 49 percent of his passes for 515 yards three touchdowns and five picks.

Sometimes you feel like a McNutt. The biggest saving grace for the Iowa passing offense is the return of receiver Marvin McNutt, who was a hop, skip and a jump away from leaving early for the NFL. McNutt led Iowa with 53 catches for 861 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and should be Vandenberg's top target this season. McNutt is the only returning starting receiver.{YSP:MORE}

Toeing the line. The defensive line was one of the team's biggest disappointments last season, especially with All-American defensive end Adrian Clayborn leading the charge. Iowa ranked 11oth in tackles for loss and 83rd in sacks. Now, three of the four players from that unit are gone and things could go from bad to worse. Senior Broderick Binns, who will step in for Clayborn, and nose tackle Mike Daniels both have starting experience and they'll be counted on to lead this season.

But there is a bright spot. Running back Marcus Coker finished the year on a tear with 70 yards against Ohio State, 90 against Minnesota and a whopping 219 against Missouri in the Insight Bowl. That production, while primarily playing in a backup role (with the exception of the bowl game), should give Iowa fans hope that the offense won't be all that bad. Optimism has been hard to find especially since leading running back Adam Robinson was kicked off the team in January and ultimately decided to transfer. Robinson rushed for 941 yards and 10 touchdowns, which ranked second in the conference. The Hawkeyes also lost Jewel Hampton, who was third on the team in rushing.

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