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Hawkeye football preview

Hawk Talk
Derrick Mitchell played wide receiver last year for the Hawkeyes, but he’s been moved into the backfield and may see some carries this year. (photos by Don Lund)

For the next three weeks, I’ll break down the Iowa football team.
No doubt, last season was a frustrating.
After Iowa beat Illinois in the 10th game of the season, they were sitting at 7-3, 4-2 in the Big Ten, and if they won out they would win the Big Ten West. Of course, the Hawks dropped their last three games, including a blowout in the bowl game.
During Media Day last Saturday, Aug. 8, there was a feel of optimism, the Hawkeye players and coaches are ready to move on and make last season motivation for this year.
This week, we’ll examine the Hawkeye offense.
Last year, Iowa averaged 28.2 points, 163.1 yards rushing and 237 yards passing per game.
They return five starters on offense including three offensive linemen. That is where I always start because if you have a solid offensive line, you have a chance to have a good season.
Austin Blythe (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) is back for his senior season.
The former Williamsburg prep was a three-time state champion as a heavyweight wrestler and is a three-year starter playing guard and center.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Blythe started 10 games at guard and was named first-team, Freshman All-American.
“As far as team goals go, just winning games and winning championships is the bottom line,” said Blythe, who is a preseason All-Big Ten pick. “Individually to play well and perform well.”
Iowa has to break in two new tackles, Boon Meyers (6-foot-5, 300 pounds) and Ike Boettger (6-foot-6, 300 pounds). Blythe is confident both will come through, as both Meyers and Boettger have had to go against All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott in practice.
“Already in camp you can see the progress they made,” Blythe said. “I think knowing what kind of players that they are, they have to elevate their game to that level. I think me and Drew have helped them a lot.”
Meyers, a redshirt sophomore, played in four games last season.
Boettger, also a redshirt sophomore, played in eight games last season and started at tight end, a position he played in high school, against Wisconsin.
The backup tackles include junior Cole Croston (6-foot-5, 295 pounds) and redshirt freshman Keagan Render (6-foot-4, 305 pounds).
Croston is a two-year letterman who played in 10 games last season, mostly on special teams.
Iowa’s starting guards are listed as Eric Simmons (6-foot-2, 295 pounds) and Jordan Walsh (6-foot-4, 290 pounds).
Simmons played in every game last season and went back and fourth from guard to center.
“Being a versatile football player gives you more of a chance to get on the field,” said Simmons, who played in junior college his first year. “The guard and center combo is a pretty good thing.”
He said he learned a lot from Blythe and Blythe has been a role model for him. “I lived with him for a while and obviously he is doing things right,” said Simmons.
Backup guards include sophomore Sean Welsh (6-foot-3, 288 pounds) and junior Mitch Keppy (6-foot-5, 300 pounds).
Welsh played all 13 games last season with seven starts. Welsh was named first team Freshman All-Big Ten.
Dalton Ferguson (6-foot-4, 307 pounds) is a redshirt freshman from Solon who was first team all-state his senior season for the Spartans.
“There was definitely a transition period where I had to accept I was smaller than everyone else,” said Ferguson. “I had to come to practice, keep working hard and make sure I did the little things right.”
Ferguson credited strength coach Chris Doyle for helping him get better.
“Coach Doyle is a really good strength coach,” said Ferguson. “I really appreciate all the hard work he does for us. He prepares us every day, even in the winter when we go four days a week.”
Having talked to both the players and coaches, they all agree it’s easier to teach run blocking than pass blocking.
Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said last spring, while knocking on the table, the Hawks have the best combination of running backs since he’s been here, so hopefully that will show up on the field.
There are four players at running back that could see some playing time.
Junior LeShun Daniels (6-foot, 225 pounds) and senior Jordan Canzeri (5-foot-9, 192 pounds) are listed as the top two running backs.
Daniels has the size and speed to get 15-20 carries a game.
Last season, Canzeri was one of the lone bright spots against a good Tennessee defense, running for 120 yards in only 12 carries. Canzeri has two 100-yard games rushing in his career. He ran for a career-high 165 yards against Purdue in 2013. Akrum Wadley (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) and Derrick Mitchell (6-foot-1, 212 pounds) could also see action.
Wadley had his 100-yard game against Northwestern, with 15 carries for 106 yards, including a score in Iowa’s 48-7 blowout win. If he holds onto the ball, he can make people miss.
Mitchell is the new kid on the block. He played wide receiver last year, but looked so good on the scout team at running back, he could be the third down back.
“I get the ball in my hands more and I get to make plays for my team,” said Mitchell. “I played quarterback in high school and we did the zone read so the ball was in my hands a lot.”
For Iowa to have a successful season, they need to have someone run for over 100 yards five or six times.
I always liked Mark Weisman. He scored 32 touchdowns, the second most in Iowa history behind Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks, both with 33. Weisman ran as hard as anybody, and inside the 5-yard line, he was money in the bank, but he was a fullback playing running back. At least two times a game, Weisman would break in the clear and pick up 10 to 15 yards.
Any one of the four returning backs could take it to the house and score. Iowa needs some big plays from them.
The tight end is an important position on the Hawkeye football team since they run a lot of two-tight end sets, plus they send a tight end deep to create a match-up problem.
Senior Henry Krieger Coble (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and junior George Kittle (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) are listed as the top two until senior Jake Duzey (6-foot-4, 248 pounds) gets healed up, hopefully by the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin on Oct. 3.
Kittle, who was academic All-Big Ten, played in 12 games last season and caught one pass for 25 yards. He said he is trying to take more of a leadership role this year.
“That’s what I’m trying to do this summer with the older guys gone,” said Kittle. “A lot of guys have to step up. You have Jake Duzey and Henry. They have been big leaders for us and I’m going to try to help bring the younger guys along.”
Duzey led the Big Ten tight ends with 36 catches last year for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Iowa needs him healthy and ready for Big Ten play.
Some of the younger guys include sophomore Peter Pekar (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and redshirt freshman Jon Wisnieski (6-foot-5, 247 pounds).
Pekar was a walk-on and first team all-state in Wisconsin.
Wisnieski was first-team all-state from West Des Moines Dowling.
This is part one of a three part series previewing the Iowa Hawkeye football team. Next week we will look at the wide receivers, quarterbacks, fullbacks and the defensive line.