Hawkeyes fight through tough season

 

 

By Luke Meredith

IOWA CITY, Iowa – With Iowa’s season halfway in the books, one thing has become abundantly clear: The Hawkeyes can’t score.

OK, so they haven’t been shut out six times, but the numbers say that Iowa’s offense, which has been ravaged by injuries and is loaded with inexperience at quarterback and on the line, is one of the nation’s worst.

The Hawkeyes rank a dismal 114th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in points per game, at 17.3. They’re 106th in the nation in total offense with 312.3 yards per game, 111th in third-down conversions at 29.2 percent and next to last in the nation in quarterback sacks allowed with 25.

The Hawkeyes got even more bad news Tuesday when coach Kirk Ferentz announced that offensive lineman Dace Richardson will be having knee surgery to repair structural damage and will miss the rest of the season.

Richardson joins wide receiver Andy Brodell on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Tight end Tony Moeaki, who dislocated his elbow and broke a bone in his hand on the same play against Wisconsin, is still at least two weeks from returning.

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Iowa (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) entered Saturday’s game against No. 18 Illinois (5-1, 3-0) as banged up as they’ve been all season, but Ferentz refuses to blame injuries for his team’s sad offensive output, even though he’s been forced to reshuffle the depth chart significantly since August.

“I can’t sit here today and say ‘Boy it would have been great if we had had everybody.’ Common sense would tell you that it would have been a little bit easier,” Ferentz said. “You play the cards that are dealt. We don’t have as much experience as we’d like at certain spots, but the flip side is we’re getting guys some game experience in tough situations.”

Iowa’s offensive woes came to a head in a 27-7 loss to Penn State last week. The Hawkeyes had one long drive that resulted in a touchdown, but it was the only time they got inside the Nittany Lions’ 20-yard line.

Iowa punted 11 times and rushed for just 48 yards on 28 attempts, punctuating what has been a terrible start to conference play. In three Big Ten games, Iowa has been outscored 82-40.

Running back Damian Sims believes that penalties have had a lot to do with Iowa’s lack of consistency on offense. The Hawkeyes rank 9th among Big Ten teams at 51.5 penalty yards a game.

“We’re making so many costly mistakes, and we’re not good enough of a team to play from 20 points behind and just rally and score three touchdowns,” Sims said. “That’s not who we are this season. It makes it that much harder. I feel like we’re giving the game away a lot of the time.”

Iowa is starting seven underclassmen on offense, and 20 of the 28 players listed on the offensive depth chart are either freshmen or sophomores. The unit’s lack of production – combined with their youth – has raised concerns about their confidence.

Ferentz won’t let his team fall for that excuse either.