Iowa offense has ability to catch fire

Here's a conversation I've had with several casual college football fans the last few days.

Me: One of the Big Ten's more exciting offenses will take the field Tuesday night.

Them: Where? Is Michigan holding an impromptu scrimmage with Purdue in Kalamazoo?

Me: No, in Miami. At the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Them: You must be confused. Georgia Tech has the exciting, tricky, where's-the-ball-gonna-go triple option attack with all the NFL prospects. Iowa's offense is like watching paint dry.

Me: Nope. You'll see.

Iowa seems to be fighting several common misperceptions, among them the belief that the Hawkeyes run a boring, ho-hum offense.

It's true that Iowa often wins with defense. It's true that the Hawkeyes offense lacks a bona fide star like running back Shonn Greene was in 2008. And from time to time, the Iowa attack looks a bit stale.

But this offense has the potential to explode. Just ask Indiana, which saw a 24-14 fourth-quarter lead turn into a 42-24 loss as Iowa's offense scored four touchdowns in the final 13:03. The Hawkeyes put up 35 points against Iowa State and 30 against Michigan. Iowa also averaged 11.6 yards per pass against the celebrated Ohio State defense, with a backup quarterback (James Vandenberg) calling signals, no less.

Starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi entered the bowl season leading the Big Ten in passes of 30 yards or longer (18) despite missing the last two and a half games with an ankle injury.

"At times, we can definitely be explosive," Stanzi said. "We've taken more chances downfield this year, and it's proven to help us out and at times, it has kind of hurt us. But the payoff is much greater than the risk when we've taken them, and it's working. That's something new in our offense this year. It's something very crucial to us getting points on the board and stretching the field."

Iowa boasts two excellent deep threats in wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who average 21.8 yards per reception and 16.8 yards per reception, respectively. Wideout Trey Stross (13.5 ypr) and tight ends Tony Moeaki (11.6 ypr) and Allen Reisner (10.2 ypr) also can stretch the field.

“Coming into the season, that was probably a position [wide receiver] we were watching," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We were relatively young and relatively inexperienced out wide, Trey Stross being our only senior. There's no question, Marvin has improved leaps and bounds from last year during the course of this season. And Derrell has practiced and played with a lot more consistency. He's been productive for us, but he hasn't been consistent, and he really has had a good season. We're happy about that. And our tight ends have played well, too."

Georgia Tech's offense will get most of the attention tonight, and justifiably so, but Iowa's attack isn't small potatoes. With a willingness to take shots and a quarterback who will complete passes (to his teammates and opposing defenders), the Hawkeyes' offense is worth watching, too.