Of all places for Kirk Ferentz to find his offense, Minneapolis seems an unlikely place. But on Saturday, in a convincing 23-7 win over Minnesota, the Iowa offensive attack looked as complete as it has all season.
The Hawkeyes put up 464 yards of total offense -- 218 in the air, 246 on the ground.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock -- with the exception of one interception – had a solid outing. In the sixth start of his career he seemed to really hit a stride and gel with the offense. He looked mature and made the right reads, even when the right decision was throwing the ball out of bounds.
Considering it was Rudock’s first Big Ten football game, on the road, in a rivalry matchup, in what would be the biggest game of his career yet, Rudock’s demeanor leading the offense seemed like that of a veteran.
“I’d say the comfort level is really a testament to the offensive line -- how well they’re doing with run blocking and pass blocking,” Rudock said. “It just makes it that much easier to just trust it. And when they’re doing a great job you can just trust what’s going on around you.”
“It,” being the offense. And knowing that he had a solid wall in front of him whether the Hawkeyes will run or pass, both of which Iowa did well Saturday.
Rudock scrambled for one four-yard touchdown run and was 15 of 25 passing with another score.
“He definitely looked really comfortable out there,” junior fullback Mark Weisman said. “He made some huge plays on third down to keep us on the field. He’s a great quarterback and he’s continuing to improve each and every week.”
Junior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley seemed to be Rudock’s weapon of choice. He had only accounted for 20 receptions through the Hawkeyes first four games, but finished the day with six receptions for 56 yards. If he can emerge as a consistent wide receiver threat, it will really make this offense more complete week in and week out.
Martin-Marnley forced the Minnesota secondary to play honestly, which created a few mismatches and opportunities for Rudock to create plays in the air.
But again, if you ask Rudock, that comes back to his offensive line.
“Obviously the offensive line does a great job, allows me to see him,” Rudock said of Martin-Manley. “He’s running good routes and I have the ability to take the time and see him and he’s getting open. It’s great.”
On third downs Rudock was 8-of-14 (5-of-7 in the second half). And, like the rest of the Hawkeye’s offense Saturday, even that held a balanced attack. Of the eight successful conversions four were rushing first downs (three times from Rudock, once from sophomore fullback Adam Cox) and four were passes.
But it was the run game that really opened all of that up for Rudock. The Hawkeyes -- led in the rush attack by Weisman -- averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Weisman, who has carried the ball as few as 10 times a game (Western Michigan game) to as many as 35 carries in a game (Iowa State), toted the ball 24 times for 146 yards. His 6.1 yards per carry was his best yet of the season, but the Hawkeyes were also able to give their big fullback a breather by getting other faces in there. Damon Bullock contributed with 11 carries for 47 yards, and Rudock attacked with his feet when the opportunity presented itself, picking up 35 yards on the ground.
Now that the Hawkeyes have seemed to hit a stride with their offense they’ll have nothing but tough tests ahead with Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern in the next month.
But, they’ll know who and what they are heading into each game.
“Iowa football is all about physical play and I think we’re doing that pretty well so far,” Weisman said. “We’re going to try and continue to do that and we’ll see what happens.”