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Iowa Hawkeyes preview

C.J. Beathard allows Iowa to stretch the field. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Since an 11-win season and an Orange Bowl victory in ’09, Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are only 34–30 despite producing 16 NFL draft picks from 2011 to ’14. This season they have a new starter at QB and must replace All-Big Ten tackles on both lines and navigate a schedule that includes trips to Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Offense

How the Hawkeyes beat you: The full-time QB switch from Jake Rudock to C.J. Beathard in the bowl loss was a statement by Ferentz: He wants to stretch the field. Beathard had only 52 completions in limited action in ’14 but accounted for two of Iowa’s three longest pass plays and six throws of 25-plus yards, including a 31-yard TD against the Vols. “He’s got a live arm, always has,” Ferentz says, “but it’s a little more involved. You have to have the right plays and get people open.” Senior WR Tevaun Smith (7 catches of 25-plus yards) and junior Matt VandeBerg (5 of 14 catches for 25-plus yards) are big-play options, and TE Jake Duzey has pulled in 55 passes (12 ypc) the past two seasons.

How you beat the Hawkeyes: Iowa will be more vulnerable to edge pressure after losing both starting OTs, including Outland winner Brandon Scherff. Beathard is a mobile QB (5.6 ypc in ’14), but he’ll need vast improvement from a ground attack (4.1 ypc, 10th in the Big Ten) that loses RB Mark Weisman, its top rusher the past three seasons. Iowa gets into scoring position often (30 drives with goal-to-go in ’14, tied for 27th in the FBS) but doesn’t reach the end zone nearly enough for a power-oriented system (73.3 percent, tied for 74th).

Defense

How the Hawkeyes beat you: There are certainly gaps in the front seven— gone are senior DTs Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis (combined 20Π tackles for loss, 8 1/2sacks) and LB Quinton Alston (6 TFL, 3Π sacks)—but Ferentz isn’t concerned about filling them. LBs Bo Bower and Josey Jewell gained valuable experience as redshirt freshmen, as did true frosh Ben Niemann. “We’re young at the position,” Ferentz says, “but we have a chance to be really good.” They’ll bolster a stout pass D (175.9 ypg, No. 7 in the FBS) led by DE Drew Ott (8 sacks in ’14, tied for second among Big Ten returners), elite CB Desmond King (3 picks) and FS Jordan Lomax (No. 3 tackler).

How you beat the Hawkeyes: While defending the pass wasn’t a problem, Iowa was wildly inconsistent against the run, holding five opponents to 90 or fewer yards on the ground (four wins) but surrendering more than 200 yards in five other contests (four losses), finishing No. 6 in the Big Ten in yards per game (168.3). Ferentz says he’ll likely use a committee system at DT to replace Trinca-Pasat and Davis and will lean on Lomax to fill the run-support role of departed SS and leading tackler John Lowdermilk. “[Lomax] is a serious, focused guy,” Ferentz says. “It’s incumbent on him to direct this group.”