With the win over Maryland this past Saturday, this Iowa team has entered a territory that only one other team in program history has ever reached before.
After a 31-15 victory over the Maryland Terrapins, the Hawkeyes remained at No. 10 in the weekly AP poll, but the victory gave the Hawkeyes something much more important — it added yet another win to their current unblemished record of 8-0.
This is only the second time in school history that the Hawkeyes have won eight games to start a season and if they’re able to pull out a victory against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday, it’ll tie for the best start in school history set by the magical 2009 team that ended up finishing 11-2 with a win in the Orange Bowl.
In the state of Iowa, you can just feel the optimism conjuring up, as local media, fans, and even the players are starting to see this team as serious contenders for the second annual College Football Playoff, and to be quite honest, they might not be wrong. For one, the Hawkeyes were ninth in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. There's still plenty of games left to play and work to be done, but that's not a bad place to be the first week of November either.
When you start breaking down what has the made the Hawkeyes so successful this season, it really isn’t all that hard to pinpoint. It’s fairly obvious when you break down the tape that the Hawkeyes excel at three things, the most notable being the ground game.
As usual with a Kirk Ferentz-coached team, you can expect sound offensive line play and a strong running game. However, in recent years although the offensive line play has been above average, the run game has lacked a necessary explosiveness to really elevate the offense to another level of success. This season that has changed entirely, whether it’s LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri, or Akrum Wadley, each back has been able to step into the starting lineup and make explosive, game-changing plays, allowing the Hawkeyes to not only control the time of possession, but also put points up on the board.
The second aspect of this Hawkeye team that really stands out is its ability to force turnovers. In fact, the Hawkeyes are currently tied for fourth in the country for turnovers gained. In this regard, the Hawkeyes are led by star defensive back Desmond King, who leads the country in interceptions with seven in eight games. In addition, the Hawkeyes as a unit have forced 19 turnovers so far this season (7 fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions) and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes, despite a season-ending injury to Drew Ott, have only allowed one rushing touchdown all season and having been stingy against the run overalll. Seems like common sense, but when a defense is able to make an opposing offense one-dimensional, it can make up significantly for areas of weakness. The Hawkeyes' ability to stop the run has been spectacular thus far, but this Saturday they face what I see to be their toughest test of the season, with Indiana’s running back duo of Devine Redding and a full-strength Jordan Howard. It’ll be very interesting to see how the Hawkeyes are able to perform against two very talented running backs.
To sum it all up, the Hawkeyes have an excellent running game, solid offensive line play (yes, I know the Wisconsin game was a thing), a great run defense, and a very opportunistic, turnover hungry defense. Ten years ago or maybe even more recently, that kind of team build would be viewed as a formula to win a championship. However, outlets such as ESPN, FOX Sports, etc. seem convinced that the Hawkeyes need to start picking up “style points.” How somebody defines the concept of style points is beyond the head of any intelligent evaluator. I would say that forcing 19 turnovers and running the ball very effectively has some really nice style to it, but that might just be me.
To be fair, it isn’t just sports media outlets that are docking the Hawkeyes some points in the style department. In fact, College Football Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long, said as much after the first rankings came out on Tuesday.
Although the committee has shown the willingness to adjust their rankings from to week to week, this is a statement that basically says, “We don’t care as much about quality wins, as we do about how explosive a team’s offense is.” That is very concerning for Hawkeye coaches, players, and fans, because when you look at the makeup of Iowa's roster, they’re simply just not built to explode on offense. Instead, they’re built to control time of possession, pick up yards on the ground, force turnovers, and win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Nothing about that is “flashy,” but nevertheless it wins football games and that’s where the committee needs to adjust their line of thinking.
On Saturday, the Hawkeyes will take on an underrated Indiana Hoosiers team that has in recent weeks been hampered by injuries to a couple of key players. With Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld both back and fully healthy it’ll be one of the Hawkeyes' toughest tests of the season, and it will be very interesting to see how they perform.
— Written by Rob Donaldson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An NFL Draft analyst and writer for drafbreakdown.com, Donaldson also recently founded his own site, OnTheClockFB.com, and also pays careful attention to his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow him on Twitter @RobDonaldsonOTC.