A lot has changed for the Iowa Hawkeyes in one year especially on offense, but what exactly has changed? Well, the quarterback position is no longer in flux with C.J. Beathard cemented as the unanimous starter and then there’s the running back position, where former incumbent running back Mark Weisman has been replaced by a pair of running backs, LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri. Players come in, players go out, that’s how college football has always been, but there’s something new in Iowa City this season that Hawkeye fans haven’t been accustomed to seeing over the past few years and it’s been paying huge dividends early in the 2015-16 college football season. One word, explosiveness.
Before the start of this season I talked about how the duo of Daniels and Canzeri was a clear improvement over a Weisman-led rushing attack from the last year and nothing I’ve seen thus far has shown me otherwise, but instead of just telling you, allow me to show you exactly what I’m talking about.
In the video above I want you to pay close attention to the part where Daniels gets to the second level and smoothly flips his hips in order to turn up field, all while making a defensive back miss in the process. This a great example of the kind of explosiveness this Iowa backfield lacked last year, but now possesses.
Now, I want to give you another example of just how explosive this new and improved Iowa rushing attack really is, but instead of showing you another clip of Daniels, I want to show you two consecutive runs by his teammate Jordan Canzeri in last Saturday’s game against Iowa State.
Once you’ve finished watching the clips I’ve presented you, I think you understand where I’m coming from when I say the Hawkeyes' backfield is much more explosive this year. With all due respect to Weisman, who stepped into an unfavorable situation to begin with and was able to shoulder the bulk of the carries, he just wasn’t the type of runner an offense could do very much with outside of short-yardage situations due to his clear lack of burst and ability to capture the edge. With that said, Weisman shouldered slightly more than 41 percent of the Hawkeyes' total carries in 2014, meaning that a large portion of the workload was being given to a player who primarily should’ve played as a short-yardage running back or a fullback.
This year I expect the Hawkeyes' to total slightly more than 500 rushing attempts, similar to 2014, but the biggest difference comes from what I alluded to earlier. Around 40 percent of the carries this year will be in the hands of an explosive, game-changing running back, where last year it wasn’t. That’s the cause for some major optimism regarding how many explosive plays this offense could end up generating by year’s end.
Moving on from the running back position, let’s start talking about the most obvious change for the Hawkeyes based off where they were last year compared to now, and that’s at quarterback. Last year at this time the monotonous Jake Rudock — who has since decided to transfer to Michigan — was the No. 1 signal-caller for the Hawkeyes, but since his tenure, major improvements have been made with Beathard now lining up under center and it’s already starting to show early on this season.
When you first start evaluating Beathard as a passer nothing outside of his arm strength really jumps out at you from a physical standpoint, but once you start getting deep into your evaluation you notice where the major differences lie between him and Rudock.
There were many times last season where I found myself sitting on my couch screaming something along the lines of, “Why are you checking down on 3rd-and-25?!?!?” or “Are you physically capable of throwing the ball over two yards!?!?!?”
Now, that may be a little too harsh, but nevertheless it leads me to the biggest discrepancy when comparing Rudock and Beathard. Beathard, no matter what down it is, possesses the willingness and ability to air it out downfield, it’s really as simple as that. Beathard is fearless and knows where his strengths and weaknesses as a passer lie, on the other hand, when you look at Rudock, you can find numerous instances where he looks hesitant to a point of possible skittishness. With that said, there are also times where he is in fact willing to take a shot downfield, but due to his lack of natural ability, struggles to complete throws or even place the ball in the vicinity with consistency. As far as both natural passing ability and having the right mindset as a passer is concerned Beathard tops Rudock in both categories, and honestly it’s not even close.
Moving onto the next part of Beathard’s game that not only differentiates himself from Rudock, but from every Hawkeye starting quarterback since Brad Banks, the ability to make plays with his legs.
In the video above you can see exactly what I’m referring to when I mention Beathard’s ability to make plays with his legs. He may not be the most explosive running quarterback in college football, but he’s talented enough with his legs that when a play breaks down, he’s able to improvise and make defenders miss in the open field.
Iowa’s offense has already been able to show clear improvement over the first two weeks of the season as well as flashes of a truly explosive offense. The Hawkeyes are definitely a team to keep an eye on.
— 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.