Hawkeye fans shouldn’t give up on their team just yet, Iowa still has a good chance to make the post season. Iowa has four games left and needs to win at least two of them to become bowl eligible. Iowa travels to Indiana this weekend, before returning home next week to play Purdue, then at Michigan the next week, and they round out the season with a black Friday game against Nebraska. The Hawk’s best chance to gain eligibility will be against Indiana and Purdue, but Iowa has also beaten Michigan three years in a row.
The Hawkeyes are 4-4 (2-2) and are struggling on both sides of the ball right now. The offense has been missing all season, but the defense’s struggles are more recent. Iowa is only allowing 21 points per game on defense, but the last two weeks they have given up 28 and 38 points to Northwestern and Penn State respectively. What’s worse is that Northwestern torched the Hawkeye defense for 349 yards rushing. By comparison Iowa’s defense gives up 158 yards rushing on average per game. Northwestern more than doubled that number. You can bet Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker will have made some adjustments to the defense against Indiana.
On the positive side for the Hawkeye’s, James Vandenberg played against Northwestern like the James Vandenberg of 2011, completing 24 of 38 passes for 216 yards, while rushing for two touchdowns. The fact that Vandenberg still only has three passing touchdowns on the season is troublesome, but he seems to be progressing regardless. He has looked uncomfortable in the pocket all season and often puts a little too much on short passes causing them to sail, or causing his receivers to drop them. The former is more of a problem than the latter. Taking a little bit off his fastball should be an easy adjustment for Vandenberg to make, and in fact he looked better against Northwestern than he has all season, despite starting Left tackle and interior linemen, Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal being out for the season.
If our passing game is going to continue to improve, then Greg Davis needs to make sure Vandenberg is throwing the ball to C.J. Fiedorowicz more. C.J. is a vastly missed used talent at tight end for Iowa. The guy is 6’7”, 265 pounds and has pretty good hands. Despite these measurables, he has only caught 24 balls. Iowa also needs to get the suddenly explosive Jordan Cotton the football more as well. Cotton has returned two kicks for touchdowns the past couple of weeks, although one was called back for a block in the back penalty that was well behind the play. Cotton has speed and good hands, but has only four touches the past two weeks.
If Iowa can get better utilize their offensive weapons, than I do not doubt that the Hawkeyes will become bowl eligible for the twelfth straight season (Iowa was eligible in 2007, but did not play in a bowl game). I am confident that the defense will bounce back in the last part of the season. So we need the offense to step it up a notch and lead us on to bowl season.