Sept. 7, 2008

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — They are often the unsung heroes, rarely getting credit for what they truly deserve and often getting blamed for a sack or any play resulting in a loss of yardage. But ask the quarterback or running back and they will always defend their offensive linemen.

The University of Iowa’s edition of O-linemen played brilliantly Saturday at a sold-out Kinnick Stadium as the Hawkeyes shut out Florida International, 42-0, to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

The first half saw a frenzy of scoring for the Hawkeyes. The offensive line looked like it dropped dynamite on almost every run, blowing huge holes for the running game to explode through. Before the Golden Panthers knew what hit them, Iowa gained 126 yards on the ground on 14 rush attempts, averaging nine yards per carry in the first quarter alone.

The starting Iowa offensive line consists of left tackle Bryan Bulaga, left guard Rafael Eubanks and Julian Vandervelde, center Rob Bruggeman, right guard Seth Olsen and right tackle Kyle Calloway.

“We practiced a little better last week, wasn’t perfect but we are gaining ground there,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s one of the things I’m enthused about. We have guys that can keep improving and we’re making strides. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to stay focused on that and I think this group — certainly they’re better than they were at any time last year, and that’s positive. You would expect that. We’re more experienced than we were a year ago, so if we can stay healthy and keep improving, we’ll have a chance to have a good outfit up there, and that would help us.”

Junior Shonn Greene had the bulk of the work with nine carries for 101 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. He finished the half with 110 yards with a long of 35. He had a career-high 130 yards on the game. All the Hawkeyes O-line needed to do was give Greene a hole to go to and the rest of it was up to him as Greene consistently drilled over the Golden Panthers, whether it was left, right or straight ahead.

“We have three great running backs, back there,” Olsen said. “Even if we don’t make all of our blocks, you can look at a couple of those (Saturday) that we didn’t even get our guys and they were able to break tackles and take off for a big run or touchdown. We are the offensive line, so we love running the ball more than passing and jack up those rush yards. Those running backs are really doing a great job of breaking tackles.”

“The offensive line did a sensational job. They did great, along with the wide receivers getting down the field. They were all ready to go and they all came out second half and did the same thing, so everything was good.”
UI running back
Shonn Greene

“The offensive line did a sensational job,” Greene said. “They did great, along with the wide receivers getting down the field. They were all ready to go and they all came out second half and did the same thing, so everything was good.”

Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi made his first start of his collegiate career and unquestionably made the most of it with three first-half touchdowns in the ongoing battle for the starting quarterback spot between junior Jake Christensen. It seemed as if the quarterbacks had a bubble of protection on every pass that a semi would have a hard time breaking through. The line allowed Stanzi to take his time and throw precision passes with every one of them right on target.

“That is one of our goals, to protect the quarterback,” Olsen said. “We didn’t do a great job of that last year. Still, I got beat on a couple today. Those are the areas we talked about that we need to improve on.”

“I was very happy with the offensive line,” Stanzi said. “We couldn’t have asked for more, they did a great job of protecting all day and they opened up huge holes in the running game. It’s easy to sit back there and throw the ball and have the game plan go the way you want it when the whole line is busting its butt out there.”

The Hawkeyes finished the game with 66 plays for a total of 512 yards, which include 241 on the ground between Greene, O’Meara and Hampton and 271 of those yards came through the air.

Sophomore punter Ryan Donahue who saw the field more than the Hawkeyes wanted last season and set a UI single season record for punt attempts, has been quiet on the sideline with only three punts since the season started. With the help of the O-line, the Hawkeyes have moved the ball at will and the UI coaching staff will be perfectly fine if they don’t have to yell Donahue’s name more than a few times during a game.

“It’s awesome,” Donahue said. ” I’ll get game reps, but as long as our team’s winning, that can only mean good things when I’m not on the field.”

“The offense is performing better,” Ferentz said. “We had a turnover, too, which took a potential opportunity away. I guess two of them, but, we set the record (for most punts) the other way last year. I wouldn’t mind setting a record that way this year. It would be a better alternative as long as we’re doing it off point production and not turnovers. Ryan has practiced well, and we feel good about him.”

The offensive line was everywhere, whether it was allowing time in the pocket or downfield blocking on a screen pass to help senior tight end Brandon Myers to his second touchdown of the year. Coming into the season the O-line was a big question mark on the minds of coaches and fans after giving up several sacks and having a minimal rushing attack last year. The unselfish lineman gave an answer in the form of a statement to those question marks and aced their second test of the season.

“We’re gaining ground,” Ferentz said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re gaining ground. The guys have worked hard. We’re a little more experienced than we were a year ago certainly and we are doing some good things. Hopefully we can continue to build and keep making progress. The guys around those guys are doing a good job too. Shonn has been running the ball pretty well. I am pleased with the progress we are making and the good news is. I think we can make a lot more.”

The Hawkeyes, now 2-0, can look ahead to rival Iowa State with revenge on their minds after losing in Ames last season, 15-13. Believe that the UI offensive line will show up and storm the Cyclones the same way it handled FIU. Game time will be set for an 11:05 a.m. kickoff at Kinnick Stadium.

“We know the games won’t come easy later on,” Olsen said. “Any win you have to enjoy…last week, this week and weeks beyond. We have to enjoy every one because they are tough to come by. We have to put the work in during the week — we have to keep doing that. They will get tougher down the road.”