Outback Bowl: Second Hawkeye practice in Tampa

Dec. 26, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. — What a difference a year makes. University of Iowa sophomore left tackle Bryan Bulaga admits that the collective production from the Hawkeye offensive line a year ago was nothing to write home about.

“I’ll come out and say it, we were very poor,” Bulaga said. “It was a good feeling being able to give Rick (Stanzi) more time and help Shonn (Greene) get his big season.”

In 2007, Iowa quarterbacks were sacked 46 times and the Hawkeyes averaged 126.2 rushing yards, 316.3 total yards and 18.5 points per game. During a 12-game regular season in 2008 — which saw Iowa compile an 8-4 record (5-3 in the Big Ten Conference) — the Hawkeyes were sacked 20 fewer times, averaged 63.1 more rushing yards, 57.6 more total yards and 11.7 more points per game.

More importantly, Iowa went from a 6-6 team that stayed home for the holidays in 2007 to one that will be playing in its fifth January bowl game in the past seven seasons. The Hawkeyes face South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day with a 10 a.m. start (Iowa time) inside Raymond James Stadium.

“I’m looking forward to playing a good football team and finishing the season on a strong note,” Bulaga said. “They have a great defense that flies around to the ball. They’re fast, they’re strong and it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Bulaga, just a sophomore, is a novice in offensive lineman terms. Teammate Julian Vandervelde (left guard) is also a sophomore, Kyle Calloway (right tackle) is a junior and Seth Olsen (right guard) and Rob Bruggeman (center) are seniors. Olsen was named first team all-Big Ten and Bruggeman was second team all-Big Ten by the coaches and media. Bulaga was named second team by the coaches and honorable mention by the media, Calloway was second team by the media and honorable mention by the coaches and senior tight end Brandon Myers was first team by the coaches and honorable mention by the media.

“To be able to get on the second team was a great honor,” Bulaga said. “All the hard work paid off.”

Bulaga credits the UI strength and conditioning program for helping him beef up into an all-conference performer in one of the most physical leagues in the nation.

“I’m looking forward to playing a good football team and finishing the season on a strong note. They have a great defense that flies around to the ball. They’re fast, they’re strong and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
UI sophomore tackle
Bryan Bulaga

“As a freshman I was 270 pounds,” he said. “Gaining over 38 pounds has helped me out. Now I can play four quarters and not get tired and still keep up the strength. Coach (Chris) Doyle brings a positive attitude to every lift. He’s intense and he makes it a good atmosphere to work out.”

The UI offensive line improvement was also accelerated by head coach Kirk Ferentz, a former offensive lineman himself, who coached that position in the NFL. Offensive lines under the direction of Ferentz anchored four of Iowa’s highest-scoring offenses. Five of Iowa’s top offensive teams, in terms of yards gained per game, were operating behind Ferentz-coached offensive lines.

“I like being around Coach Ferentz,” Bulaga said. “He spends a lot of time with the offensive linemen, so I really get to be around him and he teaches me a lot every day from an offensive line standpoint. He’s a regular guy off the field and you can talk to him and it’s not all business.”

Most Hawkeye players and fans point to a 24-23 victory against No. 3 Penn State on Nov. 8 as a season highlight. Although that win started Iowa on its current three-game winning streak, Bulaga has a different season-best.

Shonn Greene breaking Tavian Banks’ (single-season rushing) record,” Bulaga said. “Being able to block for him and to have him achieve that goal was amazing. Every time Shonn touches the ball, there’s a chance something special could happen. Whenever he gets the ball, watch out.”

Greene, the Doak Walker winner given to the nation’s top running back, rushed for 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. That total is 38 more than Banks gained 11 seasons ago. Greene’s productivity also gives his offensive linemen some peace of mind.

“Knowing he’s back there gives us confidence,” Bulaga said. “We know we can go out there and even if we make a little mistake, he’s going to help us out by making a move on a guy or going through a tackle. We know we have the best guy in the backfield and he’s going to get the job done no matter what.”

Bulaga is a native of Crystal Lake, Ill. (Marian Central Catholic High School). He was named to the Freshman all-Big Ten Conference team by the Sporting News following the 2007 season.

South Carolina has recorded 30 sacks this season, nine coming from junior strong linebacker Eric Norwood.

To view a 36-image photo gallery from practice on Friday — available exclusively on hawkeyesports.com — CLICK HERE.

Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes who live in the Heartland or in the Sunshine State or in all points between should note that the UI Athletics Ticket Office is accepting ticket orders for the 2009 Outback Bowl. Click here to purchase your tickets online. Fans can also purchase over the phone by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or over-the-counter at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.