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By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Without question the Iowa offensive line is a big reason why the Hawkeyes are 8-0. The question is; who saw it coming?
Those players were replaced on the depth chart by Boone Myers, a former walk-on, and Ike Boettger, a converted tight end. They bookended a unit that included center Austin Blythe and guards Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh, all experienced starters. But questions evolved over the offseason, leaving some on the outside to wonder; would the interior be strong enough to support exterior growing pains?
“I know when we had open practices and things like that there was certainly a lot of concern and talk out there,” said UI assistant coach and running game coordinator Brian Ferentz. “We try not to worry about those things. We try to worry about what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”
That day-to-day plan started after the TaxSlayer Bowl and continued into the offseason — from January to the summer, spring, and fall.
“We felt like the guys were making progress, and each week they have taken a step forward,” Ferentz said.
And by “they,” Ferentz means everyone. Iowa’s starting five stayed together for the first four weeks of the season before injuries to Myers and, eventually Boettger, forced Ferentz to reach down the depth chart and reconfigure the puzzle.
Former walk-on Cole Croston was promoted to starting tackle. James Daniels became just the third true freshman to start on the offensive line since 1999, and Welsh, a sophomore with 17 career starts at guard, slid to the outside against Illinois and Northwestern.
“There have been guys we have had to move around and do certain things a little differently, but really when the guys are all working hard and working towards the same goal, there is a lot of trust with that group and it allows us to have some moving parts and perform at a decent level.”
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Ferentz said. “There have been guys we have had to move around and do certain things a little differently, but really when the guys are all working hard and working towards the same goal, there is a lot of trust with that group and it allows us to have some moving parts and perform at a decent level.”
It’s been an offensive line-by-committee, yet here the Hawkeyes sit with the Big Ten’s No. 2 rushing offense, and one of 14 units across the country named to the Joe Moore Honor Roll — which recognizes college football’s top offensive line.
It’s an award whose namesake is tremendously respected around the Ferentz household, but at this point of the season it’s much more of an “Atta boy” for the work that’s been done. Ferentz, on the other hand, is looking at things that need to get better.
“When you’re this close to it, we try to focus on some things you’re not doing well right now, and protecting the passer is probably at the top of that list,” Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes allowed four sacks to Maryland last week after surrendering just 12 through the first seven weeks. Indiana, the Hawkeyes’ opponent on Saturday, ranks last in the Big Ten in total defense, but the Hoosiers have 21 sacks and enter the game two weeks rested after a bye week.
“They’re certainly not afraid to come after you, so what we have to do is be able to handle that,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to be a mental game where you have to make sure that you’re dialed into where those guys are, where they’re coming from, and you have to account for them because if you don’t they’re going to hit you and cause problems. We can’t let that happen, so it’s a pretty good challenge this week.”
Iowa and Indiana kick off Saturday at 2:35 p.m. (CT) inside Memorial Stadium at Bloomington, Indiana.