By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Marshal was in town over the summer, and Ross Reynolds was paying attention.
Former Iowa offensive lineman Marshal Yanda is a six-time Pro Bowl selection with the Baltimore Ravens. He spends time in strength coach Chris Doyle’s weight room, getting ready for another NFL season. He also leads by example for the current Iowa players in the program.
“He talks about how there’s always something you can improve on,” said Reynolds, a senior and Iowa’s starting left guard. “He’s one of the best to ever play.”
Iowa’s offensive line had a productive Saturday against Maryland. They helped pave the way to a season-high 224 rushing yards.
Still, the big-picture view tells you that this is a climb that’s far from Yanda’s neighborhood.
“We have to keep moving forward,” Reynolds said. “You always see stuff that you need to improve on. You always need to know that you can never arrive.”
But Saturday was proof of the progression this unit has made under second-year offensive line coach Tim Polasek.
“They’ve been doing a great job all year in the run game and pass protection,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “That goes back to the way they prepare. They were ready to play and they did a great job.”
Iowa’s game plan emphasized the run because of the strong game-day winds that made passing a challenge.
“We knew the pass wasn’t going to be there, so getting the run established was really big for us up front,” center Keegan Render said.
After an eight-play first possession ended in an interception, Iowa’s offense strung together drives of 17, 11, 10 and 10 plays.
Reynolds will be the first to tell you the success of the running game against Maryland stretches beyond two tackles, two guards, and a center. Iowa ran the ball on 52 plays, and passed it just 24 times. The Hawkeyes had the ball twice as along as Maryland, and ran 76 plays to 39 for the visitors. That’s the fewest plays ever run by an opponent in the 20 seasons Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s coach.
“It was nice to go out there and control the clock and control the ball,” Reynolds said. “It doesn’t just happen because of the offensive line. It’s the backs, the tight ends, it’s everybody doing their job.”
And there’s more to accomplish as the season moves on.
“There’s stuff we need to clean up, stuff we’ll see on film that we can get better at,” Reynolds said. “The stats and stuff look good, but there’s always room for improvement.”
One thing that Ferentz will likely address leading into Saturday’s game at Penn State is finishing drives. Miguel Recinos kicked three field goals. The first one ended a 17-play drive that stalled after a first-and-10 at the Maryland 11. The second one was an 11-play drive where the Hawkeyes had it first-and-10 at the Terrapins 10. The third one ended a 10-play drive where Iowa had it first-and-10 at the Maryland 11.
“It was kind of frustrating because we were controlling the ball and moving the ball but not scoring,” Ferentz said. “I’m always thinking negative thoughts, I guess. You always wonder what’s going to come back and get us later on.
“I thought the line did a good job. Nate was involved in that, too, because they were blitzing a lot and trying to get us into the right play or get us out of a bad play is a big part of that.”
That’s proof that even a season that has seen six victories in the first seven games provides a lot of teaching points.
“I feel like every game we’re taking a step forward,” Reynolds said.
Render feels like the offensive line is imprving. The communication from tackle to tackle is good. Iowa’s line — tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson, Render and a three-guard rotation of Reynolds, Dalton Ferguson and Cole Banwart — have allowed just six sacks, fewest in the Big Ten.
There were also a lot of good moments to review in Sunday’s film session, but success is about taking the next step in front of you.
“There’s always stuff that you’re going to look back at and think that maybe we could have had more yards here or there,” Render said. “Every game is big for us moving forward.”