Ahead of Saturday’s match-up in Iowa City, I caught up with Max Brekke of Black Heart, Gold Pants to get his takes on the Hawkeyes to see how they’ll match up against Miami.
JR: Who will be replacing Jordan Canzeri in the running game?
MB: It's going to be a two-headed monster. Last year, Canzeri shared touches with LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, and former WR Derrick Mitchell was often the 3rd down back. Daniels is the bruiser of the backfield, although he has the capability to juke someone out of their shoes, and Wadley is the explosive guy that complements him perfectly. Iowa running backs scored 29 TDs last year (QB C.J. Beathard scored 6 of his own on top of that), and they return the men responsible for 17 of them. The running game should be just fine behind what should be a typically stout Iowa O-Line.
JR: The offensive line gave up 29 sacks last season. Is there reason to be concerned for the offense this season?
MB: Yes and no. Yes, because Iowa loses Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh from last year's squad. Those two guys were big pieces to the Hawkeyes' ability to run the ball and they were two of the more consistent guys on the line last year. The starters also have a combined 43 career starts, which is unheard of for an Iowa line, where the O-Line is normally the strongest point.
No, because last year, Iowa's offensive line faced a lot of adversity. Injuries ravaged the line and seven different players saw at least one start. This year, they should have more experience! Sean Welsh will be the rock of the line at guard and the blind side seemed to develop a pretty good rapport with each other last season.
If any of these guys go down, though? Zero career starts on the bench. Not great.
JR: The defense forced 19 interception in 2015. They probably won't replicate that this season, so how will they get stops?
MB: The secondary is going to be great once again, although yeah. 19 INTs probably won't happen again. The Hawks bring back both starting corners from last year, including Thorpe Award-winner and All-American Desmond King. They're going to need to shut down opposing passing games because if last year's pass rush is any indication (and it's mostly the same group), it won't really exist. Iowa doesn't really blitz often, so they'll require the D-Line to generate a ton of pressure. The linebacker corps is going to be excellent once again, however, with "The Outlaw" Josey Jewell manning the middle of the field. The defense will be largely similar to last season, and if the front four can generate better pass rush this season, this defense could be one of the best in the country.
JR: Who is the new kicker and punter since the starters from last season graduated? Could special teams be the Achille's heel for Iowa in 2016?
MB: KICKERS AND PUNTERS! Our favorite topics at BHGP (other than losing, we love talking about that too). We'll start with the punter, who fans of #MACtion might already know: grad-transfer Ron Coluzzi, who graduated from Central Michigan University this past May. His stats are very similar to that of former punter Dillon Kidd, actually, as Coluzzi averaged 39.2 yards/punt, where Kidd averaged 40.2 yards/punt. He'll handle the kickoff duties as well, where we'll see the biggest difference. 21 of his 64 kickoffs (33%) in 2015 went for touchbacks, while 47 of 81 (58%) of Marshall Koehn's did.
The kicking game is going to be a total mystery until we see what it is, though. True freshman Keith Duncan won the kicking duties with his performances over last year's backup Miguel Recinos. Duncan hit 104+ straight extra points, which is a North Carolina state record. He also isn't very good at kicking from distance, going 22 of 29 in his senior season, with all seven of his misses coming on 12 attempts of 50+ yards. Yeesh. That could be bad.
JR: How much does motivation from last season's Rose Bowl result play into this season?
MB: This team is going to be very motivated after last year's Rose Bowl disaster. There will surely be doubters no matter how the Hawkeyes do in the regular season because of how last year's team ended the season, but the team will use that as their motivation to dispel the haterz. Did you see this? The disrespect based on their finish last year has already started.
JR: Do you think Iowa will stay at the top of the B1G West or do you think the team will regress at all?
MB: Iowa is expected to finish at the top of the B1G West again this year. With their schedule, I'd say they can do it, too. There's a good chance they could start out 7-0 before they get into the Wisconsin/Penn State/Michigan part of their schedule. Northwestern and Minnesota should be better this season, too, but I expect Iowa to take care of business against both. Iowa will likely finish 9-3 or 10-2 this season (this is about where most expect them to be, at least). Minnesota has an absolute CUPCAKE of a schedule and are the biggest threat to Iowa's crown, and Nebraska shouldn't be worse than they were last season, but I think Iowa repeats as B1G West champs.
JR: What do you expect to see in Miami/Iowa?
MB: I think Iowa will run away with this one, although they have been the victim of #MACtion a couple times in the past five years. I just think the Hawkeyes are too experienced to drop this one. I don't think the Hawks will win by 29 or anything, since Kirk isn't normally one to run up the score, but they should win easily. C.J. Beathard has some fun with his new toys at WR and Iowa running backs combine for three touchdowns. Iowa by three scores, 38-21.