Spring games are winding down this weekend across the Big Ten, and the Iowa Hawkeyes are changing things up a bit in 2017. Perhaps the biggest change is playing this game on a Friday night instead of its usual Saturday afternoon slot.
The 2015 Big Ten West division champions had a pretty harsh fall from their perch atop the division in 2016. It resulted in some big changes, including the dismissal of Greg Davis as the offensive coordinator and promotion of Brian Ferentz to the OC job.
Given the change in offensive coordinator, intrigue over Iowa’s spring game is high. However, will this spring game be anything but vanilla? After all, Ferentz’s Hawkeyes have never been known to be flashy or trendy. Add in the BTN2Go (BTN on tape-delay) cameras and you have a recipe that suggests something very vanilla coming.
However, this isn’t the ordinary spring game. With all sorts of position battles going on, including needing a new starting quarterback, Iowa may actually have to open things up.
What should fan actually be looking for out of this game though? Let’s take a look at a few areas we’ll be watching most on Friday night.
Iowa has had some good stability at quarterback the last few years thanks to C.J. Beathard. His time is up at the collegiate level, and that means a quarterback battle ensues and who doesn’t love watching a spring quarterback battle?
Sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers are battling it out, but it should be noted that Stanley came in to the program last season and won the No. 2 job straight out the gate. However, he has only thrown nine passes in a college game, while Wiegers has only seen action in four games as a backup to Beathard in 2015.
Can Stanley be the long-term answer or will Wiegers win out on experience within the program and allow Stanley some more time to develop? All indications from the coaching staff tell us this is a real competition this spring.
“It’s pretty even. It’s been well-documented,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said in a press conference earlier this week. “No one has really separated, and I think it’s good. Again, it goes back to there are no incumbents. Nobody is owed anything. No one deserves this or is entitled to this. Everyone has to earn a spot and earn playing time. They’ve both competed hard for that job, and neither one of them has pulled away.”
No matter the play of the quarterbacks, a lot of what will happen on Friday night and has happened all spring comes down to wide receiver play. It doesn’t help that only two scholarship wide receivers — sophomore Devonte Young and junior Adrian Falconer — have survived to the spring game healthy.
So, while it will be important to understand what the quarterback battle looks like, this battle is likely far from over thanks to the issues around the position and not inside the QB room.
Backup Running Back
As we mentioned above, there are only two healthy wide receivers this spring. That likely means plenty of work for the running back position. It just won’t include starter Akrum Wadley, who has been held out of contact drills all offseason.
That means there is plenty of opportunity to shine for others in Iowa’s backfield. It is also a wise move considering Iowa returns Toks Akinribade, who put up a whole 33 yards on 16 carries last season, outside of Wadley.
However, the real name to watch this spring is redshirt freshman Toren Young. At 5-11, 220 pounds, Young provides the change of pace from Wadley’s style that could be great for this offense. He also fits exactly what the Hawkeyes expect in a workhorse type back.
There are plenty of reps to go around with Wadley not taking much contact this spring, so other names like Sam Cook and junior Marcel Joly are getting long looks.
Someone needs to be able to show they are ready to be the No. 2 back, and now is as good a time as any.
What’s Up at Free Safety
Again, Iowa’s lack of healthy wide receivers may affect this area of the spring game, but don’t expect the Hawkeyes to shy away from throwing the football just because of it. In fact, Iowa needs all the reps it can get in the passing game for the defensive backs as well as the quarterbacks.
That’s especially true at free safety, where expected starter Brandon Snyder has been lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered this spring. Snyder was a vicious hitter and an underrated cover safety last season, and his loss is a big one.
Junior Jake Gervase and true sophomore Amani Hooker appear to the be two that have stepped up to compete for the starting role in Snyder’s absence. But, are they on his level and can they get the job done in a game-like setting?
Gervase has the experience edge, but Hooker’s athleticism has stood out to the coaching staff and may end up giving him the edge after sliding over from strong safety this spring. Look for this battle to continue well in to fall camp if Hooker can continue his progression.
With a quarterback battle and a whole lot to figure out on the offensive side of the ball this group will be tested in the spring game and that is a good thing.