May 27, 2011

Hawkeyes moving on from offseason troubles

As soon as Nebraska officially announced it would joining the Big Ten Conference this season, it immediately got its first new conference rival without having even played a game.


For simple geographic reasons as well as some mutual disdain between the fan bases, many people have already pegged Iowa as the Huskers most bitter rival heading into their Big Ten debut.


To get an idea of what to expect from the Hawkeyes when the two teams meet in Lincoln in the regular season finale on Nov. 25, we sat down with Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com.


Iowa lost a lot of star power from last season on both sides of the football. How did the Hawkeyes do in finding some replacements at those positions this spring?


"I think a lot of it is still to be determined. Those guys are in place. A lot of them don't have a whole lot of experience yet. You look at the defensive line, you've got two experienced guys there back with Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels, but you have a lot of new faces.


"On the offensive side, one of the bigger names to replace is (Ricky) Stanzi with James Vandenberg. We saw glimpses of him when he filled in for Stanzi a couple years ago when Stanzi got hurt against Northwestern. He did really well at Ohio State, but then he also struggled the next week against Minnesota. So we've only seen him in the practice setting, so it's hard to say exactly how he's going to do until we actually see him in real action being in that position."


Obviously losing Stanzi is one of the biggest of them all. Just how big of a void is he leaving in the offense just in terms of leadership?


"It's a huge void. He was a terrific quarterback, a great leader. He had all the intangibles. He would do things late in games that would drive them to a lot of victories. His winning percentage speaks for itself the last two years. It was tremendous, and he's going to be missed. Having said that, I have a lot of confidence in James Vandenberg.


"He's a different kind of kid. Stanzi was more of a cerebral guy, a flat-liner. But Vandenberg has probably a little better arm, he's a good athlete, and he's got a lot more toughness to him than most people realize. He's a pretty fun-loving guy, and he can be a little more excitable out on the field. I'm interested to see how he does. I've got a lot of confidence in him, though."


Iowa also loses it's top two running backs from last season. Do you think Marcus Coker can step up and be the next stud back for the Hawkeyes?


"He's got the potential to be really, really good. He's a big back who runs tough, a lot like Shonn Greene did a few years ago. He's a bigger guy who can run over people, but he's a lot more elusive than Shonn. His arrow is definitely pointing up. He's a great kid too off the field. They type of kid that you want your daughter to bring home to meet you as a parent. I mean, he's a world class kid. He's going to be the guy this year.


"Last year at this time Iowa was looking at sort of a three-headed monster with Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and (Brandon) Wegher, and now all three of those guys are gone. It's Marcus's job, and he's going to get the bulk of the carries. He's really looking forward to it."


It goes without saying that Iowa dealt with a lot of problems over the offseason. How difficult was it for the team to focus on football with all that other junk looming over their heads?


"It all kind of started back in December when Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the leading receiver, was essentially booted off the team after a drug charge. Then you add in Adam Robinson getting in trouble. He was the leading rusher, and he doesn't make the bowl trip and now he's not on the team.


"Then you get into January where you get the Rhabdomyolysis situation where 13 guys are sent to the hospital, and that's been well documented. I think it was probably a bit of a distraction for everybody, but it seems like that also can kind of bring teams together. They had a pretty unified voice from the guys who spent time in the hospital, like Shaun Prater, a kid from Omaha, and they basically came out backing the coaches and supporting what they did strength and conditioning wise. They kind of worked through it and put it in the review mirror and just moved forward from it."


The Nebraska-Iowa game is already being built up as potentially one of the more heated rivalries in the Big Ten. What has been the feeling out in Iowa City about Nebraska joining the conference and playing the Hawkeyes at the end of every season?


"I think it's going to be a great rivalry. I think it's something that Iowa fans have been looking for for a long time in terms of a conference rival. I know Iowa has a natural rivalry with Wisconsin and with Minnesota, and you have trophy games there, but this has a real chance, because there is so much crossover between Iowa and Nebraska fans, especially on the western side of Iowa, it's kind of ground zero for it.


"I think people are really, really excited about that game, especially if things work out for both teams and that comes down to a game that could perhaps lead to the winner of that game being in their first Big Ten title game. It doesn't get any bigger than that. I think it's going to be a tremendous rivalry over the years, and I'm really looking forward to going out to Lincoln this year and experiencing that, and I know a lot of Iowa fans are too."


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