Air Hawkeye? No. 9 Iowa hopes to open things up

Iowa’s resurgence last season was powered by a punishing defense
and a rushing attack that eats up yards and time.

Don’t expect the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes to abandon their beloved
running game in 2010. But don’t be surprised if they fling the ball
around a bit more than usual either.

Iowa brings back what appears to be their most impressive
passing attack in recent memory. The often-conservative Hawkeyes
return senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a talented receivers in
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt and dependable tight
ends Allen Reisner and Brad Herman.

The Hawkeyes probably won’t have to get too fancy against FCS
school Eastern Illinois in Saturday’s opener. But Iowa appears to
have more than enough weapons to better the paltry 23.2 points per
game it scored last season.

”We would love to have an explosive offensive attack,
especially in the pass game. I mean, that can only help us,”
Stanzi said. ”I think we have guys that can go out there and do
that.”

It all starts with Stanzi, whose inconsistency has been a
much-discussed issue for the Hawkeyes. Stanzi threw 17 touchdowns
last season and 15 interceptions – including four picks that were
returned for touchdowns – and he spent the offseason working to cut
down on the mistakes that often put the Hawkeyes in early
holes.

”I’d like to think that all the preparation we’ve all done as
team can definitely help change some of the things last year that
put us in bad positions,” Stanzi said.

Johnson-Koulianos has a chance to become the first Iowa player
to lead the team in receiving four years in a row, even though he’s
often been on coach Kirk Ferentz’s bad side for one undisclosed
reason or another.

But Ferentz singled him out during fall camp for his strong
play, a sign that the Hawkeyes are ready to lean on him more than
ever.

McNutt converted to wide receiver after Stanzi emerged as the
starting quarterback two years ago, and he quickly took to his new
position. McNutt caught a team-high eight touchdown passes in 2009
– including a 7-yarder on the final play at Michigan State to keep
Iowa’s then-unbeaten season alive. A 6-foot-4 he gives Stanzi a big
target near the end zone.

”I have a lot more confidence going in, because I have game
experience under me. So, it’s really not as if it’s the first time
I’m going to be playing in front of a crowd,” McNutt said.

Iowa’s reserve wideouts include senior Colin Sandeman, who will
likely make his impact on punt returns, and sophomore Keenan Davis,
a highly touted recruit out of nearby Cedar Rapids who has bulked
up to 215 pounds and could emerge as the Hawkeyes third receiver
before long.

Iowa lost one of its top offensive options in tight end Tony
Moeaki, but the Hawkeyes believe they’ll be able to compensate for
his loss with Reisner and Herman, a pair of reliable tight ends for
an offense that uses them extensively.

Ferentz also indicated Tuesday that 6-7 freshman C.J.
Fiedorowicz, the top prize in Iowa’s most recent recruiting class,
could also be a factor at tight end this fall.

”He’ll make some mistakes – we’ll have a lot of guys make
mistakes, but hopefully work around those. I think he’ll do a good
job, based on what we’ve seen in practice,” Ferentz said.

With eight starters back on defense and a pair of talented
sophomore running backs in Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton, Iowa
has all the ingredients to grind out wins in its trademark
fashion.

But if the Hawkeyes want to open it up in 2010, it looks like
they’ve got the weapons to do so.

”I think we have a chance to be better in the passing game, and
when you have that kind of experience you hope that’s a byproduct
of that good production,” Ferentz said. ”I think for the most
part the receivers have practiced well, and I include the tight
ends in that group, and I think our quarterbacks have done a pretty
good job too. Our goal is to be balanced and we’ll get good
production in the passing game.”