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Competition boosts Hawkeyes offense

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The competition-makes-us-better line is one rung below one-game-at-a-time on the sports cliche-o-meter, but Iowa is backing it up this season.

The Hawkeyes had few jobs solidified on offense heading into camp, including both quarterback and running back. Gone were top rushers Albert Young and Damian Sims. Former walk-on Paki O'Meara emerged from spring ball as the starter, and the presumed favorite to become the featured back, Shonn Greene, had spent the previous year away from the team at a junior college. Quarterback Jake Christensen didn't inspire great confidence after starting last season, and he needed to beat out Ricky Stanzi to remain on the top line.

Greene's name didn't even appear on the Week 1 depth chart, which contained plenty of slashes rather than commas between players, signifying positions that were still unsettled.

"I don't know if I was safe in my spot," senior guard Seth Olsen said. "I felt the competition, too. On the defensive side, Matt [Kroul] and Mitch [King] are going to start, but offensively, we went into camp thinking, 'Alright, every spot is up for grabs.' That helped us perform at a higher level."

As Iowa heads into Saturday's rivalry game against Iowa State, it has found answers at several offensive trouble spots, and competition gets the credit. Left guard is the only spot still undetermined on this week's depth chart.

"In most cases, it's a matter of two guys that we feel are pretty capable," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's usually more of that than anything else. Sometimes it means you don't have anybody, and we may find that to be true down the road. But I don't think that's the case.

"I think our depth is probably a little better this year than it's been maybe in some years at some positions."

Greene has shown no rust whatsoever thus far, ranking second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing average (119.5 ypg). The junior is averaging 6.8 yards a carry and has yet to lose a yard.

The competition has been extremely weak -- Maine and Florida International -- but Greene could be in store for another big day against Iowa State, which ranks 104th nationally in rushing defense (211.5 ypg). Despite the time off last season, Greene has quickly improved his conditioning for games.

"He's not there yet, but at least these [games] have been good," Ferentz said. "It's a good start for him at least to go out there and compete in game competition, to get whacked."

Stanzi hasn't been whacked much, which is a good thing for an offensive line that allowed 46 sacks in 2007. The sophomore came on strong toward the end of the preseason and has replaced Christensen as the team's starter.

"Both guys have really done a good job in all the situations that they've been in," Ferentz said, "and the thing that motivated us to start Rick last week, we didn't have a chance to see him as a starter. This is the first time we got an exposure to that. I think he handled it well."