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Midseason report: Iowa Hawkeyes

10/14/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten)

The Hawkeyes have been the Big Ten's biggest enigma for much of the season, though it appears they're figuring things out. Despite meeting football's two most important requirements for success -- running the football and stopping the run -- Iowa split its first six games, with the three losses coming by a combined nine points. Head coach Kirk Ferentz took too long to settle on sophomore Ricky Stanzi as his quarterback, and fan criticism increased for both Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe. But Saturday's blowout win at Indiana could signal the start of a strong second half as Stanzi and his teammates gain greater confidence.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Shonn Greene has been the Big Ten's biggest surprise on offense, surging into the national rushing rankings after spending a year away from football to improve his academics. Greene is the only FBS running back to eclipse 100 rushing yards in each of the first seven games this season. He ranks second in the league and sixth nationally in rushing average (133.9 ypg), and his yards-per-attempt average (6.2) leads FBS backs with at least 150 carries. Greene provides a steadying force on an offense that has endured some fluctuation under center.

Defensive MVP -- As one of the Big Ten's most experienced and dependable defensive lineman, Mitch King is continuing to produce at a high level. The senior defensive tackle leads Iowa in both tackles for loss (9) and sacks (3) and anchors the nation's 18th-ranked rush defense (98.3 ypg allowed) and fifth-ranked scoring defense (10.9 ppg allowed). King eclipsed 200 career tackles last week against Indiana and has a tackle for loss in all but one game this season. Linebacker Pat Angerer (2 INTs, 46 tackles, 3 QB hurries) also merits a mention.

What's next -- Don't be surprised if Iowa ends up in the top half of the Big Ten standings by the end of the season. The Hawkeyes have found their quarterback in Stanzi, and if he limits mistakes and keeps feeding the ball to Greene, good things should happen. King and fellow defensive tackle Matt Kroul anchor a defense that should only get stronger as the season progresses. Iowa needs to continue its momentum against sputtering Wisconsin and inconsistent Illinois before hosting national title contender Penn State on Nov. 8.