Iowa lowers the curtain on its spring Saturday at Kinnick Stadium with a second open-to-the-public practice. Two weeks after the Hawkeyes traveled to Des Moines for an evening workout, coach Kirk Ferentz’s team plans to scrimmage -- and keep score, using an offense vs. defense format to determine a winner of the annual spring game.
For the Hawkeyes, the scrimmage puts an end to the spring quest to replace starters at nine positions. Notably, Iowa lost a pair of All-Big Ten offensive lineman and two standout defensive ends. It learned of the final departure just last week as Drew Ott was denied his appeal for a medical-hardship waiver.
Largely, though, Iowa returns its top talent, led by second-team all-league quarterback C.J. Beathard, All-American cornerback Desmond King and middle linebacker Josey Jewell, the first sophomore named a team captain in 17 years under Ferentz.
The Hawkeyes figure to open 2016 as a favorite in the Big Ten West after starting 12-0 last season en route to their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.
Here’s more about Saturday.
Where to watch: Kinnick Stadium. Admission is free, and surface parking lots around the stadium will be open. Fans are invited to bring non-perishable food items to team with the Hawkeyes and the Johnson County Crisis Center in their annual Food Bank Drive. Collection bins will be located in the Krause Family Plaza at the south end of the stadium and the parking lot east of Kinnick. The west and south grandstands will be open to spectators. The Hawkeyes plan to sign autographs for fans 25 minutes before kickoff.
When to watch: Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. CT. The Big Ten Network will provide live streaming coverage on its app.
Who to watch: Start with sophomore receivers Jerminic Smith, Jay Scheel and Adrian Falconer and junior Jonathan Parker. Of the quartet, all on the two-deep this spring, only Smith, with six catches, contributed statistically in 2015. They will all get the chance next season to catch passes from Beathard, with Smith and Scheel in competition to fill the position manned by big-play wideout Tevaun Smith last season.
Watch the guys covering them, too. King, the Thorpe Award-winning cornerback, said this week that he played a little safety in the spring. That is likely just a wrinkle, though, as Iowa looks solid with Miles Taylor and new starter Brandon Snyder in the middle of the secondary. Additionally, at cornerback, the Hawkeyes are thin, with Greg Mabin out for the spring and the news this week that senior Maurice Fleming plans to transfer. Corner Joshua Jackson has been limited by injury, leaving plenty of opportunity for redshirt freshman Michael Ojemudia to impress in the spring.
If you’re into blocking, junior Drake Kulick and freshman Brady Ross are battling to replace fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox. Also, on the offensive line, Boone Myers continues his transition to guard after starting the majority of last season at left tackle. That position belongs to former walk-on Cole Croston.
Finally, at defensive end, the Hawkeyes feature a new look with 6-foot-8 Matt Nelson, a projected starter, 6-7 Anthony Nelson and 6-5 Sam Brincks. Parker Hesse, a mere 6-3, is set to start again after replacing the injured Ott midseason last season as a redshirt freshman.
What to watch: The Hawkeyes know what they’ve got in Beathard, a resilient and smart leader who completed 61.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions as a junior in his first season as a starter. Beathard was dangerous last year at extending plays with his feet despite playing hurt for most of the season. He’s still on the mend from sports-hernia surgery in January, and he won’t take a hit Saturday. Iowa fans can still enjoy his right arm, of course, which looked accurate as ever this month in Des Moines.
If the top units battle, the interior matchup at the line of scrimmage is also worth your time as defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata, both returning starters, knock pads with Sean Welsh, who is playing center this spring and might stay there in the fall. Welsh is Iowa’s best lineman, with experience at every position but left tackle. James Daniels, injured this spring, will likely join Welsh and Myers inside in the fall. For now, sophomore Keegan Render gets a shot.
Why to watch: Are you kidding? This is it for football until August. A few Iowa fans missed out on the fun at Kinnick last year as attendance dipped in spite of the wild success after the disappointment of a 7-6 finish in 2014. No better time to go back than the present.