The regular season is all wrapped up, and we're passing out grades to each Big Ten team for offense, defense, special teams and overall performance. Iowa didn't post its 2012 report card on the refrigerator but can feel much better about its marks this fall.
Here's how Kirk Ferentz's crew fared.
The Hawkeyes offense received a failing grade last season and had plenty of its fans dropping F-bombs, but the unit made tangible strides this fall. Iowa wasn't a juggernaut, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in yards and ninth in points, but it found an identity behind second-year coordinator Greg Davis. The running backs finally managed to stay healthy and formed a nice power game behind a good offensive line. Sophomore Jake Rudock stabilized the quarterback spot despite taking no game snaps before the season kicked off.
Iowa played to its strengths, namely a talented group of tight ends led by red-zone threat C.J. Fiedorowicz. Rudock spread the ball well, and backs Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri all had their moments. The Hawkeyes lacked explosiveness at times but didn't beat themselves as much as they did in 2012.
A rock-solid defense led by one of the nation's best linebacker groups helped Iowa flip its record from 4-8 to 8-4 this fall. The unit's gains weren't as dramatic as those on offense, but Iowa improved to No. 7 nationally in total defense, 11th in both points allowed and pass yards allowed, and 17th in rush yards allowed. Iowa tied with No. 1 Florida State in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (5) and fewest plays of 20 yards or longer allowed (30).
Senior linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens led the way, combining for 10 takeaways. Each ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 tacklers. They played behind a defensive line that Ferentz called the team's most improved unit. Senior cornerback B.J. Lowery led the secondary with three interceptions and 16 pass breakups.
Special teams: B-minus
Punt returner Kevonte Martin-Manley sparked Iowa's kicking game with two touchdowns and a league-leading 16.2-yard average. Otherwise, the Hawkeyes' special teams were decent but not spectacular. Kicker Mike Meyer connected on 16 of 21 field-goal attempts but missed three tries inside the 40-yard line. Fake punts continue to burn Iowa as Michigan State successfully executed one, leaving Ferentz to consider scrapping the punt return team altogether.
Iowa had a lot to smile about this season after a forgettable 2012 campaign. The Hawkeyes went 5-1 in Legends Division play, regained their crunch-time mojo in wins against both Northwestern and Michigan and restored some of the principles that characterized Ferentz's best Iowa teams. Their losses all came against ranked opponents, and they competed well in every game. Much like the 2008 team, these Hawkeyes got Iowa back on track and have set the program up for even better things next season.
More report cards