There was quite a bit of movement on the defensive side of the ball this offseason for the Hawkeyes. Essentially a whole new defensive line and some new faces at linebacker. On Saturday, they get an immediate chance to see how they stack up.
“We can’t use youth as an excuse,” said junior linebacker Jack Campbell.
It comes against a Hoosiers’ offense that had plenty of turnover itself, especially on the line and at running back. But that’s part of the fun with opening the season with a ranked, conference opponent.
“We have an idea at least of what they do,” said Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz. “You still never know quite what they’ll do. Then they have unknowns in terms of personnel.”
If there’s one thing they do know however, its that quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is going to be at the center of almost everything.
“You start with the quarterback, veteran guy, he’s just a special player,” said Campbell. “He’s got a great arm, he can make any throw on the field. Also being able to do it with his legs is going to be a challenge.”
The redshirt junior has been through a lot. He’s is 10-2 as a starter and was named second-team All-Big Ten last season, but missed the end of the season with a torn ACL. The Iowa defense isn’t expecting a lot of rust, in fact they’re expecting him to be as tough as ever.
“During the game we expect him to be 100 percent,” said junior Dane Belton. “It puts pressure on the defense knowing he won’t get flustered very easily.”
Penix Jr. is the heart of an offense the Hawkeyes haven’t seen much in practice. One that plays faster. So matching that speed is key this weekend.
“They do spread the ball a little more than our offense,” Campbell said. “As a linebacker we’re just going to have to get out to our zone a little bit quicker. It’s going to be farther than what we’re used to. Just being able to do that and do it quick.”
One guy will get a lot of attention from Penix Jr. and thus the Hawkeyes: the 2020 Big Ten Receiver of the year, Ty Fryfogle.
“No. 3 is as good as we’re going to play against,” said Ferentz of Fryfogle.
Last year, he averaged nearly 20 yards per catch, so the goal for the secondary is to limit those big plays.
“It displays a challenge for us, having to be disciplined on every play,” Belton said. “Play action, deep balls, quick passes, all that stuff.”
That aforementioned new d-line group will be going up against an Indiana o-line that’s quite new itself, especially on the interior. Coach Ferentz said to expect a lot of guys rotating up front throughout the game. Regardless of who it is though, they’ve got plenty of belief behind them.
“Keeping our confidence in them, to allow them to play confidently,” said Campbell. “I have full confidence in the defensive line. I’m not worried about them at all.”