The Hawkeyes vs. top pass-catchers: How have they fared?

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IOWA CITY, IOWA- OCTOBER 16: Wide receiver David Bell #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers runs down the sideline in the first half in front of defensive back Kaevon Merriweather #25 of the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on October 9, 2021 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

 

Passing is king right now in college football and after having faced some of the top passing offenses in country, few know that better than the Hawkeyes. At this point, the fate of the quarterbacks of those offenses is well documented, but what about the receivers?

This season the Hawkeyes have faced seven of the top pass-catchers in the country. They’ve combined for 11 all-conference and four all-American selections, with all having realistic pro prospects.

“It seems like every week it seems like we’re saying we’re facing somebody who is challenging in their receiver core,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said before Iowa played Purdue.

There’s been a variety too. They faced receivers and tight ends, tall and short, fast and powerful. Here’s a look at how they’ve run this gauntlet.

Week 1 vs. Indiana: Ty Fryfogle, WR

Stats: 5 catches, 84 yards

What they said about him: “There are a lot of good receivers in our conference. He’s right at the top of the class. He’s an excellent football player.” – Kirk Ferentz

What happened: Fryfogle came into the season opener as the Big Ten’s reigning receiver of the year, having gone for 721 yards and seven touchdowns in just eight games the year prior. The Hawkeyes were able to keep him in check throughout most of the game. He had two 30+ yard receptions that set up both of Indiana’s field goals that day. That would be the extent of his impact. Since that game, Fryfogle has struggled to produce. He has just 337 yards and one touchdown in six games.

Week 2 at Iowa State: Xavier Hutchinson, WR, & Charlie Kolar, TE

Stats: 3 catches, 22 yards (Hutchinson)/4 catches, 34 yards (Kolar)

What they said about him: “One shift over years is, the last couple years, it’s the personell they play to, but it’s like everyone else; if you have good players you tend to try to get them on the field as much as possible. He’s an outstanding player.” – Kirk Ferentz

What happened: The Cy-Hawk game was the first game for 2020 All-American Charlie Kolar. Xavier Hutchinson was coming off an 88 yard performance in Iowa State’s opener against Northern Iowa. He was the team’s leading receiver that day.

Agaisnt the Hawkeyes, neither one of them saw much action at all. 16 of Hutchinson’s yards came on a field goal drive in the first quarter, while Kolar had his catches spread across the day. None were longer than 10 yards and didn’t contribute to any scoring drives.

Those two stat lines remain the lowest of the season for both players to this point.

Week 4 vs. Colorado State: Trey McBride, TE

Stats: 6 catches, 59 yards

What they said about him: “Obviously they have a great tight end, and he’s been a problem for many teams this year. We just know we have to come physically ready to stop him.” – Kaevon Merriweather

What happened: Trey McBride came into the game with some NFL buzz and still does. He started the season with back-to-back 100-yard performances before coming to Iowa City. He was held in check for the most part, but was a still a thorn in Iowa’s side. He was big on third down for the Rams, as three of his five catches were third down conversions.

He also showed off his athleticism with a toe-tapping grab on a deflected pass over safety Jack Koerner.

Colorado State ran the ball 48 times to passing just 30 in that game, so opportunities for McBride weren’t necessarily abundant, but his impact was minimized nonetheless. Just like the Iowa State duo, the game against Iowa is his lowest output of the season.

Since then, he’s been added to the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award.

Week 5 at Maryland: Dontay Demus Jr., WR

Stats: 4 catches, 61 yards

What they said about him: “They’ve all got single digits. They’ve got good size. They’ve got good size besides good athleticism. It’s a tough matchup for all of us on the back end.” – Kirk Ferentz

What happened: This one comes with an asterisk because Demus only played just over one quarter due to an injury suffered on a kickoff. He came into the game as a top-10 NFL prospect according to ESPN and the Big Ten’s leading receiver at just under 113 yards per game.

He looked to be on his way to another big game had he not gotten injured, as he had 61 yards in that 1+ quarter he played. He did give us a cool moment though, when he shouted “I’m coming back” to his teammates as he was carted off the field.

The Hawkeyes went on to force seven turnovers in that game, six via interception. Demus Jr. is out for the rest of the season after getting right knee surgery.

Week 6 vs. Penn State: Jahan Dotson, WR

Stats: 8 catches, 48 yards

What they said about him: “You just watch him play, there’s no wasted movement. He’s concise. Everything is really sharp. I have to think the pro guys watching him, have to like him. He’s a really decisive player. He’s a talented player, but he’s a good football player. He plays hard.” – Kirk Ferentz

What happened: Dotson got probably the highest compliments from coach Ferentz coming to their top-5 clash with Iowa. Others seemed to agree with that sentiment, as ESPN has him ranked as one of the top receiver prospects in the draft.

Dotson had at least one touchdown in each of his first five games before Iowa. Then the Hawkeyes ended that streak. He was targeted a whopping 17 times, but only had 48 yards on eight catches to show for it. Granted Penn State was playing with a backup quarterback for most of the game.

That was Dotson’s worst game of the season statistically. Penn State was on a bye this past week, so it’s yet to be seen how he’ll bounce back.

Week 7 vs. Purdue: David Bell, WR

Stats: 11 catches, 240 yards, 1 TD

What they said about him: “We haven’t done a good job in two years. I don’t know, I haven’t gone back, I don’t want to depress myself and look at how many catches he’s had in two years.” – Kirk Ferentz

What happened: Is it too soon to talk about David Bell yet? He ended last season as a first-team All-Big Ten selection and came into the season as an NFL prospect. He showed why by having a good season through four games, having topped 100 yards in three of them. He also had a history of torching Iowa even before Saturday’s 200-yard explosion. In 2019, as just a freshman he had 13 catches for 197 and a touchdown against No. 23 Iowa. In 2020 he had 13 catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns.

So Saturday’s performance didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. The Hawkeyes had no answer for Bell. He almost had more yards than the entire Iowa offense and the touchdown that sealed the Purdue win. He hurt Iowa most with the big play, something they’ve been so good against all year. He had five catches of 20 yards or more.

Iowa was without one starting corner in Riley Moss and Matt Hankins was playing at least part of the game on a hurt shoulder, but they didn’t use that as an excuse after the game.

It’s the lone blemish for the Hawkeyes on an otherwise impressive run. Needless to say, Hawkeye fans are hoping to see him play on Sundays next year.

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