IOWA CITY, Iowa — The end of the Iowa schedule may be the toughest part of it. It’s not what many would have guessed entering the season, but of the final four opponents No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Nebraska and No. 24 Penn State are all ranked.
The Hawkeyes will need top players like C.J. Beathard, Akrum Wadley, Josey Jewell and Desmond King if they’re to end the season with a slew of victories. It’s the play of secondary and role players that’s been an issue in the first eight games.
With Iowa on a bye week Landof10.com looks at the five most important players (non-star division) that Iowa will need if it’s to win games in the final month of the regular season.
5. Wide receiver Jerminic Smith
The passing game is the biggest issue with the offense. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis admitted the Hawkeyes need more from their perimeter receivers.
That is where Smith steps in. He’s disappeared too often for a team that can’t afford him to play like the sophomore that he is, not with star receiver Matt VandeBerg sidelined.
He has 14 receptions for 186 yards and 1 touchdown. Those numbers must increase if Iowa is to become more than the one-dimensional offense it too often resembles.
4. Tight end Noah Fant
One option Davis mentioned this week to jump-start the aerial attack is to utilize two tight end sets with George Kittle and Fant. The other involved Wadley.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Fant possesses all the physical tools a team would look for in a playmaking tight end. The question is if the true freshman can put it all together before the season ends.
Iowa is in dire need of anyone who can impact the passing game. For Fant, that means seeing something like this 5-yard touchdown reception against Purdue more often.
3. Defensive end Anthony Nelson
The redshirt freshman sure isn’t struggling in adjusting to life at the college level. He’s tied for the team lead with 5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He was also named one of the five most underrated players in the Big Ten by Pro Football Focus.
A strong pass rush, or a big game from one defensive end, could severely impact an opponent’s offense or the outcome of a contest. Nelson putting together a big game or two against one of the remaining Top 25 opponents would increase the odds of an Iowa upset.
2. Safety Brandon Snyder
Missed tackles, playing in space and big plays plague the Iowa defense when things go wrong. All three involve the safety position time and again, as the latest Landof10.com Iowa film review pointed out.
The Iowa defense turned a corner in its final three games before the bye. One of the final spots where teams are continuing to exploit the Hawkeyes can be shored up at safety.
1. Wide receiver Jay Scheel
How important is Iowa getting something more from its receiving options? This is the third one on this five-player list.
Too often this season the receivers can’t get separation from defensive backs. It’s hard for quarterback C.J. Beathard to impact a game when he can’t find anyone open down the field.
Like Smith and Fant, Scheel brings the physical gifts Iowa needs. He tops the list because he did the best job of putting it all together against Wisconsin. He got behind the defense, setting up a big play. He just didn’t finish.
Scheel needs to catch that football. The receivers aren’t doing it enough. It’s the biggest thing that must change for the Hawkeyes over the final month.