IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa's resurgence last season was powered by a punishing defense and a rushing attack that eats up yards and time.
Don't expect the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes to abandon their beloved running game in 2010. But don't be surprised if they fling the ball around a bit more than usual either.
Iowa brings back what appears to be their most impressive passing attack in recent memory. The often-conservative Hawkeyes return senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a talented receivers in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt and dependable tight ends Allen Reisner and Brad Herman.
The Hawkeyes probably won't have to get too fancy against FCS school Eastern Illinois in Saturday's opener. But Iowa appears to have more than enough weapons to better the paltry 23.2 points per game it scored last season.
"We would love to have an explosive offensive attack, especially in the pass game. I mean, that can only help us," Stanzi said. "I think we have guys that can go out there and do that."
It all starts with Stanzi, whose inconsistency has been a much-discussed issue for the Hawkeyes. Stanzi threw 17 touchdowns last season and 15 interceptions — including four picks that were returned for touchdowns — and he spent the offseason working to cut down on the mistakes that often put the Hawkeyes in early holes.
"I'd like to think that all the preparation we've all done as team can definitely help change some of the things last year that put us in bad positions," Stanzi said.
Johnson-Koulianos has a chance to become the first Iowa player to lead the team in receiving four years in a row, even though he's often been on coach Kirk Ferentz's bad side for one undisclosed reason or another.
But Ferentz singled him out during fall camp for his strong play, a sign that the Hawkeyes are ready to lean on him more than ever.
McNutt converted to wide receiver after Stanzi emerged as the starting quarterback two years ago, and he quickly took to his new position. McNutt caught a team-high eight touchdown passes in 2009 — including a 7-yarder on the final play at Michigan State to keep Iowa's then-unbeaten season alive. A 6-foot-4 he gives Stanzi a big target near the end zone.
"I have a lot more confidence going in, because I have game experience under me. So, it's really not as if it's the first time I'm going to be playing in front of a crowd," McNutt said.
Iowa's reserve wideouts include senior Colin Sandeman, who will likely make his impact on punt returns, and sophomore Keenan Davis, a highly touted recruit out of nearby Cedar Rapids who has bulked up to 215 pounds and could emerge as the Hawkeyes third receiver before long.
Iowa lost one of its top offensive options in tight end Tony Moeaki, but the Hawkeyes believe they'll be able to compensate for his loss with Reisner and Herman, a pair of reliable tight ends for an offense that uses them extensively.
Ferentz also indicated Tuesday that 6-7 freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz, the top prize in Iowa's most recent recruiting class, could also be a factor at tight end this fall.
"He'll make some mistakes — we'll have a lot of guys make mistakes, but hopefully work around those. I think he'll do a good job, based on what we've seen in practice," Ferentz said.
With eight starters back on defense and a pair of talented sophomore running backs in Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton, Iowa has all the ingredients to grind out wins in its trademark fashion.
But if the Hawkeyes want to open it up in 2010, it looks like they've got the weapons to do so.
"I think we have a chance to be better in the passing game, and when you have that kind of experience you hope that's a byproduct of that good production," Ferentz said. "I think for the most part the receivers have practiced well, and I include the tight ends in that group, and I think our quarterbacks have done a pretty good job too. Our goal is to be balanced and we'll get good production in the passing game."