Sports

Iowa Hawkeyes show resilience, start off 5-1 despite struggles on both sides of ball

  • Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates tight end Henry Krieger Coble after a successful extra point during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 45-29. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

    Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates tight end Henry Krieger Coble after a successful extra point during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Indiana, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 45-29. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)  (The Associated Press)

  • Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, left, hands off to running back Mark Weisman during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 45-29. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

    Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, left, hands off to running back Mark Weisman during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 45-29. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)  (The Associated Press)

Iowa is halfway through a season in which it has yet to play up to its potential.

And yet the Hawkeyes are 5-1, 2-0 in the Big Ten and tied atop the West division.

It seems like resilience is one of Iowa's best traits in 2014.

The Hawkeyes have dealt with a ton of issues on offense, and they beat Indiana at home last weekend despite allowing a number of big plays defensively.

But Iowa heads to Maryland (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday with a shot at bowl eligibility and a week of rest ahead of a grueling stretch to end the regular season.

"It's what we do moving forward. So that's going to be the key right now. The one thing that's been constant, our guys have had a good attitude," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We haven't always played as well as we need to, and the big thing is how much improvement can we make here in the next seven weeks.

For weeks, Iowa's biggest question has been at quarterback.

Starter Jake Rudock appears to have answered it.

Rudock went 14 of 18 passing for 179 yards in the first half and threw a pair of TD passes as the Hawkeyes offense matched its best effort of the season, 31 points, in just two quarters against the Hoosiers.

Backup C.J. Beathard played extensively in the second half as part of Iowa's plan to rotate both quarterbacks.

But the Hawkeyes went with a more conservative game plan behind Beathard, both because they held a big lead and because Indiana was forced to play untested freshman Chris Covington. Indiana's starting quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, separated his shoulder in the second quarter and is now out for the year.

Beathard completed just two passes for nine yards in the 45-29 win.

"He's grown and getting better...I thought he played really well," Ferentz said about Rudock. "We expect Jake to play well, and we expect C.J. to play well. I thought he played well while he was in there. So that's one position where I feel pretty good about knowing what we're going to get."

Iowa's defense remains among the best in the Big Ten, allowing just 19.2 points a game.

But for the second time this season, its back seven was burned in space by an opposing running back.

The Hawkeyes allowed three completions of at least 50 yards to Northern Iowa's David Johnson in the opener, all of those off of short passes in the flat. Last weekend, Indiana's Tevin Coleman had touchdown runs of 83, 69 and 45 yards and finished with 219 yards on just 15 carries.

Ferentz gave the bulk of the credit to Coleman, who now leads the nation in 1,060 rushing yards, and Indiana's line certainly gave Coleman space on his big runs.

But the Hawkeyes defense lost focus after jumping ahead 28-7 in the first quarter.

It nearly cost them the lead.

"It was a little bit of everything," Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said. "We got a little bit relaxed, and when we got a little bit too relaxed that's when those big plays started to pop off."

Still, Iowa has two things working in its favor.

The Hawkeyes have started to establish the run — and they have a reputation for improving as the season wears on.

Iowa has yet to have a 100-yard rusher this season, which remains a curious statistic for a program so synonymous with a pro-style attack. But senior Mark Weisman is starting to look a lot like the lead back the Hawkeyes hoped he'd be this season, and he's the healthiest he's been heading into the heart of league play.

Iowa, which played its best in late November last season, has the last week of October off before facing division rivals Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska; all sandwiched by a trip to Illinois, in a stretch of just 27 days.

"We've been in positions really close to this," Ferentz said. "It's the second half of the season that determines typically who we are."

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP