IOWA CITY, Iowa – Three things stood out during the Iowa football team’s Kids Day practice on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, and one was that Kirk Ferentz wore a long-sleeve black t-shirt despite the oppressive heat.
That’s another way of saying not much stood out.
The first-team defense had its way with the first-team offense, but that always seems to be the case with these open practices. And in fairness to the offense, first-and-second team running backs LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri barely participated in the live scrimmage as a precautionary measure.
The third thing that stood out was the performance of No. 2 quarterback Tyler Wiegers. I’m not suggesting we have a quarterback controversy because it probably would take starter C.J. Beathard playing poorly for an extended period to even narrow the gap.
But for one practice, Wiegers showed that maybe there is a glimmer of hope this season beyond Beathard.
Wiegers, a 6-foot-4, 222-pound redshirt freshman from Lake Orion, Mich., had the most success throwing downfield among Iowa’s four quarterbacks on scholarship. He also showed a nice touch on some shorter passes that were thrown into tight windows.
But it was just one practice against mostly Iowa’s second-team defense. Wiegers also showed his lack of experience by telegraphing a short pass that was turned into a pick six.
Wiegers is still unproven, and will stay that way until he plays in a real game.
The same for Iowa’s two new starters at offensive tackle, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger. They both certainly look the part, but looks don’t win games on Saturday.
“It’s kind of like the offensive tackles, Tyler is an extremely high-caliber young guy,” Ferentz said of Wiegers after Saturday’s practice. “He’s a real intelligent guy. He works hard. He’s got a great attitude, a positive attitude.
“You can’t learn this stuff sitting in a chair. You have to get out and go through the ups and downs of practice and competition. But he’s so consciousness. He’s learning from every experience. If he makes a mistake, it’s rare to see him make the same one soon thereafter.”
Ferentz then went on to say that Wiegers is clearly better than he was in the spring. So that’s encouraging.
What wasn’t encouraging is that the first-team offense sputtered throughout most of the scrimmage. Beathard rarely had the opportunity to showcase his powerful right arm because it was rare that a receiver got open downfield before senior defensive end Drew Ott crashed the pocket.
“Obviously, practicing with them for the past week in two-a-days, they kind of get a feel for what you’re doing,” Beathard said of the Iowa defense. “That’s why, sometimes, we do stuff specifically for our defense just to trick them because they know our signals.
“But that’s no excuse. We wish we would have played better today as an offensive unit. But it’s also good to see your defense doing that well because your defense can keep you in games when the offense is struggling.”
It’s important not to overreact negatively or positively based on what occurs in one practice. There have been days when the Iowa offense shined brighter than the defense. Saturday just wasn’t one of them.
The Iowa defense also has some talented players, most notably Ott and junior cornerback Desmond King. We’re skeptical about the defense because it turned into a sieve during Iowa’s 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl in January.
But it’s hard to think of Iowa having a successful season without the defense leading the way. So maybe the stage is being set for that to happen this fall.
King blanketed his receiver as if he was in the offensive huddle while the play was being called.
“Obviously, Des is a great cornerback,” Beathard said. “He has a feel for the game whether it be against us or against another offense. He’s got a weird thing where he can just kind of tell where the ball is going to be and you don’t know how it happens.
“It’s just like, wow, how can he do that?”
King credited two things for the defense’s success of Saturday.
“It comes from the high tempo of our defense and the playmakers,” he said. “You have to have the veterans step up.”
A team’s success depends a great deal on the ability of its players to make plays. The Iowa coaches, particularly Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis, have been criticized for making the offense boring and predictable.
Some of that is justified, but it also comes down to making plays.
That’s where I question this Iowa team, even more so than the play calling.
Will it have enough playmakers on offense to climb above being mediocre?
Will Beathard be as good as some Iowa fans assume he will be despite limited playing time?
Will Myers and Boettger perform well enough to where the two tackle positions aren’t weaknesses?
Can the defense hold its own and cover for the offense when it sputters?
And will the players develop the mental toughness that’s needed to win close games, which are so much a part of Hawkeye football under Ferentz?
Those answers won’t come until the season starts, which is still three weeks away.
That’s another thing that stood out about Saturday’s practice; this season can’t get here soon enough.