Harty: My Individual Awards at Bye Week
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the 7-0 Iowa football team heading into a much-needed bye week, now seems like a good time to recognize some jobs well done.
So much has gone into this latest resurgence under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, including effort, enthusiasm, attention to detail and individual talent.
The journey is far from over with five regular-season games and a bowl game still left to play. But I’ve seen enough after seven consecutive victories to recognize some of the Iowa players for their contributions.
Most Valuable Player: Junior cornerback Desmond King is the choice in a close call over junior quarterback C.J. Beathard. Both players have been stars on the field, making one pivotal, game-changing play after another.
King leads the Big Ten with six interceptions in just seven games and only needs two more to tie the school single-season record of eight, held by the legendary Nile Kinnick and Lou King (no relation). Desmond King also has helped to shift field position as a dynamic punt and kick returner. The Detroit native is averaging 15.7 yards on 10 punt returns this season.
Beathard was spectacular in the first four games, but just average in the past three while dealing with injuries. Iowa wouldn’t be undefeated without him, though.
Unsung hero: Fifth-year senior tight end Henry Krieger Coble has filled in admirably in the absence of the injured Jake Duzey. Krieger Coble ranks third on the team with 17 catches for 165 yards. He was mostly used as a blocker in his first three seasons, but has expanded his game in Duzey’s absence to become more of a pass-catching threat.
Silent star: Fifth-year senior offensive guard Jordan Walsh often gets overlooked because of everything that goes on around him, but he has been a stabilizing force in the trenches. The former four-star recruit from suburban Chicago made his 31st career start this past Saturday against Northwestern, and had yet another fine performance. Walsh has been equally effective as a run and pass blocker. His maturity and experience have helped to ease the transition with Iowa having new starters at both tackle positions.
Most improved player: Senior Dillon Kidd has punted 27 times this season for an impressive average of 44.8 yards per attempt. He averaged just 38.5 yards on 46 attempts last season. Kidd struggled last season to the point where starting kicker Marshall Koehn was given the chance to compete for the punting job, too. Koehn’s presence seems to have had a positive effect on Kidd, whose ability to shift field position has paid huge dividends this season.
Most improved position: This came down to linebacker and the offensive line. I went with the linebackers because they have gone from being a glaring weakness last season to almost a strength this season. All three starting linebackers – Josey Jewell, Cole Fisher and Ben Niemann – also were given serious consideration for the most improved player.
Top newcomer: This was a no-brainer thanks to the rare achievements of true freshman offensive lineman James Daniels. He made his first career start on Saturday against Northwestern and has played extensively in all seven games. He has played mostly at guard, but moved to right tackle against Illinois after Ike Boettger was injured.
Life-time achievement award: Senior center Austin Blythe made his 42nd career start on Saturday against Northwestern. The Williamsburg native has shifted back and forth from guard to center as a Hawkeye, performing well at both positions, while also being a respected team leader on and off the field.
Tough-man award: This could go to a bunch of players on the team because you don’t play football for a power five school without being tougher than the average person. From all three starting linebackers to defensive tackles Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata to fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox, there is toughness throughout the Iowa roster.
But no player epitomizes toughness in my opinion more than senior defensive end Nate Meier. The 6-foot-2, 252-pounder goes to battle every Saturday in the trenches against players that usually have a huge size advantage over him, but Meier just keeps coming. He has been well-coached and blessed with some physical talent. But it’s Meier’s toughness that stands out the most.
Beathard also was considered for this award because he has been pounded this season, but he just keeps withstanding the pain and making plays.
Next-man-in award: Senior Jordan Canzeri has rushed for 698 yards and scored nine touchdowns after starting the season as the backup to junior LeShun Daniels. However, Canzeri injured his ankle against Northwestern on Saturday, making his availability uncertain at this point.
Next-man-in-for-the-next-man-in award: Sophomore Akrum Wadley earned this during Saturday’s 40-10 victory at Northwestern by replacing Canzeri late in the first quarter and then rushing for 204 yards and tying a school record with four touchdowns.