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Thursday Morning Brews: Iowa, Still Unbeaten

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Acknowledging Iowa

Things are going well for the Hawkeyes right now - so well that a couple weeks ago, Kirk Ferentz cracked a joke to his strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle: "[I'm just] waiting for the other shoe to drop.'' Well, he's probably not the only one. But so far, it hasn't, and Iowa fans are starting to talk about the lack of national respect.

Not too long ago, those fans were unhappy for other reasons. Ferentz had compiled just one 10-win season since a three-year stretch from 2002-04. The team had a losing conference record since 2009. In the last regular-season game of 2014, a 7-4 Hawkeyes squad that was leading Nebraska 24-7 in the third quarter would go on to lose that game to Bo Pelini, causing Ferentz to use the expression, "That's football" three times in his post-game press conference. Fans were not pleased.

Then, something changed. Iowa came out and beat a solid Illinois State team by 17, then beat Iowa State (now 2-5) by 14. Then they beat Pitt. Then they crushed North Texas. And then they beat Wisconsin, and that should have sprung the alarms that something was going on in Iowa City.

But this is not the kind of team that attracts attention. Sure, C.J. Beathard is well-known around the conference, but he hasn't gotten 300 total yards in a game yet this season, and he's only thrown 9 touchdown passes. Iowa's running backs have rushed for 1,307 yards to the tune of 5.4 yards a pop, but until Jordan Canzeri's absurd 256-yard game a few weeks ago, none of Iowa's tailbacks had put up more than 125 yards in a game. (The week after Canzeri posterized all of Illinois' defense, Akrum Wadley ran wild over Northwestern. So Iowa's backs ran for 767 yards in the first five games and 540 in the next two.)

Wideout Matt VandeBerg has been targeted more than any other Big Ten receiver relative to the team's overall production, but VandeBerg is not a SportsCenter star, either. He's a move-the-chains guy who's eleventh in the conference in receiving yards despite all the catches. So you could understand, maybe, how this offense got overlooked, even while the running game picked up steam in recent weeks. The defense has been big, too, but it's not like they have defensive tackles catching 31-yard TD passes or getting ejected for epic battles in the trenches. Mostly, they just do their jobs.

But enough about why Iowa got overlooked for as long as they did. Instead, let's take a minute to highlight what they've managed to accomplish. Their rushing defense is up to third in the nation, right behind Boston College and Michigan. They have a top-ten scoring defense, as well, and they're also one of the nation's best at running the ball and bleeding the clock. Desmond King and Greg Mabin are on the conference's best cornerback duos, and Cole Fisher has quietly been one of the better linebackers. Up front, Kirk Ferentz has gotten his offensive and defensive lines playing extremely well. And Beathard has been eager to hit open receivers while limiting turnovers.

And given that Iowa has beaten the next two teams in the Big Ten West standings, they have a formidable lead in the race to Indianapolis. Then, there's the mere fact that their next five opponents - Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska - are a combined 14-23 and a miserable 2-15 against other Big Ten teams. Not many teams have a lead this sizable for the conference title game with almost half a season to play. Who had seen this coming?

"I just know once November comes, that's when everything gets done and that's when everything matters," shrugged cornerback Desmond King over his team's first two months of success. "And that's where you have to finish the season — that's our goal as well. We didn't finish off last year as good."

Hitting the Links Is A Student Of The Game

The Consistency of Zeke Elliott

Zeke's backups have barely touched the ball, with Curtis Samuel getting 12 carries on the year and Bri'onte Dunn 13. Dunn has been written off by a few Ohio State fans who've been waiting for him to 'break out' for a few years, but the guy has looked special in his limited touches. He's averaging almost as many yards per carry as Zeke (6.8 to 6.5).

Living With Harbaughisms

I love quotes a lot. They're great for getting a point across or thinking about something differently. And Jim Harbaugh's quote last week about worms and machine guns is one of my favorites.

A.J. Williams Discusses Weight Loss

Williams is listed at 285 on the official roster, but he admits he's leaner and faster than people might expect.

Big Ten Analyst Slots Three B1G Teams In Playoff

Not enough, I say. Where is Purdue?

J.T. Barrett Talks About Deep Passes, Comparisons To CJ

I'll say this (again?): J.T. is a terrific ambassador of the game, and he's fun to watch on or the off the field.

Barrett to Samuel: Touchdown | Michael Thomas, Too

I've gotten away from charts a little bit, but I'll leave this here.

Completion % Pass Yards TD INT YPA Rush Yards YPC TD Total YPP Total TD
Cardale Jones 63.2% 1,266 7 5 8.33 128 2.5 1 6.87 8
J.T. Barrett 66.1% 472 7 2 7.61 329 7.8 7 7.70 14

The Law Offices Of Holmes | & Scott

Michigan State does not have a scholarship running back on its roster who's in their senior season. Delton Williams might consider leaving for the NFL, as the back who waited behind Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill now is ceding snaps to Holmes, London, Scott, and Shelton.

Thorson Run | Kenny Bell Talks About Nebraska Football

Nebraska fans are getting pretty upset, I'd assume, with getting gashed repeatedly by athletic runners. The Huskers need to get some blue-chip athletes into that secondary to keep up with some of the Melvin Gordons and Clayton Thorsons of the world, and that is a complaint that can be leveled against either Pelini or Riley.

Christian Hackenberg TD

Hack looked better this week. Some of his balls were a little dangerous, but he showed a lot more confidence and poise. Meanwhile, Maryland's offense suddenly looks similar to the days of C.J. Brown, as Perry Hills brings a bigger focus on running gains to escape trouble. Luckily, he's a little more athletic than Brown was.

Akrum Wadley: Game Vs. Maryland "Could Be A Good Day"

Some of Iowa's key players are quoted here. Tevaun Smith and C.J. Beathard both talk about their health.

The Shift To Rugby Tackling

Incredible tales about third-string quarterbacks aside, the game is more fun when the starters actually play. Safety is good for the players, good for the coaches, and good for fans.

Pat Narduzzi's Overhaul Of Pitt

Pitt's done a good job on Twitter, establishing an identity, and recruiting good players that can compete. This season hasn't gone to plan - not with star RB James Conner getting injured for the season and the starting quarterback, Chad Voytik, getting benched.