2019 Football Preview: Offensive Backfield
As we struggle through the dog days of summer, we get closer by the day to kickoff of the 2019 college football season. And the hope and excitement of another Iowa Hawkeye Football campaign starts anew. With that comes new faces, painful departures, and growth from familiar faces, but what can we expect from the Iowa Hawkeyes this season?
We will start with a dive into the offensive backfield for the 2019 Iowa Hawkeyes, namely the quarterbacks, running backs, and fullbacks.
Returners - 2018 Statistics:
Nate Stanley, Senior - 235 Completions, 396 Attempts, 2852 Passing Yards, 26 TD,
10 INT, 59.3% Completion, Sacked 15 Times
Peyton Mansell, Sophomore - 5 Completions, 8 Attempts, 83 Passing Yards, 1 INT,
Spencer Petras, Redshirt Freshman - 0 Completions, 1 Attempt
Connor Kapisak, Redshirt Freshman
Ryan Schmidt, Senior
Additions: Alex Padilla, - Greenwood Village, Colorado
Outlook at the Position: This position seems the easiest predict of any going into the 2019 football season. Nate Stanley will be the opening day starter with the stiffest competition being between Mansell and Petras to backup Stanley.
Nate Stanley looked solid throughout the 2018 season, matching his 26 touchdowns from the previous season and increasing his completion percentage. Although he threw 4 more interceptions than in 2017, Stanley showed improved in decision making and reduced the number of times to 15, down from 25 in 2017.
The biggest factor that will drive Nate Stanley's success, and likely the success of the Iowa offense this year, will be his consistency. Stanley played well a majority of the 2018 season, but also had arguably his worst 2 game span as a Hawkeye in 2018, compiling a completion percentage of 38% against Penn State and accumulating only 86 passing yards against Maryland. Stanley will be asked to do more in this year's offense and he will have to do it without the safety blanket of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson at tight end. If Stanley can demonstrate an improved level of consistency, he will have a legitmate chance to make a lot of money throwing the football in the NFL.
I believe Nate Stanley will make those strides and demonstrate senior leadership on an offense that will desperately need it, especially early in the year. Without Hockenson and Fant to carry the offensive production and take pressure off the young playmakers at wide receiver and tight end, I look for Stanley to play a key role in helping those young playmakers grow, particularly at the tight end position.
I look for Stanley to have a similar year to last and end up somewhere in the ballpark of:
400 Pass Attempts, 3000 Passing Yards, 30-32 TD, 8 INT, 62.5% Completion, Sacked 10-12 Times
Potential Emerging Contributors: Although they are unlikely to contribute this year, I am excited to see the growth of Mansell and Petras behind Nate Stanley. I have been really high on Spencer Petras in the past, but Peyton Mansell continues to grow on me.
I think Petras fits the mold of what Kirk Ferentz has historically looked for in a quarterback and he can throw deep passes with pinpoint accuracy. Petras would offer stability at the position, as he is built and plays in much the same way that Nate Stanley is built and plays.
Mansell is more slight in build and provides more options for the future offensive schemes that Iowa could run. Mansell's game reminds me of watching Drew Tate when I was younger. He strikes me as a gun slinger that can command an offense and offers enough mobility to get himself out of trouble, but he isn't mobile enough to depend on his legs if the first option he wanted to throw to isn't open.
I like both guys and will be interested to see how the addition of Alex Padilla this year and Deuce Hogan (best quarterback name ever) next year will affect the competition to find Stanley's replacement. The quarterback room will be in good shape, even after Stanley graduates.
Returners - 2018 Statistics:
Mekhi Sargent, Junior - 159 Carries, 745 Rushing Yards, 9 TD, 4.69 yards/carry,
17 Receptions, 156 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
Toren Young, Junior - 136 Carries, 637 Rushing Yards, 5 TD, 4.69 yards/carry,
7 Receptions, 27 Receiving Yards, 1 TD
Ivory Kelly-Martin, Junior - 97 Carries, 341 Rushing Yards, 2 TD, 3.52 yards/carry,
9 Receptions, 78 Receiving Yards
Henry Geil, Redshirt Freshman - 15 Carries, 37 Rushing Yards, 2.47 yards/carry
Samson Evans - Redshirt Freshman
Departures: Kordell Stillmunkes
Tyler Goodson - Suwanee, Georgia
Keonte Luckett - New London, Iowa
Shadrick Byrd - Alabaster, Alabama
Nolan Donald - Morton, Illinois
Outlook at the Position: Much like quarterback, the depth chart at running back seems pretty clear heading into the season. Mekhi Sargent will be the starting running back, with Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young splitting carries behind him. I like Iowa's stable of running backs this year and this could prove to be one of the deepest running back rooms of the Ferentz Era, with the potential of up to 6 guys being ready to make key contributions should the injury bug strike.
The key at running back this year will be, can they shoulder the load of the offense until Nate Stanley finds dependable targets at wide receiver and tight end. Iowa is losing much of its production from the tight end position and the running backs will likely be called upon to help relieve the pressure until those receiving yards are replaced.
For running backs it doesn't make a ton of sense to predict individual stat lines, so at the position I would expect something along the lines of:
450 carries (up about 50 from last year), 2000 Rushing Yards (Up 250 from last year), 50 receptions, 350 receiving yards, and 22-24 Total Touchdowns (Rushing and Receiving)
One stat to watch this year for the running backs is yards per carry. Last year, Iowa running backs averaged 4.32 yards/carry. If the running backs could push that number closer to the 4.75 or 5 yards/carry range, that would help an offense that has to replace its two biggest receiving targets.
Generally, I see the production from the running backs being up compared to last year and I think behind a solid offensive line the running backs could play a key role in driving Iowa's offensive game plan this year, much like it has for a majority of the Ferentz Era at Iowa.
Potential Emerging Contributors: There are three names that I look to potentially make an impact early in their careers: Henry Geil, Samson Evans, and Tyler Goodson. At face value, it doesn't seem like there would be much of an opportunity for these youngsters behind a solid trio of juniors, but the injury bug could always play a factor.
Of the three, I look to Goodson to have the biggest impact in the immediate future. All the rhetoric I've heard surrounding him is that he is the exact kind of running back that Iowa looks for. He's patient waiting for running lanes to open, but when a lane opens he is quick to burst through it and he is decisive in his cuts. Even if he doesn't get an opportunity at running back this year, I think he could be a special teams contributor and impact the games in other ways.
Brady Ross, Senior - 6 Carries, 20 Rushing Yards, 4 Receptions, 28 Receiving Yards
5 First Downs Gained
Turner Pallissard, Redshirt Freshman
Joe Ludwig, Sophomore
Austin Kelly - 6 Carries, 9 Rushing Yards, 1 Reception, 4 Receiving Yards, 1 TD,
3 First Downs Gained
Additions: Johnny Plewa - Franklin, Wisconsin
Outlook at the Position: Fullback might be one of the most underappreciated positions in all of football. You forget about the fullbacks until you need them, and even then I don't think they get the respect they deserve.
Iowa goes into 2019 with 1 of their 2 starting fullbacks returning. Brady Ross was solid early in the year, demonstrating he was a reliable option in short yardage scenarios and a great lead blocker. Austin Kelly emerged late following a Ross injury and performed well in a key role in Iowa's short yardage offense. In 2018, the fullbacks accumulated 17 total touches and converted those touches into 8 first downs and a touchdown. That means that on their touches, the fullbacks either continued an offensive drive or punctuated an offensive drive with points on 53% of their touches.
I would look for the fullbacks to be right where they were last year for a stat line:
20 touches and a conversion rate of approximately 50%.
Potential Emerging Contributors: Fullback is the first position that we've looked at this year that Iowa really needs to find a replacement for a departing contributor. Fullback is a big deal at Iowa, and the Big Ten season is a grueling one. One of the young guys will need to step up and give Brady Ross some relief throughout the year. In 2019, I would anticipate either Pallissard or Ludwig to fill that role, as they have had a year in the program to get their bodies to Big Ten fullback level.
Long term, I would look at Johnny Plewa to be the name you remember from this group of young players. Johnny is the younger brother of Macon Plewa, a 2015 graduate at Iowa and a former fullback for the Iowa Football team. Johnny will know what it takes mentally and physically to play the position at Iowa, having watched his brother, and that's more than half the battle when your primary jobs are to block a linebacker that is running downhill through a running lane and carry the ball 1 or 2 yards at a time when the offense needs inches.
Next Up: Iowa's 2019 Pass Catchers: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends.
I appreciate you sticking with me during these long delays this summer. I will be trying to make these preview posts on a weekly basis leading into the season, with some other stuff either being added in between or replacing the regular weekly preview posts.
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As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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