Iowa Hawkeyes Offensive Line Can't Afford Another 2012

By Derek Helling
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

2012 did not bring the world-ending apocalypse that was prophesied, but it may have felt like it for the University of Iowa offense.  Three of the five season-opening starters on the 2012 offensive line missed several games due to injuries.  Those three players are back in their roles for 2013, and Iowa needs them to stay healthy this year like Lane Kiffin needs to wipe that smirk off his face.

At left tackle, redshirt junior Brandon Scherff returns from the injury to his fibula that held him out of the last five games of 2012.  A member of the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2011 after playing in ten games with three starts at left guard, Scherff will be counted upon to protect redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Rudock‘s blindside and seal the right side of the defense for Iowa’s running game.   Scherff’s backup is redshirt freshman Ryan Ward, so Scherff staying healthy is imperative.

Center is another spot that has a starter who is coming off an injury.  Redshirt sophomore Austin Blythe takes over the snapping duties from the graduated James Ferentz. Tomorrow will be Blythe’s first ever start at center, however.  In 2012 he played in ten games with nine starts at right guard before injuring his ankle. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of Blythe, “he’s done a really nice job, probably surprisingly so. I expected a little bit more few more bumps in the road back in the spring, but he just kind of slid in there and did a good job.”  Blythe’s backup is redshirt sophomore Eric Simmons, whose only collegiate experience was one season at Iowa Western Community College.  As with Scherff, Blythe staying on the field is important.

Andrew Donnal will be the Hawkeyes’ starter at right guard Saturday, and he is also coming off an injury.  The redshirt junior played in five games with three starts in 2012 before sustaining the knee injury.  Depth at this position is not such a concern, as redshirt sophomore Jordan Walsh played in seven games with one start at left guard in 2012.  Coach Ferentz has said that “we’ll play both guys,” so Hawkeye fans should expect to see both Donnal and Walsh at right guard.

Left guard will be anchored by redshirt senior Conor Boffeli who started the last three games of 2012 at that position.  His backup is redshirt freshman Mitch Keppy, so once again keeping Boffeli in playing form will be a priority for the Hawkeyes if they want to have a player with any experience on the field.

Right tackle is a similar deal as Boffeli’s redshirt senior classmate Brett Van Sloten occupies the spot.  Like Boffeli, if Van Sloten were to go down the Hawkeyes would be forced to rely on a redshirt freshman, Cole Creston. Van Sloten is the most experienced of all the Hawkeye offensive linemen, having started all 12 games in 2012 and played in all 12 games in 2011.

Coach Ferentz knows his team can’t afford to have injuries poke holes in his offensive line like TV news journalists poke holes in politicians’ plans.  “That’s not good for any football team certainly…I haven’t rolled out backups that look like starters. It’s just not as easy to do here as some places, so injuries are always a factor,” Ferentz explained. In order for the Hawkeyes to have any shot at a bowl game this season, the offensive line’s starters must avoid a repeat of the 2012 apocalypse.

Derek Helling is a University of Iowa football writer for Follow him on Twitter @DRokSH, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.

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