IOWA CITY — One of the “moving parts’’ on the Iowa football team’s offensive line is hoping for a little stability.
“That’s what we need as much as anything, just a chance to be out there together and build some chemistry,’’ offensive tackle Alaric Jackson said. “When you look at it, we really haven’t had much of a chance to do that.’’
The 23rd-ranked Hawkeyes have started five different lineup combinations on the offensive front five during Iowa’s 4-2 start to the season.
Primarily because of injuries, there has been a seemingly constant churn in personnel up front and that has led to issues which were unmasked during losses the past two games against top-20 opponents.
After being sacked just six times in Iowa’s first four games, defenders from Michigan and Penn State plowed through Iowa’s protection to drop quarterback Nate Stanley 10 times in the Hawkeyes’ back-to-back losses the past two weeks.
“That’s not what we’re about,’’ Jackson said. “Our priority as a line is to protect Nate and give him the time he needs to get the job done back there. We haven’t lived up to our end of the deal the past couple of games.’’
Communication issues on the offensive line led to a costly second-half fumble by freshman Tyler Goodson during the second half of the Penn State game, a play where coach Kirk Ferentz said trouble started with a less-than-clean handoff.
Nittany Lions defensive tackle PJ Mustipher had blown through an open hole in the interior of the offensive line to reach Goodson as he was attempting to secure the handoff from Stanley.
“It was not a smooth operation play. Tyler has some ownership, but it was not smooth. I’m not putting that on him at all. That was a team effort right there,’’ Ferentz said. “Those are the kinds of things if we can’t get cleaned up, it’s going to be a problem as we move forward.’’
Jackson, who missed three games after suffering a knee sprain during Iowa’s season opener against Miami (Ohio), believes he needs to increase his own contribution to create greater cohesion as the Hawkeyes work toward Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Purdue at Kinnick Stadium.
“We’ve been playing great teams. I’ve been out for a few weeks, so chemistry isn’t as tight,’’ Jackson said. “We’re communicating better, just doing the small things right. It will be good this weekend.’’
Ferentz is counting on progress and said coaches are continuing to search for the best combination of personnel.
“We’re not playing well enough on the line, not cohesively enough,’’ he said. “We’re working to get our best combination in there, get our best football being played up there. It’s an open door right now, an opportunity for any one of the guys to jump up, practice well this week.’’
Mark Kallenberger, who had seen most of snaps at tackle in a reserve role, made his first career start at right guard last week and Ferentz said the sophomore from Bettendorf “made a good representation of himself.’’
Ferentz appreciated how Kallenberger handled the nuances of the position shift in a first-time role.
“Playing inside, he handled that well, a little bit different feel in that,’’ Ferentz said. “Some guys can’t handle that. Some do. He seemed to be unaffected by that. I saw a lot of positives.’’
Ferentz said Kallenberger positioned himself for the starting opportunity with progress in practice over the past month after a preseason camp where it “didn’t really seem like he was moving forward and progressing.’’
The recent growth spurt in his game put Kallenberger in a position to slide over to guard when starter Cole Banwart was injured in practice last Wednesday.
Cody Ince and Justin Britt rotated in on the line in reserve roles against the Nittany Lions, something Ferentz said will likely continue as long as their practice performance merits it.
Mostly, like Jackson, Ferentz wants to see the type of cohesion it takes for the offense as a whole to be successful.
“We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve played two pretty decent defensive football teams. History or time will bear that out. What I saw with my own eyes, I believe that. We have to prepare for our opponents. We’ll respect the process and try to get better here,’’ Ferentz said.
“If we’re not quite getting it done, it’s always frustrating. The good news is, we’ve seen our guys play better. We’ll keep focused on that.’’