Barely a month into the football season, Iowa already has matched its win total from a year ago, and it's no surprise how the 4-1 Hawkeyes have accomplished it.
They knock the snot out of the guy across the line of scrimmage from them.
Iowa is No. 7 nationally in rushing defense at 79.2 yards and hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown. In pounding Minnesota last week 23-7, the Hawkeyes held the Gophers to 30 yards rushing — 252 less than their average.
Offensively, Iowa primarily moves earth.
Tailback Mark Weisman is fourth nationally in rushing yards with 615. The team has rushed for more than 200 yards in all five games and is 20th nationally at 244.4 yards per game on the ground.
Michigan State comes to Iowa City this week, and MSU coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday the Hawkeye line play jumps off the film.
“Physicality on the offensive line,” he said. “They are extremely well-coached and know how to get up on linebackers and take care of their respective down lineman. Very disciplined and tough.
“On the defensive side, same aspects. This is what they do and this is how they do it. It starts with toughness. We have to match that, or bad things will happen.”
There are a handful of Nebraska and southwest Iowa connections in U of I's trenches.
No. 1 offensive left tackle Brandon Scherff is from Denison, Iowa. No. 1 left defensive end Drew Ott is from Trumbull, Neb. No. 1 right defensive end Dominic Alvis is from Logan, Iowa, and his backup is Nate Meier from Tabor, Iowa.
The line play so far has flipped a brutally negative statistic from last year's 4-8 mess of a season.
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In third-down conversions in 2012, Iowa converted 36.5 percent on offense and allowed 43.4 percent on defense. This season, the conversion rate is 52.5 percent while the allowed rate is 25.4 percent.
“We're just scratching the surface of what we can be,” Scherff said. “We're showing people what we can be as a team.”
Last year, Scherff went down with a major knee injury in the seventh game. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior also was banged up the year before.
“He's playing good football for us,” coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “He's a very respected guy on our football team because he works so hard and does things so well.”
Another element to the overall offensive improvement has been the play of quarterback Jake Rudock.
The redshirt sophomore from Weston, Fla., is studying to become a pediatric heart surgeon. Smart dude, and it shows in his savvy decision-making, especially on those must-make downs.
“We've really struggled in that area recently,” Ferentz said. “What he has done is help keep us on the field.”
Rudock hadn't taken a single game snap in his first two seasons at Iowa. His statistics aren't dynamite — 61.7 percent completions, six touchdowns, four interceptions — but he has impressed coaches and teammates with a cool demeanor.
“I wouldn't say we're surprised, but you just never know until you get into games,” Ferentz said. “To be a successful quarterback, it helps if you have an awareness and self-control. So far, so good.”
Iowa's lone loss, on Aug. 31, was 30-27 to Northern Illinois, which is 4-0 and No. 23 in the coaches poll. In September, Iowa never trailed against Missouri State, Iowa State, Western Michigan and Minnesota.
Ferentz said he has noticed a growing level of team confidence.
“I think it's been gradually building,” he said. “We lost our opener, which didn't do anything for anybody's confidence. We knew we were playing a really good team, so you just keep pushing.”
Beating Minnesota and three other teams that are a combined 2-11 don't make you a national conversation piece.
But in the Big Ten — which it pains me to say is even more mediocre overall than last season — what Iowa has going gives it hope in the hardly legendary Legends Division.
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Video: QB Tommy Armstrong talks after practice
Video: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck after practice
Video: The Big Red Today Show, Oct. 1