Iowa's struggling receivers crippling Hawkeyes offense
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa's offense has typically revolved around the idea that a strong line and interchangeable running backs will open up the passing game.
The Hawkeyes didn't expect its receivers to be so ineffective that their entire offensive identity would be compromised.
Iowa (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) heads into November with a serious deficiency at wide receiver. Only one of them, senior Riley McCarron, is among active Hawkeyes in the top four on the team in catches - and Iowa is just 107th nationally in passing offense (180.3 yards per game).
That statistic is even more glaring given that the Hawkeyes have a senior quarterback, C.J. Beathard, who many pegged as among the Big Ten's best entering this season.
''It's just a matter of us doing the right things and making the plays that are there to be made. You put those both together and you have a chance to win games,'' Beathard said.
Iowa, which is coming off its bye week, plays at No. 20 Penn State (6-2, 4-1) on Saturday. The Hawkeyes might take on a different look this weekend, as back Akrum Wadley said Tuesday that he occasionally worked as a slot receiver in practice during the bye.
''We're fooling around with different looks and what have you, but nothing major,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes knew that their passing game would suffer following the season-ending injury to star Matt VandeBerg four games into the season. But Iowa also hoped, like every program in the country does, that losing a key veteran would give an inexperienced underclassman a chance to shine.
That hasn't happened yet. The Hawkeyes young wide receivers have struggled to get open - and they're too often dropping the ball when they do.
Jerminic Smith has just 14 catches in seven starts. Fellow sophomore Jay Scheel has only five catches in eight games - and he and Smith combined for just 12 yards in a 17-9 loss to No. 8 Wisconsin on Oct. 22.
McCarron has caught 30 passes, but he's also averaging just over 11 yards per reception.
Those pedestrian numbers prompted Iowa to elevate freshman Devonte Young, who has yet to catch a college pass, into its rotation.
The Hawkeye do have other ways to score. Wadley and fellow back LeShun Daniels Jr. have combined for 1,285 rushing yards with 14 touchdowns. Wadley also has 18 catches, and it sounds like Iowa could experiment with Daniels as the lead back and Wadley out wide.
''You can put him anywhere on the field, and he has the ability to make plays with his feet,'' Beathard said of Wadley. ''He's a fast guy ... he's got good hands as well.''
The healthy return of tight end George Kittle (sprained right foot) should also help Iowa expand its play book.
But the final month of the regular season for Iowa includes three top 20 opponents in the Nittany Lions, No. 2 Michigan and No. 9 Nebraska. The Hawkeyes will likely be underdogs in all three of those matchups - and a 6-6 finish could be on the table if their receivers can't start to stretch defenses and allow Iowa return to the kind of attack that has made it successful in the past.
''We've got a lot of young guys obviously,'' McCarron said. ''Anytime you can get reps with C.J., you'll start growing ... (but) it's not going to happen overnight.''
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