Looking ahead to Iowa football’s 2019 offense

Iowa’s offense loses some key pieces this offseason, but the Hawkeyes are primed for another solid campaign in 2019.

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Looking ahead to Iowa football’s 2019 offense

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent carries the ball during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent carries the ball during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent carries the ball during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent carries the ball during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 23, 2018.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Another season is in the books for Hawkeye football, with Iowa ending the 2018 season on a high note with a win over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.

Iowa’s focus will now shift from its nine-victory campaign to next season, and the Hawkeyes will have some vacancies to fill.

Quarterback

One thing Iowa has going for it next season is at quarterback. Nate Stanley returns for his senior season after finishing this year completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns. Except for touchdowns, Stanley’s completion percentage, yardage, yards per attempt (7.2), and passer rating (136.1) all went up from his sophomore season.

Katina Zentz
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley hands the ball off to Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

He has displayed the ability to dominate games last season, throwing 4 touchdowns against Minnesota and 6 against Indiana. He also threw 8 touchdowns over the final three games of the season — a positive sign after throwing for just 3 touchdowns in the previous four games.

Receivers

With Noah Fant declaring early and losing Nick Easley to graduation, Stanley is down two of his top targets. Enter Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

Smith booms with big-play potential (look at his circus catch at Minnesota if you need persuading) and has the size (6-3, 219 pounds) to out-jump any defensive back in the conference.

Smith-Marsette has breakaway speed; he’s demonstrated time and time again that his speed is dangerous on kickoffs. The challenge now shifts to getting the ball in his hands in the passing game.

Although Iowa has two promising receivers to take command of the position, tight end is a question mark. T.J. Hockenson has yet to announce if he’s staying with the Hawkeye program or leaving for the NFL, and with Fant gone, Iowa turns its attention to Nate Wieting and Shaun Beyer.

RELATED: T.J. Hockenson’s NFL decision made, will announce later

Beyer is the logical receiving option out of the two, with Wieting’s forte lying in his blocking skills. If Hockenson decides to come back, then he’ll be the top tight end, hands down.

Running backs

Iowa worked with a three-headed backfield in 2018, but as the season wore on, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz realized Mekhi Sargent was the leader of the pack. Expect a heavy dose of Sargent in 2019 — before the Hawkeyes’ win over the Bulldogs in Tampa, he ran for 294 yards combined against Illinois and Nebraska.

Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin will see the field, too, but don’t discount incoming freshman Tyler Goodson making an impact as well.

As far as fullbacks go, Brady Ross is the man. An excellent blocker and someone who Iowa relied on in short yardage situations, look for Ross to excel this fall.

Offensive line

Keegan Render is gone, leaving a hole at center. Freshman Tyler Linderbaum could fill that void — he formerly worked on the defensive side of the ball, but head coach Kirk Ferentz has high hopes for him.

If Linderbaum struggles, Ferentz said Cole Banwart could see time at center as well.

“We know at least we have two centers that we can put in the game and hopefully have success with,” Ferentz said.

As far as the other linemen go, Levi and Landan Paulsen are solid candidates at guard with Ross Reynolds’ graduation.

Levi Paulsen has started at least one game in each of his three seasons with the program, so it’s not as if the guards will come in with no experience.

Tackle, though, could be Iowa’s best on the line heading into next season.

Tristan Wirfs (right tackle, honorable mention all-Big Ten) and Alaric Jackson (left tackle, second team all-Big Ten) man the outside, and they’ve done a solid job. They’ll both be juniors in the fall, and with another offseason to perfect their technique, there’s unlimited potential for the two.