Cade McNamara has been medically cleared to play in No. 25 Iowa's opener against Utah State in Iowa City on Saturday. The question is whether he will.
McNamara has been recovering from a soft-tissue injury in his right leg since going down awkwardly in a scrimmage three weeks ago.
He returned to practice late last week, and coach Kirk Ferentz said team doctors don't believe further damage would be caused if he played. The concern is whether soreness that results from playing would limit him as the season progresses.
“What it boils down to is, can he play effectively? The second thing is, is that going to knock him out for three weeks if he does play? We have to be smart about that,” Ferentz said.
McNamara, who transferred from Michigan, gives the Hawkeyes hope they can improve what was one of the worst offenses in the nation last year. Teammates have embraced him and elected him a captain.
“My intention and my goal is to play as many games as I possibly can,” McNamara said. “Of course, I want to be out there with my teammates. It’s just kind of down to what the coaches feel and how the medical staff feels.”
If McNamara can't play, Wisconsin transfer Deacon Hill would be the starter. He played a total of three snaps for the Badgers and has never thrown a pass in a college game. Joe Labas would be Hill's backup. Labas' only action last year came when he started the 21-0 Music City Bowl win over Kentucky. He has missed significant practice time because of injury.
Utah State coach Blake Anderson said no matter who plays quarterback for Iowa, his defense's job remains the same.
"You’ve got to come downhill and be physical at the point of attack, and that exposes you in the back end,” Anderson said. “So defend the big shot, bottle up the run, make them uncomfortable. But that’s a huge challenge. There’s very few matchups across the front that are going to be in our favor, if any at all.”
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Iowa's tradition of playing strong defense is predicated on its players always being in the right place at the right time, Utah State quarterback Cooper Legas said.
“It’s not the most confusing defense I’ve ever seen,” he said. “They really stick to base stuff. They just do it really well, which is what makes them so awesome every year.”
Anderson said he sees no apparent weakness for his offense to attack.
“As good as they are in the back end, and they are, there’s no doubt it starts up front,” he said. “They’re able to move the line of scrimmage back to the quarterback’s lap.”
Iowa has begun the process of appealing defensive lineman Noah Shannon's season-long suspension. Shannon was among Iowa athletes under investigation for allegedy wagering on sports in violation of NCAA rules. He has not been criminally charged like about a dozen other Iowa and Iowa State athletes.
“Nobody is claiming that he’s not guilty of certain things,” Ferentz said, “but I think really what the bottom line is, we’re just hoping for a reconciliation on this whole thing or reconsideration. I’m hoping when the committee looks at it, reasonable people will reconsider the punishment.”
COACHING FOR HIS JOB
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz begins his season on the brink. His amended contract lays out conditions for him to keep his job: the Hawkeyes must average at least 25 points per game (scoring by the defense and special teams is included) and win seven games.
Anderson said Iowa has upgraded its offensive personnel, but he doubted the Hawkeyes would look much different because of the pressure on Ferentz.
“Isn't there a mandate everywhere in the country to score more points?” Anderson said. “I mean, isn't that just kind of the standing order: score more points than you did before?”
JUST WIN, BABY
Iowa's plodding offense has been the butt of jokes around college football for years. Kirk Ferentz knows it, and he doesn't care.
“Sometimes people don’t like how we win,” he said, “but, to me, the objective is to win.”
To emphasize his point, Ferentz said one of his favorite wins in his first 24 seasons at Iowa was the 6-4 victory over Penn State in 2004.
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