Nov. 14, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Hawkeyes' next man in philosophy has quickly evolved into the plural sense, next men in.
On the offensive line alone, Iowa has had five players make their first career start this season -- Austin Blythe, Conor Boffeli, Andrew Donnal, Brett Van Sloten, Jordan Walsh -- a laundry list of men pushing and pulling Iowa's initial line of attack.
Van Sloten hasn't missed a start since earning the right tackle position in training camp, but the others have been asked to hit the ground running while stepping in for an injured predecessor.
"I think credit goes to those guys," said senior James Ferentz, who has been Iowa's mainstay, starting the last 36 games at center. "They've done a great job with the second team and just understanding that they don't know when their number is going to be called, and when it has they've been ready."
Conor Boffeli's number was called most recently. A junior from West Des Moines, Iowa, Boffeli last week became the fourth Hawkeye in as many games to start at left guard. He followed Matt Tobin, Jordan Walsh and Nolan MacMillan before him, and he looks to buck the new-guy trend this week at Michigan.
"Conor's been doing a great job for us," said Ferentz. "He's bounced around guard and center, even slid out to tackles with the twos. He's been a real utility lineman for us."
For the first time in four weeks, Iowa will use the same starting offensive line in consecutive games. Last week's starting five -- Tobin, Boffeli, Ferentz, Blythe and Van Sloten - are expected to start this week against the Wolverines.
"We're going to have to play our best game yet," said Ferentz. "We haven't performed very well the past few weeks. We're going to have to rise up to the challenge."
Part of that challenge is the nation's top-rated pass defense. The Wolverines have allowed just 149.2 yards through the air, so Iowa's offense may literally have to run through the guys up front.
"You're talking about four (Michigan) guys who do a great job of not only creating edges but collapsing the pocket," said Ferentz. "You look at the three linebackers they have and you're talking about some experienced players who have played a lot of football, so we definitely have our work cut out for us."
Boffeli said he's preparing for a rushing attack and it's not unrealistic to think the offensive line's best game is yet to come.
"That's the goal of the team in general," Boffeli said. "We want everyone to build and we want everyone to improve. The o-line is no different than the rest of the team, we're just trying to improve each week and the rushing game is something that I'm sure will be a big emphasis this week."