Sports News

Huskers expose Hawks' inexperienced line

By Don Doxsie, QUAD-CITY TIMES -- September 5, 1999
IOWA CITY -- Andy Lightfoot is one heckuva bright kid.

At Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill., he defied the laws of mathematics. He somehow earned a 4.5 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale. He's in pre-med at Iowa.

He was smart enough to know -- or at least suspect -- that he wasn't quite ready for what he had to face Saturday.

He faced it anyway and did, well, um, uh, OK. He certainly wasn't any worse than any of the other greenhorns who played the offensive line for Iowa as the Hawkeyes embarked on a new era.

Lightfoot played every offensive snap in 92-degree heat against the nation's No. 7 team at a position he had never even practiced at until a week ago.

Kind of tells you something about the state of the Hawkeyes' offensive line, huh?

Really, all you had to do was watch Iowa's 42-7 loss to Nebraska Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.

It was pretty obvious. Everyone's suspicions were confirmed: Iowa's offensive line needs a lot of work.

"It wasn't good," admitted Lightfoot, who was one of four offensive linemen making their starting debuts. "We're definitely not playing the way we can. I think we have a lot of potential and we did some plays really well today. But we were missing on some others."

You've probably read in several newspapers and magazines that Iowa had just one healthy offensive lineman with any real experience -- senior Chad Deal. Turns out Deal wasn't healthy either. He has been battling a chronic groin injury. (You didn't read about that anywhere because it was one of those closely-guarded secrets that abound in the Iowa football program.)

When it was determined that Deal would not be able to play against Nebraska, the Hawkeyes had to plug the hole at right guard with Andy Lightfoot.

It may as well have been Gordon Lightfoot. The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald had nothing on the wreck of the Hawkeye attack.

The Hawks didn't get a first

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down until 31/2 minutes remained in the first half. They finished with eight first downs and 169 yards in total offense although it really didn't seem like that many. They punted 12 times and it seemed like more than that.

They had 10 possessions in which they ran three plays and punted.

When they did finally break the shutout, it wasn't the offense that did it. Their touchdown came on a blocked punt.

The loss of Deal, a third-year starter, simply made a bad situation worse. Ferentz said it was a "game-day decision" to have him sit out. Lightfoot said he was told Friday night that he was going to start.

Whenever it happened, it gave the 275-pound redshirt freshman a few jitters.

"But, what better place to start than against the best?" he said.

The Hawkeyes had another redshirt freshman, Bruce Nelson, at left tackle. A.J. Blazek, an undersized junior college transfer who has never played in a Division I game, played center. Senior Jay Bickford, a defensive lineman for his first thrree years at Iowa, went the whole way at left guard. And Alonzo Cunningham, who was pressed into action as a starter six times last season, started at right tackle.

In view of that, it's somewhat amazing that quarterback Kyle McCann and running back Ladell Betts emerged from the game with all their limbs intact. McCann was hit on almost every pass he threw and Betts seldom got to the line of scrimmage before encountering at least one white jersey. But they deftly sidestepped any criticism of the callow kids upfront.

"They gave me a few holes," Betts said. "We made some yards."

"I think there's some real good potential there," McCann added. "This was a real tough assignment for them ... We all knew there was going to be some growing pains along the way."

Blazek said the mistakes were all small and correctable.

"It was just one step here and one step there," he said. "We were in it at 7-0 (at halftime). We just had to come out and keep rolling."

Actually, though, they never really got rolling.

There was at least one positive statistic for the offense: The Hawkeyes did not have a single penalty in the game. None of those linemen jumped offside. No one was flagged for holding.

The biggest Hawkeye positive was the defense. Those 42 Nebraska points are a deceptive number, too. The Hawks contained the Cornhuskers for a half before wilting in the heat.

"We knew we were in the game at halftime," Lightfoot said. "But the offense can't leave the defense out there that long."

Like we said, he's a smart kid.

Questions? Comments? Call Don Doxsie at (319) 383-2289 or e-mail him at ddoxsie@qctimes.com.