Iowa has come to be known for its smart, tough and physical offensive lines.
This season, the Hawkeyes earned an award for that prowess that had special meaning to coach Kirk Ferentz.
Last week, Iowa was named the winner of the second annual Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s top offensive line. The honor’s namesake was one of the most respected line coaches in the history of college football - and made a deep impression on Ferentz during a season spent as a graduate assistant on the same staff with Moore at Pittsburgh in 1980.
The 21st-ranked Hawkeyes (8-4) will try to finish the season on a four-game winning streak when they face No. 20 Florida (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2.
“He’s probably the reason I’m here right now. On a lot of levels,” said Ferentz, who also played high school ball under Moore, on Thursday. “He was a really special person in my life.”
Unlike many college football honors, the selection process for Moore Award finalists and its winner is tough to dispute. Every FBS line coach in the country gets a vote, and the award committee evaluates line play by video every week.
Despite leaky play at points in 2016, Iowa beat out Alabama and Ohio State because of what committee chair Aaron Taylor, a former All-American lineman under Moore at Notre Dame, said was “teamwork.”
The Hawkeyes needed nearly every lineman they had this season.
Iowa was forced to use eight different starting units, and none of their linemen started all 12 games. But the Hawkeyes put it together down the stretch, throttling Nebraska 40-10 in the season finale.
Iowa was also a finalist for the award in 2015.
“It honors a group. Not an individual. And when you talk about the offensive line, that’s what it’s all about,” Ferentz said.
The good news for the Hawkeyes is that every lineman listed as a starter against the Gators will be back in 2017.
Whether that will be enough to help fix one of the lowest scoring offenses in the country will be heavily debated in the offseason.
Iowa’s young receivers didn’t do much developing in 2016, although the expected return of star wide receiver Matt VandeBerg should give the Hawkeyes more stability. Freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley looked solid in limited duty, and running back Akrum Wadley will be among the early favorites for Big Ten player of the year.
But it will all start up front - and the Hawkeyes look like they’re in good shape there moving forward.
“The thing I’m happiest about and proudest of this football team thus far is just the way they’ve stayed with things. They’ve stayed determined, they’ve stayed positive, and stayed together. They’ve pushed forward. So whether it’s the offensive line or entire football team, I think that’s what we’ve witnessed.”
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