Coming into the season, the biggest question mark for the Iowa offense was the inexperience at running back.
The senior quarterback and talented offensive line was not supposed to be an issue.
However, after throwing for just 129 yards and getting sacked six times, it is evident that an improvement in the passing game has to come Saturday if the Hawkeyes have any chance to knock out the Cyclones at Kinnick Stadium.
"It's like everything, it's a team thing, and we can do a better job protecting," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Certainly that stood out at times in a not so good way. Route running, throwing, all those things. It's just something that we'll continue to work out."
The Iowa passing game produced 21 completions but only 129 yards against Northern Illinois last Saturday. Senior James Vandenberg's longest completion on the day was 20 yards and he was sacked an NCAA-high six times in the win.
Ferentz said the protection issues are a team thing, which could mean the inexperienced running backs may have missed their assignments as well.
Sophomore Damon Bullock didn't miss many holes when he had the ball in his hands. After carrying the ball just 10 times all of last year, Bullock got it 30 times against NIU and ran for 150 yards and the game-winning touchdown run.
But the other part of the offense was clearly lagging against Northern Illinois' experienced defense that returned eight starters from last year's 10-win team.
(James) did a good job of running the offense, running our team," Ferentz said. "I just thought he did a good job overall. Our passing game wasn't what we wanted it to be, but we'll get better. We just have to keep working."
While the running backs got most of the ink this offseason, not many talked about the wide receiver group that also lacked big-game experience. Senior Keenan Davis is the only wideout who has played more than two years. Sophomore Kevante Martin-Manley started last year but is hardly seasoned. Then there are senior Steve Staggs, juniors Jordan Cotton and Don Shumpert and redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer. All of them have little to no game experience.
"You know, we just didn't look overall in great sync, passing game-wise," Ferentz said. "So it's a concern, but it's going to improve. It has to improve."
Ferentz knows the passing game has to get better. It cannot get much worse. The yards per completion was very low, which may be the adjustment the players are making to the new passing offense under new Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis that features a lot of bubble screens and short passes.
"It was a tough game," Ferentz said of the win over Northern Illinois. "They have a good defensive football team. We thought they were good going in, and leaving the game, we still think they are pretty good. They can rush the passer, they cover well.
"So they are a good defensive football team. It was a challenge and we have to get better."
Even though the passing game was much worse than everyone expects, Ferentz's expectations for Game 2 are still the same. He expects the team to make an improvement and he expects the passing game to be much better.
"All of us want to be better than what we saw Saturday and I expect that we will be," Ferentz said. "That's one area we have made improvement in. We were nothing to write home about in the course of spring, and I said that after spring practice and I said also after the preseason that we have made improvement there and I think it will show up. We'll just keep working."
Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads doesn't look at the stats when analyzing how an opponent did the previous week. He only cares about one thing.
"I take away that they won the game, and with winning comes confidence," Rhoads said. "There is a lot to learn after Week 1. That Iowa program understands how to win. They know how to win. And we haven't won over there since 2002."
Kickoff for Saturday's Cy-Hawk Series game will be 2:42 p.m. Iowa leads the all-time series 39-20 and has won four straight games at Kinnick Stadium. The Cyclones' win last year ended Iowa's three-game winning streak in the series.