IOWA CITY, Iowa — In regards to the Cy-Hawk rivalry, the 20 most important words of Kirk Ferentz’s press conference on Tuesday came four minutes in.
“[James Daniels] had a good day today,” the Iowa coach said. “We are hoping he makes it through the week and is ready to go.”
Ferentz didn’t come out and say Daniels is returning from a knee injury, but that’s the way the Hawkeyes are operating. The news isn’t a surprise. Ferentz hinted as much last week.
But that doesn’t diminish the impact of the news four days before the Iowa State game. Daniels’ return after sitting out the opener means more than Iowa getting back its starting center.
Daniels isn’t the best offensive lineman on the team. Guard Sean Welsh holds that honor, but Daniels is the like the rug in The Big Lebowski. He ties the room together. The Hawkeyes are experienced up front, but playing without a starter or two is never recommended. It contributed to the loss to North Dakota State last season and it was a problem in the first quarter against Wyoming last week.
How James Daniels’ return helps Iowa
Wyoming succeeded by loading the box with up to nine defenders and disguising their line stunts. The Hawkeyes figured out how to negate the Cowboys’ games, but with more stunts coming it’s best to have Daniels back. The Cyclones historically run stunts when their defensive front is a question mark, and it’s not the strength of their defense this season.
“He is mentally, physically tough and he knows every position,” guard Ross Reynolds said. “He knows what is going on and he is a great leader.”
The center is a lot like the quarterback for the run game and offensive line audibles. Daniels, a second-year starter, calls out necessary changes. Iowa wants to use its offensive line to run over Iowa State with its ground game. Daniels brings stability and is the Hawkeyes’ best option to find a solution to whatever the Cyclones throw at them.
“[Week 1 starting center] Keegan [Render] did a great job helping me out and stuff, but James has obviously played a lot of center,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “I think his experience will help.”
Nate Stanley and James Daniels
Stanley identified miscommunication as a key issue Iowa needs to resolve. Daniels’ biggest impact may come in this area. He knows Iowa’s offense and teammates have praised his ability to quickly pick up opponents’ plays.
Iowa is heading into what will be a raucous Jack Trice Stadium. It will be Stanley’s first road start, and issues always pop up playing away from Kinnick Stadium. That’s college football, and the ability to lean on Daniels will benefit Stanley.
Stanley appears to trust Daniels’ instincts. That could help Iowa avoid walking into the type of miscues that resulted in Stanley getting pressured and throwing an interception last week.
Also, don’t overlook Daniels’ impact on Stanley’s development. It was hard to judge Stanley early in the opener when defenders were in his face. For Stanley to grow, he needs time to pass. Daniels and his ability to control the line will help. A true gauge of where Stanley sits as a passer should come this week with the entire first-team offensive line taking the field.
“James is a great player,” defensive end Sam Brincks said. “He can do a lot of things. He is super athletic. That is a big plus on the offensive line. That makes it really, really difficult on the defensive line.”
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