Iowa City, Iowa — Iowa has let its defense carry the load nearly all season.
The Hawkeyes might need some more help from their offense on Saturday at Indiana — like they got in last weekend’s 48-point explosion at Minnesota — to bolster a unit that suddenly looks a lot thinner.
Iowa (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) will likely be without middle linebacker and leading tackler Jack Hockaday (knee injury) on Saturday. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday the availability of star tight end Noah Fant and running back Ivory Kelly-Martin were also unknown after they were knocked out of the game late against the Gophers.
Hockaday’s backup, Amani Jones, will miss the first half on Saturday after being ejected for targeting against the Gophers, and outside linebacker Nick Niemann will miss his second game in a row with a knee strain.
Though true freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss are listed as their starting cornerbacks for the second straight week, Ferentz said Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins are expected to be ready for the Hoosiers (4-2, 1-1).
“We asked of a lot of our players last week that haven’t played a lot to step up and give us a good effort,” Ferentz said. “They did that. We’re going to need more of that this weekend I’m sure and in the weeks ahead.”
The Hawkeyes have scuffled at times on offense in part because they’re averaging just 3.8 yards a carry.
But Iowa might have finally found something in the passing game against the Gophers.
Junior Nate Stanley threw for 314 yards and a season-high four touchdowns to four receivers at Minnesota; tight ends Fant and T.J. Hockenson and receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Nick Easley. Brandon Smith, arguably Iowa’s most physically gifted receiver, caught five passes on five targets for 68 yards, including a remarkable grab off a defender’s helmet in the fourth quarter. Ferentz called it his best game with Iowa.
It’s been a long time since Iowa has had a player with Smith’s skill set, and its offense would look a lot more potent if the 6-foot-3 sophomore reaches his potential.
Former Trojan dies
Former Southern California defensive back Kevin Ellison, who was a captain for the Trojans before a brief NFL career, has died, He was 31.
USC’s athletic department confirmed Ellison’s death with a Twitter post on Saturday. The Los Angeles Times reported records from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office showed Ellison died on a freeway, though no cause of death was given and an exam was still pending. Ellison’s brother, Chris Ellison, told the Times his brother had mental issues and was walking along I-5 at the time of his death.
Kevin Ellison played for USC from 2005-08. He was an all-Pac-12 safety and played on teams that won three Rose Bowl games.
Ellison was drafted by San Diego in the sixth round in 2009 and played nine NFL games.