Iowa offensive players celebrate a touchdown run by running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) during the game between Iowa and North Texas at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017. The Hawkeyes went on to defeat the Mean Green 31-14. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa football’s mid-season report cards: the offensive line

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As Iowa heads into its bye week, the Hawkeyes’ regular season is halfway complete. Sports Editor Adam Hensley and Assistant Sports Editor Pete Ruden hand out mid-season position grades this week.

By Pete Ruden

peter-ruden@uiowa.edu

Iowa’s offensive line has had its troubles this season, and a fair amount of that is due to the constant shifting and moving around because of injuries.

What are those issues exactly?

Ike Boettger is out for the season with an Achilles injury. Boone Myers has been battling an ankle injury that didn’t have a chance to get much rest, but he has started to make his return more pronounced. James Daniels missed the opener against Wyoming.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong for this unit, but its depth still allows it to do what it needs to do.

Because of the open slots, Alaric Jackson has been thrust into the starting lineup, while playing time has also opened up for four-star recruit Tristan Wirfs.

Speaking of Wirfs, his potential is crazy.

A three-sport star, he was a state champion in the shot put and discus his junior and senior years, while throwing 66-3.25 in the shot, which ranked sixth nationally and was the second best all-time in Iowa.

Oh, and he was a state wrestling champion in one of the most wrestling-crazed states in the country. That’s pretty impressive.

But after missing some time in camp, Wirfs hasn’t played much.

Injuries have the potential to devastate a group, and that has been proven. While Iowa’s pass protection has been solid throughout the season, it has not been able to produce in the running game.

RELATED: Iowa picks up first Big Ten win before crucial bye week 

The Hawkeyes averaged 5 yards a carry for the first time this season when they took on Illinois on Oct. 7. Coming off of a game in which Iowa totaled 19 yards on 25 carries in the ground attack, it was exactly what the Hawkeyes needed.

“There’s always room for improvement, but I felt like we grew today,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa’s 45-16 victory over the Illini. “It was tough in the first half, and credit goes to Illinois, they came in here to win a football game, and they did a lot of really good things. But I thought as things, as we pressed on and pushed on, we kept playing.”

Last year’s team was a squad that experienced similar circumstances.

Iowa started the same offensive line in back-to-back games only twice last season; eight different combinations started. What’s even crazier is that no offensive lineman started every game.

Still, the unit was honored by winning the Joe Moore Award, given to the most outstanding offensive-line unit in the country.

After its best game of the season from an average yards-per-carry standpoint, maybe things are looking up for the offensive line.

Maybe the group will pick it up, just as it did in 2016. After all, Iowa is accustomed to having a tremendous offensive line, and things are starting to look up after the team found its running game.

“I think we definitely took a step forward,” senior lineman Sean Welsh said. “But there’s certainly room for improvement, everywhere, all five spots. There’s a lot that we can do better fundamentally.”

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