IOWA CITY -- Where's the beef?

"Texas Roadhouse is pretty good," smirked Iowa offensive guard Seth Olsen.

Whether it has been in the weight room, film room, hanging out at an apartment or terrorizing some restaurant's buffet line, Iowa's offensive line has made a conscious effort to become a cohesive unit this season.

"We've got a good feel for each other," said sophomore left tackle Bryan Bulaga. "We spend time in and out of the complex with each other.

"So we do have a pretty good feel for each other on and off the field."

To date, the cohesiveness appears to be working.

Last Saturday's performance during the Hawkeyes' 45-9 win over Indiana provided evidence as Iowa rushed for 227 yards and pushed a pair of running backs -- Shonn Greene (115) and Jewel Hampton (114) -- over the 100-yard mark.

Hampton had three rushing touchdowns, the first time a Hawkeye running back has accomplished that feat in a game since Aaron Greving in 2001 against Kent State.

"It is a good feeling," Bulaga said. "I know as a line we take pretty good pride in it."

Iowa is averaging 187 yards rushing per game, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 31st in the nation.

The primary benefactor is Greene, who is second in the Big Ten and sixth in the nation at 133.9 yards per game.

Greene is also the only back in the country to have eclipsed 100 yards in each of his team's first seven games.

"It's easy to block when you have a guy that likes to run the ball hard," center Rob Bruggeman said. "We've got a lot of good skill players behind us who make us look good. So I appreciate those guys."

This was the same unit last year that became the whipping boys, not only of Big Ten defenses, but of fans and journalists alike for allowing 46 sacks and rarely creating enough holes for running backs Albert Young and Damian Sims.

As it turns out, the 2007 season was a valuable lesson.

"We've learned from the lumps we had last year and some that we've had this year," Olsen said. "We corrected them and moved on."

Bruggeman, a fifth-year senior, may be the key to the entire unit's success.

He was slated to start last year at center, but a knee injury in the spring knocked him out until almost the end of the year.

He supplanted Rafael Eubanks as this year's starter during fall drills.

"I wouldn't minimize a guy like Bruggeman," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We all took him for granted in one sense because … the Maine game was his first ballgame.

"He's got the maturity of a fifth-year guy and some very quiet leadershipo capabilities or attributes that are very important."

It also should be noted that the unit has remained relatively healthy this season.

Bulaga (left tackle), Bruggeman (center), Olsen (right guard) and Kyle Calloway (right tackle) have started all seven games. Eubanks started the first four games at left guard, with Julian Vandervelde getting the last three starts.

Eubanks and Vandervelde, however, have rotated pretty much equally throughout Iowa's seven games.

"I think we are pretty comfortable," Bulaga said. "We've spent the whole season with pretty much the same line."

Ferentz said he had a hankering in fall camp the offensive line unit could be special.

"We've been pretty healthy for the most part," Ferentz said. "It started at camp, and competition has been good. It's still pretty good.

"We still have some guys battling for playing time … They've got some guys that are improving right now behind the scenes that are backups, so I think those guys are moving in the right direction."

The Hawkeyes' o-line will face probably its stiffest test to date against Wisconsin Saturday.

Opponents are averaging just 120.7 yards per game on the ground against the Badgers and only 3.8 yards per carry.

Ohio State's Chris Wells, a back similar to Greene, did register a 168-yard game against Wisconsin on Oct. 4 in a 20-17 win over the Badgers.

INJURY REPORT ï½ Linebacker Troy Johnson (muscle strain), Jeremiha Hunter's backup at weakside linebacker, will miss Saturday's game with Wisconsin.

Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) is doubtful.

Mike Daniel, who collapsed to the field at the end of the Indiana game, was tested further and checked out OK.

"There's nothing dangerous, no red alerts," Ferentz said. "He was fine coming home … some kind of breathing .. shortness of breath."

Additionally, Ferentz cleared both tight end Brandon Myers and Adrian Clayborn, who both went down with ankle injuries and missed extensive parts of the second half against Indiana.

Contact Jim Nelson at (319) 291-1521 or jim.nelson@wcfcourier.com

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