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Archive for September, 2008

Notes from Ferentz press conference

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

IOWA CITY — Coming off back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Northwestern, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz met with the state media Tuesday to talk about the upcoming game at Michigan State. Here are some notes from the news conference:

-Tyler Sash is not listed on the depth chart at strong safety. He missed Saturday’s game against Northwestern because of a shoulder injury. Harold Dalton will start in his place. Ferentz said Sash has a chance to play.

-Shonn Greene is going to practice Tuesday and is fine to play Saturday. The head injury that kept him out the last 11-plus minutes against Northwestern was nothing serious. 

-There are about 1,000 tickets left for this weekend’s game at Michigan State. MSU officials expect a sellout.

-Speaking of sellouts … Iowa has a string of 34 straight. The only game left on the schedule with any tickets remaining is Purdue (11/15).

-Captains: Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Rob Bruggeman and Shonn Greene

-Running back Paki O’Meara probably won’t play Saturday. He still has a lingering knee problem. Jewel Hampton is listed as the No. 2 back.

-Ferentz said the Northwestern game was Iowa’s best game this season. Speaking about the receivers, he pointed out that they blocked really, really well in the game.

-Comparing Greene and MSU back Javon Ringer, Ferentz said they’re not that similar, but they have similar numbers.

-Jeff Tarpinian started the second half at linebacker against Northwestern. He also played on the punt team. He’s not listed on the two-deeps. Ferentz said he is not yet back in game shape, but he is healthy.

Report card: Iowa vs. Northwestern

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

IOWA CITY — It was tough for me to get a read on Iowa in the 22-17 loss to Northwestern. On one hand, it was a terrible loss to take at home. This was one a lot of people had as a gimme. I predicted the Hawkeyes to finish 5-7, and I had them winning today. So, this loss could be a bad omen for the rest of the season.

Where does Iowa find the three more wins it needs to qualify for a bowl? Indiana? Maybe. Purdue, Minnesota? Maybe. Maybe Wisconsin. Who knows? I can see this thing turning south in a hurry, though.

That said, I did see a lot of positives today, starting with the play of Ricky Stanzi, who clearly has won the job at quarterback. Here’s how I graded the game (FYI, the five turnovers made it tough): 

OFFENSE (C-)

If you take away the turnovers, Iowa’s offense really played pretty well. Even in the absence of Shonn Greene late in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes moved the ball and put themselves in position to score in the final minutes. Ricky Stanzi’s play was above what Iowa has had from its quarterbacks the past season and a half, and Greene, once again, showed why he is quickly running his way into the conversation as one of the nation’s top running backs. The offensive line, for the most part, dominated the line of scrimmage, paving the way for a rushing game that averaged 5.5 yards a carry and surrendering just two sacks. And the receivers made plays. Andy Brodell had his best game since the 2006 Alamo Bowl. The turnovers were the killer.    

DEFENSE (B-)

Considering Northwestern started three drives inside Iowa’s 35-yard line and got only seven points out of those drives, it’s hard to fault Iowa’s defense for the loss. The Hawkeyes contained running back Tyrell Sutton, holding him to 149 total yards and keeping him out of the end zone and limited big plays. The only time the Wildcats offense really had its way was the first drive of the second half, when they marched 76 yards in four plays to pull within 17-16. 

SPECIAL TEAMS (C-)

Again, Iowa’s special teams did a lot of good things. For some reason, Northwestern’s Amado Villarreal, who had made 8 of 8 field goals through four games, had a field goal blocked and missed a field goal and an extra point. Iowa’s units had to have something to do with that. There were the two fumbles — one by Brodell and the other on a kickoff return by Amari Spievey — which proved to be game-changers, and that’s where the special teams took a hit. Ryan Donahue punted well, averaging 43 yards a boot with a long of 55.  

COACHING (C)

How much of Saturday’s loss can simply be chalked up to bad luck? Is it really fair to pin it all on the coaches? How many times is Andy Brodell going to mishandle a punt? How many center-quarterback exchanges are going to be fumbled this season? How many times is Shonn Greene going to be knocked out of a game? You can’t coach against that kind of stuff. That game plan, for the most part, worked. You can nitpick playcalling if you want and ask why Iowa threw four straight times from Northwestern’s 8-yard line at the end of the game, but if Greene had been healthy and in the game, the Hawkeyes would have been running.

Big Ten turned on its head as conference play gets under way

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Let me get this straight.

Minnesota and Northwestern are tied for first place in the Big Ten standings?

Michigan is in last?

Ohio State was pounded by a USC team that was thoroughly thrashed by Oregon State on Thursday night, the same Oregon State team that lost to Penn State by 31?

Something is amiss as the conference opens its 113th season of league play, and I don’t think we can blame it on global warming.

Well, maybe.

What do we know four weeks into the season?

Ohio State’s probably not as good as we thought.

Perhaps. But the Buckeyes still have the horses to run the table in the Big Ten, or at least claim a share of their fourth straight conference crown. They’re only going to get better as freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor improves and running back Beanie Wells regains his health.

The bottom of the conference is up.

Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa — the three Big Ten teams that missed out on bowls last season — all are on track to reach the postseason this year, which could spell trouble for teams like Purdue, Indiana and Michigan, who are not as good as they’ve been in the past.

Michigan State’s Javon Ringer is a legitimate Heisman candidate.

The Spartans’ senior has been the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week the past three weeks. He is averaging 174.8 yards a game and has scored 11 touchdowns. Most impressively, he already has logged 143 carries — 36 per game.

Finally, the conference race is wide, wide open.

One could make a rational argument for as many as six teams chances of grabbing a share, but Penn State might be the favorite.

There is a long way to go, but it looks like it’s going to be a wild, upside-down season in the Big Ten.

Notes from Ferentz press conference

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

IOWA CITY — Sending from the parking lot of the Super 8 on 1st Avenue, here’s another batch of notes from Kirk Ferentz’s weekly news conference:

-No changes to the depth chart … Ricky Stanzi is listed as the starter at quarterback, as is Trent Mossbrucker at place-kicker.

-Tony Moeaki and Brandon Myers are listed as co-starters at tight end. Ferentz said Moeaki is getting back closer to 100 percent, but he’s not there yet. Moeaki looked pretty good Saturday, turning a short out into a 48-yard gain down the sideline.

-Some single tickets still are available for this weekend’s game against Northwestern. It is expected to be Iowa’s 34th straight sell out. It is homecoming weekend.  

-Ron Kenyon, whose donation helped build the Kenyon Practice Facility, died over the weekend. He was 90.

-Ferentz said Chigozie Ejiasi’s role as the director of player development will be to supplement the coaching staff and help the players transition to college life. He’ll coordinate a mentor program and will spend a lot of 1-on-1 time with players.

-Lavar Woods will take over Ejiasi’s role as an administrative assistant on the Iowa staff.

-Linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (hamstring), tight end Michael Sabers (ankle) and fullback Brett Morse (ankle) are expected to be back this weekend.

-Captains: Matt Kroul, Mitch King, Rob Bruggeman and Shonn Greene.

-Ferentz said Northwestern has great skill players, and he called Wildcats running back Tyrell Sutton is one of the best “players” in the conference, not just running backs.

-Ferentz on Northwestern: “They’re a very good football team, certainly worthy of their record.” There is one computer ranking out there that says the Wildcats are the worst 4-0 team in the nation.

-Ricky Stanzi will start Saturday. Ferentz said he’s not sure if Jake Christensen will play … he said it will be a gut feeling, alluding to what he said after Saturday’s loss, that it was just a gut feeling to play Christensen in the second half.

PNC Park and other sites of Pittsburgh

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

PITTSBURGH — If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, put it on your list. Beautiful city, great sports town.

I got in at 2:30 Friday afternoon, got settled at the hotel and headed downtown to meet some of the other Iowa media at PNC Park for the Pirates-Astros game. Driving into downtown Pittsburgh is a real treat. The airport is like 20 minutes outside the city. As you approach downtown, you drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, maybe a mile long. When you come out of the tunnel, it’s like you’re driving into a panoramic. The three rivers converging together in the valley. To your left, Heinz Field and just beyond that is PNC Park. To your right is the downtown skyline, just the right size, you know, not a huge metropolis, but a nice-sized downtown.

I grabbed some wings and a beer at a restaurant across the street from PNC, the Firewater, I think. I’m told it is owned and operated by Kirk Ferentz’s high school football coach. Ferentz, of course, grew up in Pittsburgh. The wings were good. The beer, the local lager, Yuengling, was pretty good, too. PNC, the park, is awesome. Great place for a game. It’s a cozy ball park with a wide open outfield that opens up to the skyline of the city. Great ball park. Terrible baseball. So, don’t come to watch the Pirates, but if you’re a Cubs or Brewers or Cardinals fan, follow your team out here for a series. I’d recommend it.

Speaking of fans following their team … plenty of Hawkeyes fans made the trip. And they were out in full force last night, at the game, and at the pub afterwards. They even played the Iowa fight song at the bar I was at after the game. A lot of “LET’S GO HAWKS!” You can imagine.

I also had a lot of Iowa fans on my flights (I connected in Detroit) on the way out here. Rob Bruggeman’s mom and dad were on my flight from Detroit to Pittsburgh. Seem like nice people, but they wouldn’t give away who’s going to start at quarterback. I’m told Jake Christensen is going to start, but Ricky Stanzi also will play.

I’m at Heinz Field now, another beautiful stadium on the water. We’ve got about 90 minutes until kickoff. I checked the line this morning, and Iowa now is a 1-point favorite. It opened at Pitt minus-1.5. Wonder what led to that change?   

Game primer: Iowa vs. Pittsburgh

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Here is a quick primer for Saturday’s Iowa-Pitt game, which kicks off at 11 a.m. Central Time.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Who’s under center

Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that if the Hawkeyes had played a game that day, Jake Christensen would have started at quarterback. That doesn’t mean the junior will get the nod today, but, with Iowa on the road for the first time this year, it is likely Ferentz will go with the more experienced player. Expect both Ricky Stanzi and Christensen to play. 

Stopping the run

Iowa’s front seven has looked very good early this season, but Pitt back LeSean McCoy will present a whole new challenge. LaRod Stephens-Howling also will mix in to form a 1-2 punch that has totaled 256 yards and four touchdowns through two games. The Hawkeyes run defense will be tested for the first time this year.   

Secondary defense

Pittsburgh runs a pro style offense, and quarterback Bill Stull will stand in the pocket and throw the ball downfield. Stull has thrown 84 times in two games, so the young Iowa secondary will get a lot of action. The Hawkeyes are deep back there and have been opportunistic, with five DBs already coming up with interceptions.  

Road weary

The Hawkeyes were 1-4 in true road games last season, and this will be their first trip away from Kinnick Stadium in 2008. The offense, for the most part, has been through it, but keep an eye on the defense, which has young players on the outside — defensive end, linebacker and cornerback — who could be affected by the atmosphere. 

Going Greene

With uncertainty at quarterback, Iowa needs to be able to lean on the running game. So far, so good. Shonn Greene has been one of the best in the Big Ten through three games, averaging 119.7 yards a game and 6.5 yards a carry. Iowa will need to shorten the game by controlling the ball and the clock in order to win on the road.  

WHO HAS THE EDGE

When the Hawkeyes have the ball

Pitt’s defense is anchored by middle linebacker Scott McKillop, who has 21 tackles in two games. He’ll be all over the field and should be able to help keep Shonn Greene under control. Greene has not had to carry the load in a close game and is not yet in peak condition. Advantage: Pitt

When the Panthers have the ball

If there is one conclusion that can be drawn about this Iowa team, it’s that the defense, specifically the run defense, is pretty solid. Opponents are averaging only 88.7 yards a game on the ground. LeSean McCoy will be the best back the Hawkeyes have faced, but Iowa’s depth in the front seven will win out. Advantage: Iowa

Special teams

With Andy Brodell heating up in the punt return game (23.0 average) and kickers Trent Mossbrucker and Daniel Murray looking capable, Iowa’s special teams units are turning into a strength where they were a weakness a year ago. Punter Ryan Donahue can land it inside the 5 or boom it 60 yards. Advantage: Iowa   

Prediction

Iowa won’t start fast on the road, but the defense will limit Pitt and keep the Hawkeyes in the game. Quarterback play will be important, as the Panthers will stack the line against Greene and force Iowa to throw. Special teams will be the difference.  Iowa 20, Pittsburgh 17

Iowa-Pitt game hits home for Ferentz

Friday, September 19th, 2008

IOWA CITY — Saturday’s Iowa-Pittsburgh game will hit close to home for Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz for a couple of different reasons.

Ferentz  grew up in Pittsburgh and played football at Upper St. Clair High School before moving on to UConn, where he was an All-Yankee Conference linebacker.

The University of Pittsburgh was the site of Ferentz’s first big coaching breakthrough in 1980, when, as a 25-year-old, he was hired as a graduate assistant by Panthers coach Jackie Sherrill.

Led by Dan Marino and Mark May, that Pitt team went 11-1 and finished No. 2 in the polls.

“It was just a great experience for me,” Ferentz said. “It got me started on the path of college coaching. It gave me an exposure. It was the first time I’d ever been around big-time college football, so that was an experience. I’d seen it on TV, but that’s about as close as I got. Coach Sherrill was an excellent head coach. it was a good place to learn.”

Ferentz, in his 10th season at Iowa, still holds that 1980 team in high regard. 

“That Pitt team was one of the best in college football history, I think,” Ferentz said. “You go back and look at that team, it was an unusual team, just an awfully good team. You go right down the list, it was just a phenomenal group of players.”

Ferentz only coached at Pitt the one season, leaving to take a job as Hayden Fry’s offensive coach at Iowa in 1981. Of course, that Iowa team won the Big Ten championship and went to the Rose Bowl.

Ferentz said going home isn’t as big a deal as some might think. He still has friends and family in the Pittsburgh area, but he won’t have much time for socializing this weekend.

“All it really means is I have more people who need tickets,” he said. “That’s really all it means, and I think we’ve got most of the tickets taken care of.”

McCoy vs. Dorsett: You decide

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Pitt running back LeSean McCoy is drawing a lot of comparisons to Tony Dorsett, mostly because he broke a few of Dorsett’s records as a freshman last season. Here’s a little YouTube video with highlights of both. You be the judge.

 

This is where Iowa’s season begins

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Now, the season begins for the Iowa football team.

Maine and Florida International? Those were scrimmages, games everyone had penciled in as wins. Iowa State? Sure, a challenge from a BCS conference school, but the game was at home, and, let’s face it, the Cyclones aren’t exactly USC (though with the new uniforms, it was a little confusing).

This weekend’s game at Pittsburgh will be the first real test for the Hawkeyes, the first real gauge of where they are at entering the Big Ten season.

“The first two games, we were definitely favored,” junior linebacker A.J. Edds said Tuesday. “We knew Florida International had some athletes but if we just played our defense, we’d be fine. Iowa State, the records kind of get thrown out the window, but it seems like the home team always wins. Pitt is a top 25 team. They’ve got great athletes. We knew this would be a big game for us, our first road game, our last nonconference game.

“Some of the stuff we did in the first three weeks against lesser offenses will be capitalized on when we play better offenses starting this week. If we give up some of the lanes we did against Maine, this Pitt team is going to run the ball down our throats.

“I think it’s a perfect test for us. We’re going out to an environment similar to a Big Ten environment and going against an offense that is similar to a Big Ten offense. It will be a tune-up, really, almost like we’re playing a 12th Big Ten team.”

That’s a long quote (too long for a conventional article, which is why it’s here in my blog), but it hits it right on the head.

This was a game that the preseason magazines were split on. The ones that had the Hawkeyes finishing 5-7 had it as a loss. The ones that had the Hawkeyes closer to 8-4 had it as a win.

A win would be huge.

It would be momentum coming back to Kinnick Stadium for the Big Ten opener against what has been an underwhelming Northwestern team. And that could lead to a 5-0 start to the season before what is expected to be a tough road trip to Michigan State, the start of a brutal stretch of games — at MSU, at Indiana, vs. Wisconsin, bye week, at Illinois and vs. Penn State — that could turn the season southward in a hurry.

While a loss wouldn’t be devastating or totally surprising, it would be a letdown, because the Hawkeyes, while dominant in those wins over Maine and FIU, weren’t hitting on all cylinders on offense against Iowa State. At times, it almost looked like the 2007 Iowa team on the field — dominant defense and an offense incapable of moving the ball consistently. If the offense comes out and struggles again Saturday, all we’ll really know about the unit is that it can move the ball and score points against really bad competition. Nothing more.

And with that tough stretch of games in the meat of the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes need all the wins they can get here in the pre-conference season if they’re going to get back to a bowl game after missing out last year.

This is an important game. This is where the season really begins.

Notes from Ferentz news conference

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

IOWA CITY — Once again, from the parking lot of the Super 8 on 1st Avenue, here are some quick notes from Kirk Ferentz’s weekly meeting with the state media: 

-No changes to the depth chart … Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi still listed as co-starters at quarterback, Pat Angerer still listed as the starter at middle linebacker.

-A few hundred tickets for the Iowa-Northwestern game Sept. 27 have been returned. Log on to Hawkeyesports.com or call the Iowa ticket office at (800) IA-HAWKS.

-There are plenty of tickets available for the game at Pitt this weekend if you want to plan a last-minute trip. The expected attendance for Saturday is around 50,000.

-Captains: Matt Kroul, Mitch King, Rob Bruggeman and Andy Brodell.

-Jeff Tarpinian’s hamstring injury still hasn’t healed up. He probably won’t play Saturday, but could be back next week against Northwestern.

-Ferentz on the quarterbacks: “If we were playing today, I think Jake would be our starter.” He added that they’ll let it play out in practice.

-Karl Klug, Mike Daniels and Tony Moeaki won’t practice Tuesday because of injuries suffered against Iowa State. Moeaki suffered a head injury. Ferentz didn’t say what happened to Klug and Daniels.

-Ferentz said this week’s game will be like a bowl game, which he added is great for fans but not great for players and coaches.

-Ferentz and Dave Wannstedt go way back … knew each other in the 80s when Ferentz was at Pitt, Wannstedt, who played at Pitt, had been an assistant there in the 70s. When Ferentz was with the Cleveland Browns and Wannstedt with the Bears, the Browns went to Platteville to practice with the Bears. So, Ferentz and Wannstedt got to know each other better there, too.

-Ferentz on Pitt: “They’re probably a little bit like us in that they do what they do and do it over and over.”

-A lot of talk about baseball today during Ferentz’s news conference … comparing the QB situation to starting and relief pitching. That’ll be in my story later today.

-Talked to Brett Morse and Jeremiha Hunter for a bit, and I’ll have stories on both later this week. Turns out Hunter, a Pennsylvania native was a high school rival of Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. Hunter says he’s got the good on McCoy and can read when he’s going to get the ball. The two are good friends and actually talked on the phone this week. Morse was a high school quarterback who was recruited to college as an outside linebacker. Now, he’s ended up at fullback for the Hawkeyes. Again, I’ll have more on both those guys later this week.