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Archive for September, 2009

D-line earned an A

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

It was pretty easy to see the biggest area of improvement for Iowa on Saturday in an impressive 27-17 victory over Arizona: The Hawkeyes’ defensive line, especially end Adrian Clayborn, played much better than it did in the first two games of the season.

The other two layers of the defense – the linebackers and secondary – were solid (and occasionally spectacular) in the first two games of the season and the line also came together in a fairly thorough shutdown of what had been a pretty good offense.

The statistics don’t really tell how well the D-line played although the stats weren’t bad. The Hawkeyes had two sacks, five tackles for losses and four quarterback hurries (three by Clayborn). They’d had only two sacks in the first two games against less talented, more pass-oriented teams.

They also allowed 148 yards rushing (about half Arizona’s season average), with almost none of it coming between the tackles. Most of it came on three plays – a reverse, a quarterback scramble and a draw play in the final minutes against a prevent defense.

All told, it was an important step forward for an area of the team that had to be retooled following the graduations of Mitch King and Matt Kroul.

Time for a tougher test

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Just as it was easy to be pessimistic after the season-opening 17-16 escape against Northern Iowa, I suspect there may be a temptation this week for Hawkeye fans to get too optimistic after a 35-3 romp over Iowa State.

Don’t get me wrong, there certainly were positive signs. The offensive line, even without Bryan Bulaga, looked better. Brandon Wegher’s debut at running back was encouraging. The defense played well, especially that dynamic safety duo of Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood.

But to be honest, I think the Hawkeyes played a tougher opponent the first week. It’s hard to imagine Iowa State winning more than four games this season. Paul Rhoads has a lot of work to do to clean up the mess Gene Chizik left him. When the opposing team gives you six turnovers, as the Cyclones did, you’d better win by 30 or 40 points. Hostile atmosphere aside, this really wasn’t a major test.

We’ll learn a little more about the Hawkeyes next Saturday. Arizona isn’t a great team, but it definitely will be a step up in class. The Wildcats moved to 2-0 late Saturday night with a 34-17 victory over Northern Arizona, thanks largely to a career-best 207-yard effort by veteran running back Nic Grigsby. Arizona is very similar to Iowa right now. It is 2-0, but it has beaten two teams it was expected to beat. It has been solid defensively and has made progress offensively, but it’s still not clear how good a team it’s going to be.

It’s probably exactly the sort of game the Hawkeyes need right now – a slightly more challenging test before getting thrown into a major test the following Saturday at Penn State.

Discontinue series? Are you nuts?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As always, there are some intriguing little side stories surrounding this year’s Iowa-Iowa State game. For example:

– Michael O’Connell, Iowa State’s starting free safety, is an Iowa City native who grew up rooting for the Hawkeyes.

– Brett Greenwood, Iowa’s starting free safety, is the son of a former Iowa State lineman.

– Joe Conklin, Greenwood’s backup, is the son of a former Hawkeye player but began his college career at Iowa State before transferring to Iowa.

And that just covers the free safety position.

It’s just an example of the intrigue that surrounds a game that annually generates more discussion and anticipation than any other game on either team’s schedule.

That’s why it’s ludicrous to me that every year someone in the media raises the question as to whether or not the annual series should continue.

Why in the world would they want to stop playing this game? Why would you want to put an end to something that arouses so much interest and excitement.

Some on the Iowa side of things have suggested that a victory over Iowa State doesn’t carry much weight these days. But it certainly looks better than a conquest of Arkansas State or a 1-point win over an FCS team.

If the Big Ten were to go to a complete round-robin schedule, limiting each league member to only two non-conference games, one of them would still have to be Iowa State.

Robinson deserves to start

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

You never know what Kirk Ferentz might do, but it really would be kind of shocking to see him start Paki O’Meara at running back again next week when Iowa visits Iowa State.

O’Meara was that bad Saturday. And Adam Robinson was that … well, he was better than O’Meara.

Robinson, an unheralded redshirt freshman from Des Moines, rushed for 63 yards in 15 carries in Saturday’s too-close-for-comfort 17-16 victory over Northern Iowa. He handled almost all the Hawk-eyes’ ballcarrying duties in the second half.

The insinuation was that Robinson got all the action after halftime because O’Meara suffered a nasty cut on his head when his helmet was knocked off during a play.

“My helmet popped off and I tried to keep going and get a few more yards, and I think I got hit again,’’ O’Meara explained. “It was bleeding a little bit and I needed a couple stitches.’’

However, as I recall, that happened very early in the game. O’Meara didn’t take a seat on the sidelines until after he fumbled the ball away in the opening minutes of the second half. He finished with 16 yards in nine carries with his longest gain being five yards.

Robinson was much more effective and scored a third-quarter touchdown on an 11-yard run.

The other running backs on the roster – Jeff Brinson and Brandon Wegher – both saw some action on special teams. It not be long before we see them running the ball, too.

Paki is Kirk’s kind of guy

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Kirk Ferentz managed to put a happy face on a pretty unhappy situation Tuesday when he revealed that Jewel Hampton will undergo knee surgery and will be sidelined for the entire season.

You never know when coaches are being completely upfront with you, especially when this particular coach implied on a teleconference at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday that Hampton might be back in a week or two, then less than an hour later announced he was gone for the year.

But the hunch is that Ferentz was being genuine in saying the Hawkeyes will be OK with Paki O’Meara as the starting running back, possibly as part of a committee of backs.

As I’ve written in the past, Iowa is going to need to throw the ball much more this season no matter who lines up at running back. O’Meara, although not the most explosive runner of the group, may be the best receiver and the best blocker. So he may, in fact, be the best fit.

Redshirt freshman Adam Robinson could provide a change of pace with his quickness. Jeff Brinson, when he gets healthy, may provide more of a power element. And true freshman Brandon Wegher, if his high school numbers are any indication, should be a big factor once he gets some experience. It might be a good blend.

None of them figures to be a big star. Obviously, none of them is going to be Shonn Greene. But between them, they should be able to get the job done.

And the future at this position is extremely bright. O’Meara will still be around next season as a senior and all those other guys – Hampton, Brinson, Robinson, Wegher – will be sophomores. And all of them may have trouble holding off Marcus Coker, a 222-pound stud from Hyattsville, Md., who has made a verbal commitment to sigh with the Hawkeyes in February. The problem next season may be finding enough playing time to satisfy everyone.