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Things we learned Saturday

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Some of the things we learned in Iowa’s 38-28 victory over Michigan on Saturday:

– Denard Robinson is not a Heisman Trophy candidate. He probably isn’t even the best quarterback on his team. Tate Forcier made some mistakes, too, but he also shredded the Iowa defense for the better part of the second half. Michigan looks as though it could use a good running back. So, why not move Robinson to running back and get both these guys on the field at the same time?

– We may have found the chink in Iowa’s armor: Cornerbacks. Shaun Prater looked lost a few times Saturday and Micah Hyde looked worse. Both players have some ability, but some improvement is needed if the Hawkeyes are going to make a run at the Big Ten title. They’re going to face better quarterbacks in almost every game the rest of the season.

– Iowa has tremendous depth at linebacker. If there was one layer of the defense that played well Saturday, it probably was the linebacking trio of Tyler Nielsen, Jeremiha Hunter and Troy Johnson, who was the No. 3 middle linebacker when the season began. Those three combined for 34 tackles, Nielsen twice nailed Robinson for losses and Johnson had the interception that sealed the victory with 59 seconds to go.

– Adam Robinson is a horse. Some of us already were fans of this kid, but he stepped it up even another notch Saturday, carrying 31 times for 143 yards, catching 4 passes for 61 yards and making several clutch plays that led to the victory. He seemed to be stronger at the end than he was at the beginning of the game.

Three reasons Iowa will win at the Big House

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Three reasons I think Iowa will be able to defeat Michigan Saturday in their nationally-televised 2:36 p.m. matchup at Michigan Stadium:

– Michigan’s offense lives on big plays and Iowa’s defense doesn’t give up big plays. While Wolverines’ quarterback Denard Robinson has been ripping off big chunks of yardage against opponents in the first half of this college football season, he will prove himself to be something really special if he can do the same against the Hawkeyes, who are second in the nation in rushing de-fense. Iowa has allowed only two running plays of more than 20 yards this season – a 36-yard gallop by Eastern Illinois Cody Bruns on a fake punt and a 26-yard run by Penn State’s Evan Royster after the outcome of that game had already been decided. In the past season and a half, the longest touchdown run allowed by Iowa is 22 yards.

– Michigan’s defense is pretty bad. At times in their game against Michigan State, the Wolverines didn’t look as though they ever had seen a play-action pass before. What’s the staple of the Iowa offense? The play-action pass.

– Large crowds don’t seem to bother the Hawkeyes. They played two of their best games last sea-son in front of six-figure crowds at Penn State and Ohio State. The big throng at the Big House is likely to be a big non-factor.

That is not to say the game might not be close, especially if the Hawkeyes commit turnovers and make the same kind of mistakes they made a month ago at Arizona. But I don’t see that happening.

Good time for a bye week

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been on record for some time as saying he doesn’t like bye weeks. He hates the idea of taking a Saturday off in the middle of the season.

But this time he’ll take it.

“This week couldn’t be better,’’ Ferentz said after his team had moved to 4-1 with a 24-3 victory over Penn State. “It’s right in the middle of our season. We’ve been at this thing eight weeks, now we’ve got eight more from today, so I couldn’t find a better time for it.’’

There are a lot of reasons to like the bye week at this point in the season:

– The Hawkeyes have a lot of players banged up and nursing minor injuries, especially at the middle linebacker position. Bruce Davis is out for the year and seniors Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson were unable to play in the second half Saturday. Freshman James Morris did OK as a replacement, but the Hawkeyes certainly are a better team with Tarpinian, who should be fine after a week off.

– The place-kicking situation remains a bit unsettled. Veteran Daniel Murray was in uniform for the first time this season Saturday and should be ready to go by a week from Saturday. Going into Michigan’s “Big House’’ a week from Saturday, it might be better to use a seasoned senior rather than freshman Michael Meyer.

– Adam Robinson held up well while carrying the ball 28 times Saturday, but the Hawkeyes eventually are going to need a backup running back. The extra week gives them a chance to get freshmen Marcus Coker and Brad Rogers ready. Rogers lined up at tailback just once Saturday, but the Hawkeyes were called for illegal procedure on that play.

– The bye week gives the Iowa coaches some extra time to prepare for one of most the most dynamic offensive forces in the country: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who rolled up another 495 yards and five touchdowns Saturday against Indiana.

What we learned Saturday

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Things we learned in Iowa’s 45-0 victory over Ball State:

– The Hawkeyes’ running back depth isn’t nearly as tenuous as we might have thought. Redshirt freshman Brad Rogers and true freshman Marcus Coker combined for 126 yards rushing in the last quarter-and-a-half. While they aren’t as polished or as experienced as starter Adam Robinson, they both offer a power running style that could be effective as a change of pace to A-Rob.
– The kicking job may be less secure now than it was when the season began. Sophomore Trent Mossbrucker was replaced on field goals and extra points by true freshman Michael Meyer, who hit a 25-yard field goal (Iowa’s first of the season) but also missed a 37-yarder. There still is no word about the status of Daniel Murray, who was the kicker all of last season.
– The offensive line isn’t nearly as bad as it looked last week in a 34-27 loss to Arizona. Then again, it probably isn’t quite as good it looked at times Saturday. The line definitely has potential, but it remains a work in progress.
– Mike Daniels may be the surprise player of the entire season for the Hawkeyes so far. The junior defensive tackle was unstoppable Saturday, recording four tackles for losses and Iowa’s only sack of the day. While Adrian Clayborn and Karl Klug have had fairly quiet starts to the season, Mike Diesel has become someone future opponents will need to deal with.
– Ricky Stanzi clearly is a better player than he was a year ago. Last season he ran hot and cold, even against lesser opponents. He’s been almost continuously hot in the first 16 quarters of this season.
– Ball State probably isn’t going to win many games in the Mid-American Conference. The Cardinals use a lot of different running backs, receivers and quarterbacks but none of them looked very good. This team is going to struggle to score many points even in its own league.

This week’s pick: Iowa 45-7

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Ball State coach Stan Parrish didn’t want to play Iowa to begin with. And he certainly didn’t want to play the Hawkeyes the week after they suffered their first loss, on the road, in semi-excruciating fashion.

All of that adds up to a tough day for the Cardinals on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Every week people ask for a predicted score. This week, we’ll say 45-7. It probably will be something like 31-0 at halftime and 45-0 in the fourth quarter before Ball State scores one of those meaningless consolation touchdowns.

I don’t think Ball State is the worst team in the Mid-American Conference – a home loss to Liberty University notwithstanding – but the Cardinals aren’t an upper-echelon MAC team either. Chances are, with the Hawkeyes looking to vent some frustrations, no MAC team would have much chance.

Things I think we’ll see:

– About 300 yard passing for Ricky Stanzi. With Adam Robinson now the only healthy, experienced running back, I don’t think we’ll see him carry the ball 25 times. The Hawkeyes will throw.

– Around 8 to 10 carries for freshman running back Marcus Coker, who doesn’t really know the playbook yet but who will get a chance to show what he can do in mop-up time.

– At least three Ball State turnovers, maybe more. Freshman quarterback Keith Wenning started at Purdue last week, but he’ll face an even more intimidating atmosphere this week.

– A little more extensive playing time for such players as C.J. Fiedorowicz, James Morris and Keenan Davis. We might even get to see them throw a pass in Fiedorowicz’s direction.

A look at the quarterbacks

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Projected starter – Ricky Stanzi (6-4, 230, sr.)

Top reserves – James Vandenberg (6-3, 212, so.), John Wienke (6-5, 220, so.)

Futures – A.J. Derby (6-4, 225, fr.), Wyatt Suess (6-2, 200, fr.)

Stanzi’s touchdown-to-interception ratio isn’t going to land him any All-Big Ten votes, but this one statistic looks pretty good: He is 18-4 as a starter over the past two seasons. The Hawkeyes were 9-0 with him at the controls last season when he went down in a heap in the end zone against Northwestern. His 2009 season was marked by moments of electric efficiency punctuated by moments of amazing ineptness. Four of his Big Ten-leading 15 interceptions were returned for touchdowns, but his leadership qualities are unquestioned. He spent the off-season studying the interceptions and analyzing why they happened. Don’t be shocked if he is immensely improved this fall.

Vandenberg looked lost after replacing Stanzi in the Northwestern game, then staked his claim to the job for the future by nearly engineering an upset of Ohio State on the road the following week. Kirk Ferentz said Wienke may have been the most improved player on the team in spring drills so he may yet challenge Vandenberg for the backup job.

Derby was regarded by many as the top recruit in the state of Iowa last season, but there already are rumblings that his future may lie at some other position. But at the Kids Day scrimmage on Aug. 14, he looked to have as strong an arm as any quarterback on the team. Some of us fully expect him to remain at quarterback for the duration of his career.

A look at the receivers/tight ends

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Projected starters – Wide receivers Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (6-1, 200, sr.) and Marvin McNutt (6-4, 215, jr.); tight end Allen Reisner (6-3, 248, sr.)

Top reserves – Colin Sandeman (6-1, 200, sr.), Keenan Davis (6-3, 215, so.), Brad Herman (6-5, 247, jr.), Paul Chaney (5-9, 170, sr.), Jordan Cotton (6-1, 185, fr.), Don Nordmann (6-6, 211, sr.)

Futures – C.J. Fiedorowicz (6-7, 250, fr.), Jonathan Gimm (6-3, 240, so.), Dakota Getz (6-4, 230, fr.), Zach Derby (6-3, 235, so.), Austin Vier (6-7, 228, fr.), Kevonte Martin-Manley (6-0, 190, fr.), Don Shumpert (6-3, 185, fr.), James Hurt (6-1, 200, so.), Steven Skaggs (6-3, 195, so.)

Iowa seldom has been as strong and as deep at the wide receiver positions as it is going into this season. Johnson-Koulianos, though listed as a co-starter with Sandeman on the preseason depth chart, is in position to break the school records for receptions and yards in a career. He has had 38, 44 and 45 catches in the first three years of his college career and needs only 31 more to become the all-time record-holder. McNutt probably has an even brighter future. In his first year as a receiver after making the switch from quarterback, he caught 34 passes for 674 yards and eight touchdowns and produced some of the biggest plays of the Hawkeyes’ season. DJK and McNutt combined for 1,424 yards receiving last season and have an excellent shot at topping the best mark ever by a pair of Hawkeye wideouts – 1,649 yards, by Clint Solomon and Ed Hinkel in 2004.

Sandeman is a solid third receiver and excellent punt returner, and Davis may be ready to fulfill his vast promise after a disappointing freshman season. Behind them are Chaney, who is coming off knee surgery, and Cotton, who caught the eye of the coaches with his energy and hustle in spring drills. And don’t be shocked if another receiver makes his presence felt. Martin-Manley appears to have the sort of game-breaking speed that the Hawkeyes have seldom had through the years.

Reisner isn’t the best tight end in Iowa history, but he’ll be a decent replacement for the departed Tony Moeaki. He has caught 25 passes in a reserve role the past two years and is a serviceable blocker. There are several players behind him with possibilities, but perhaps none more so than Fiedorowicz, who arrives rated by some as the top tight end prospect in the country. He has the size and skills to make an immediate impact.

A look at the offensive line

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Projected starters – LT Riley Reiff (6-6, 300, so.); LG Julian Vandervelde (6-3, 300, sr.); RG Adam Gettis (6-4, 280, jr.); RT Markus Zusevics (6-5, 295, jr.); C Josh Koeppel (6-2, 273, sr.) or James Ferentz (6-2, 275, so.)

Top reserves – Cody Hundertmark (6-4, 285, jr.), Woody Orne (6-5, 295, jr.), Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 290, fr.), Matt Tobin (6-6, 285, so.), Kyle Haganman (6-5, 285, sr.)

Futures – Nolan MacMillan (6-6, 288, fr.), Connor Bofelli (6-5, 285, fr.), Andrew Donnal (6-7, 285, fr.), Brandon Scherff (6-5, 310, fr.), Casey McMillan (6-4, 305, so.), Drew Clark (6-4, 288, fr.)

This is the biggest question mark area on the entire Iowa team and it undoubtedly will be a work in progress as the Hawkeyes prepare for the start of Big Ten play. The major building block is Reiff, who started 11 games at three different positions while earning third-team freshman All-American honors last season. He figures to be the starting left tackle for the next three years. Vandervelde brings the most experience with 24 career starts. After that come the question marks.

Gettis and Zusevics, two juniors from the Chicago area, have slowly worked their way up the depth chart through the years but both have limited playing experience. Gettis started one game last season. Zusevics, a former high school volleyball star, never has started. Neither have either of the two players battling for the starting center job. Koeppel has been in the program longer but don’t be surprised if the coach’s son beats him out for the job.

Hundertmark, who moved from defense to offense at the end of last season, was described by Kirk Ferentz last spring as the only other offensive lineman who looked ready to play at that point although he saw very limited action in the Kids Day scrimmage last week. Orne started seven games as a freshman at South Dakota State in 2008, but still seems to be adjusting to a higher level of competition. Everyone else except Haganman is just beginning to figure out what they’re doing.

A player to watch might be Nolan MacMillan, a Canadian who is nearly 20 years old but still has four years of eligibility remaining.

Year off might be what Wegher needs

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

The Brandon Wegher saga gets a little stranger all the time. Word has it now that the mixed-up sophomore running back returned to practice for a few days early last week, then left the Hawkeyes again because — in the words of coach Kirk Ferentz — “his heart wasn’t into it.’’

It’s apparent at this point that the best thing for everyone probably would be for Wegher to take the entire season off. He has a redshirt year to use. He wouldn’t be losing any eligibility. He’s not doing anyone any good with this on-again, off-again, I’m-not-sure-I-want-to-play dance.

It’s understandable that Wegher is having some doubts about what he wants to do. It’s surprising we don’t see more young college football players go through this sort of turmoil. Wegher was pushed to be great by well-meaning parents at a very early age – earlier than most kids – and now he is in a mid-life crisis in which he apparently is trying to figure if he’s chasing his own dream or someone else’s.

The kid clearly needs some time to get his head together and decide what he wants. It’s tough to sort out your emotions and your true desires in a few days or a week or even a month, especially when Hawkeye Nation is hanging on your ever move.

So, take a year off. Let Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton carry the load this season and decide what you want to do in a less-pressurized situation.

A look at the specialists

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Projected starters – Punter Ryan Donahue (6-3, 190, sr.); kickers Daniel Murray (5-10,185, sr.) or Trent Mossbrucker (6-0, 204, so.); deep snapper Andrew Schulze (6-5, 255, sr.)

Top reserves – Eric Guthrie (6-6, 245, jr.), Charlie Knipper (6-4, 230, fr.)

Futures – Jonathan Mullings (6-3, 210, fr.); Mike Meyer (6-2, 175, fr.)

Donahue is another of those unsung heroes, a guy who doesn’t get much publicity or attention but who is highly valued by the coaching staff for his work ethic and consistency. His punting average fell slightly to 40.9 yards last season, but he dropped 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and had a career-low five touchbacks. He also did not have a punt blocked all season.

Murray is the incumbent place-kicker, but he may have a hard time holding off Mossbrucker, who redshirted last season after some very impressive moments as a freshman in 2008. Mossbrucker was 13 for 15 on field goals and set Iowa’s single-season freshman scoring record before being inexplicably replaced by Murray late in the season. Murray was OK last season – 19 for 26 with a long kick of 48 yards – but head coach Kirk Ferentz never seemed fully satisfied. This may be the most competitive position battle of the fall.

Schulze enters his fourth season as the regular long snapper and one of the most intriguing stories on the Hawkeye roster is Mullings, a 22-year-old Australian rugby player who launched an 85-yard punt for Ottumwa High School last fall. And there’s also another capable kicker waiting in the wings if both Murray and Mossbrucker flop. Meyer, a former Dubuque Wahlert star, looked pretty good in last week’s Kids Day scrimmage.