Blog

Starting to look like Arizona

December 5th, 2010

It’s certainly not a sure thing yet, but my hunch is that the Iowa football team is headed for Arizona for the holidays to play in the Dec. 28 Insight Bowl in Tempe. There is good and bad in that.

 It’s good that they’re not making another trip to Florida for a bowl, which wouldn’t be all that appealing to the fans. It’s good because the opponent is going to either Missouri or Nebraska, teams that will get the fans geared up much more than some faceless SEC team.

It’s bad because this is a lesser bowl played at 9 p.m. Central time only a few days after Christmas. While I’ve been pretty much convinced Iowa fans weren’t going to travel well if they were going to Florida again, this might not be any better. Although it’s a new venue and an intriguing opponent, it almost forces Iowans to be away from home for Christmas. That’s something even we media types are struggling with.

One other aspect to this game that may not be a big plus: The Hawkeyes are going to be facing a tougher opponent. Had they gone to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, they were going to face a 7-5 Florida team that’s in even more disarray than they are themselves. Instead it’s going to be 10-2 Missouri with a high-powered offense or 10-3 Nebraska with a very stingy defense. Both are tough matchups. If the Hawkeyes don’t show up any better than they did at Minnesota and Northwesterm, this could be ugly.

Things we learned Saturday

November 6th, 2010

Things we learned from Iowa’s 18-13 victory over Indiana on Saturday:

– Maybe anybody really can beat anybody on any given day in the Big Ten. Iowa looked like a championship team in drilling Michigan State 37-6 last week while Indiana hasn’t won a conference game in more than a year. But the Hoosiers were one bobbled pass in the end zone away from winning on Saturday.

– The running back position at Iowa is in very good hands even after Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton have used up their eligibility. Freshman Marcus Coker looked awfully good for a kid who missed most of preseason training camp with an injury.

– Brett Greenwood is playing some of his best football as the end of his college career approaches. The Pleasant Valley grad had a fairly quiet first half of the season, but he now has an interception in each of the past three games and he had the hit of the day when he separated Indiana’s Darmarlo Belcher from the ball with a ferocious tackle in the third quarter. You kind of wonder if Belcher was still thinking of that collision when he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute.

– Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is now fully committed to freshman Michael Meyer as his kicker. He stayed with the kid Saturday even after he missed a chip-shot 22-yard field goal. Don’t be shocked if sophomore Trent Mossbrucker already is planning a transfer.

What we learned Saturday

October 31st, 2010

Things we learned in Iowa’s 37-6 victory over Michigan State on Saturday:

– There’s a very good chance that the fourth best team in the Big Ten will end up in the Rose Bowl. Michigan State is still in the driver’s seat because it would win almost every three-way tiebreaker, but the Spartans were exposed Saturday as a less-than-championship quality team. They appear to be no better than the fourth best team in the Big Ten, but are going to benefit from not having to play Ohio State this season.

– Iowa has tremendous depth at linebacker and has few worries about the future at that position despite having four senior linebackers on the roster. James Morris and Shane DiBona made their first career starts Saturday and didn’t look at all like freshmen. Both will be major contenders for starting jobs next season.

– Adam Robinson is not the best running back in the Big Ten, but he might be the most versatile. In addition to rushing for 69 tough yards and a touchdown Saturday, he also caught a 32-yard touchdown pass. And when Ricky Stanzi scrambled to his left in the first quarter, Robinson leveled maybe the best linebacker in the country, Greg Jones, with a ferocious blindside block. There doesn’t seem to be anything he can’t do.

– The Hawkeyes’ secondary is getting better. It may have played its best game of the season Saturday. Three of the four starters had an interception and the fourth guy, Micah Hyde, took a lateral from Tyler Sash and turned it into a 66-yard touchdown return. Michigan State spent much of the day trying to pick on Shaun Prater but the junior cornerback responded to the challenge with a timely interception and a team-high 10 tackles.

– Coach Kirk Ferentz is gaining confidence in freshman running back Marcus Coker. After not using him in any of the past three games, Coker got the ball 16 times in the second half.

– Ferentz isn’t completely adverse to using trick plays. Some of us have been waiting for two years to see ex-quarterback Marvin McNutt throw a pass off a reverse and they finally did it Saturday although the timing was odd. They called the play in the fourth quarter, long after the outcome had been decided.

Site gives Kinnick a 4 on a scale of 5

October 25th, 2010

Kinnick Stadium was featured last week on a website called stadiumjourney.com, which basically is a handful of ordinary guys who travel around the country doing reviews on sports venues ranging from independent league baseball parks to the biggest stadiums in the country. Its stated goal is “to become a world-class community resource for sports fans, built around optimizing the experience of traveling to and attending live sporting events.’’

So, how did Kinnick fare in the site’s review? Pretty well. It received an average score of 4.0 on a 5.0 scale in seven categories. It got perfect 5s for Atmosphere and Neighborhood; 4s for Fans, Access and Return on Investment; and 3s for Food and Beverage and Extras.

“The atmosphere at Kinnick is one of the best in college football,’’ reviewer Nick Kappel wrote. “The team is introduced from the tunnel to AC/DC’ s ‘Back in Black,’ firing up the already rowdy crowd.’’

Of the 20 or so college stadiums that have been reviewed this fall, only Alabama (4.7), Ohio State (4.6), Notre Dame (4.6) and Central Florida (4.1) received higher scores. Almost all the college stadi-ums received scores between 3 and 4 with the worst grades going to Ball State (2.1) and Colorado State (2.3).

Things we learned 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

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

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

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

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

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.