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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.

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.

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.

Robinson is our favorite to start

Friday, August 6th, 2010

The big topic of conversation as Iowa opened camp Friday was who is going to the starting running back when the season begins Sept. 4 against Eastern Illinois.

Our guess is that it will be Adam Robinson. He may not be as flashy as Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton. He doesn’t have Wegher’s high school reputation. To borrow one of Kirk Ferentz’s words, Robinson isn’t the “sexy’’ choice.

But he’s the safe choice. He’s the guy who will make the fewest mistakes and that makes him Ferentz’s kind of player.

Of course, the Hawkeyes almost certainly will employ a committee of backs anyway, using whoever is most healthy or whoever has the hot hand and is playing well.

Hampton, who has had Iowa fans salivating ever since his occasionally spectacular freshman season, really hurt his chances when he was suspended for that first game because of an off-season incident. If Robinson and Wegher have big games, as you would expect they might against an FCS opponent, Hampton will be buried in the No. 3 on the depth chart.

Chances are, there won’t be that many times when all three players are healthy at the same time anyway.

 

Depth for fall may be better than ever

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Iowa may or may not have one of its best football teams ever next fall.

One thing that does seem certain: It will be one of the deepest teams it has had.

The Hawkeyes will be pretty well insulated against injuries at almost every position except pos-sibly the offensive line and safety. Everywhere else, there are pretty good players waiting in the wings in case the starter goes down.

A look at the Hawkeyes by position following spring drills:

Quarterback: Ricky Stanzi is going into his third season as the starter and should be less turn-over-prone. That was a major point of emphasis in the spring. James Vandenberg showed last sea-son that he can be a capable backup and you get the feeling southpaw John Wienke gained ground on Vandenberg in the spring. The coaches said he made a major step up and you could see it in the spring scrimmage. Wienke looked crisper and more accurate than Vandenberg that day.

Running back: If Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher all are healthy, this is going to be very interesting. Robinson may have a slight edge in some of the little things like pick-ing up the blitz, but the other two probably are more elusive and have a bigger upside. It’s almost guaranteed that one of them will get hurt anyway. If more than one gets hurt, I still think there is a chance freshman Marcus Coker could be a factor right away.

Fullback: Senior Brett Morse is solid and there’s not a ton of drop-off to junior Wade Leppert. This isn’t an every-down position anyway.

Wide receiver: Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos have a chance to be the Hawk-eyes’ best receiver tandem since … well, maybe ever. Colin Sandeman and Paul Chaney are pretty good, too. If Keenan Davis improves as much as the coaches hope and Jordan Cotton continues to progress and 6-foot-6 Don Nordmann is as good as he looked in the spring scrimmage, they’re loaded.

Tight end: Don’t be surprised if Allen Reisner duplicates the statistical numbers Tony Moeaki provided last year although he’s probably not going to be as good a blocker. Brad Herman and Jonathan Gimm apparently made strides as the backups this spring but they still might have trou-ble holding off high school All-American C.J. Fiedorowicz, who should be game-ready when he arrives.

Offensive line: There is good depth at center, where James Ferentz and Josh Koeppel are bat-tling for the starting job, but this is one place the depth is a bit thin. There are a lot of big bodies behind Riley Reiff, Julian Vandervelde, Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis but apparently no one who is ready to play with any sort of consistency. Coach Kirk Ferentz said converted defensive lineman Cody Hundertmark is the closest to being ready. If no one steps forward in the fall, there may be an opportunity for Ohio high school star Andrew Donnal to see playing time as a true freshman.

Defensive line: The Hawkeyes may be deeper than ever here. All four starters – Adrian Clay-born, Karl Klug, Christian Ballard and Broderick Binns – return intact with Clayborn and appar-ently Klug primed for starring roles. And some of us have felt for some time that Ballard ranks among the most underrated players on this team. Backup tackle Mike Daniels is good enough to start for half the teams in the Big Ten and young ends LeBron Daniel and Dominic Alvis have emerged as potential stars of the future. Pencil in Daniels and Daniel as certain starters for 2011.

Linebacker
: This is another area where the competition has been fierce. Jeremiha Hunter is a third-year starter and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen have emerged as the starters at the other two spots, but Bruce Davis and Troy Johnson are still pushing. Even long-time walk-on Ross Peter-sen looked good in the spring scrimmage. You’ll still see some true freshman play here in the fall, though, as the Hawkeyes brace for the future. Hunter, Tarpinian, Johnson and Petersen are seniors and Davis and Nielsen are juniors.

Cornerback: Shaun Prater is solidly entrenched on one side and sophomore Micah Hyde may be a future star on the other side. Jordan Bernstine, projected to start ahead of Prater last fall before breaking his ankle, may have a hard time finding playing time but he, Greg Castillo and William Lowe provide quality depth.

Safety: Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood – known to some of us as Sashwood – are one of the best tandems in the country but it’s hard to even guess at who the backups are at this point. Walk-ons Kyle Steinbrecher and Tom Donatell ran with the No. 1 unit in the spring scrimmage, apparently moving ahead of two scholarship players, Jack Swanson and Nick Nielsen, in the final week of drills. All those players have good size and Nielsen had two interceptions last Saturday. The depth isn’t necessarily bad, just unproven.

Kicker: Daniel Murray is the returning starter, but Ferentz has made it clear he wasn’t com-pletely satisfied with the job he did. Trent Mossbrucker, who redshirted last season after being the kicker for much of 2008, has at least an shot at winning the job.

Punter: Another place where the depth isn’t great behind four-year regular Ryan Donahue. But how often does your punter get hurt anyway?

Recruiting reflections

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Random thoughts in the wake of Wednesday’s national signing day:

— Once upon a time, when a high school football player made a verbal commitment to sign with a school, you could take it to the bank. The recruiting was over. The kid was going to that school.

Not any more.

“Decommits” — players who change their mind after committing to a school — are now very common and seemingly increasing with each passing year.

Iowa only had one player decommit this year — Matt Hoch of Harlan, Iowa, changed his mind in December and decided to join his brother at Missouri — but the Hawkeyes picked up three players who once were pledged to other schools: C.J. Fiedorowicz (Illinois), Kevonte Martin-Manley (Bowling Green) and Tanner Miller (Northern Iowa).

— After signing Marcus Coker and D’Andre Johnson on Wednesday, Iowa now has eight running backs on scholarship and all but one of them will be either a freshman or a sophomore next season. And the one who will be a senior (Paki O’Meara) may be the least of the eight.

Even if Brad Rogers and Jeff Brinson end up at some other position (or some other school), it’s still hard to figure out how the Hawkeyes can find enough playing time for Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewell Hampton, especially if Coker is the second coming of Shonn Greene, as some believe.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t concerned.

“You know, I hope it becomes a problem,” he said. “I’m trying to think of the last time it was … I can’t remember us having too many good players at any one position. I certainly can’t remember us having too many running backs. My memory is a little bit recent right now. I was just happy this past year to have two in one game.”

— Obviously, big things are expected of Fiedorowicz, Coker, A.J. Derby and Andrew Donnal, the four-star players in Iowa’s recruiting class.

But some of us won’t be shocked if Solon linebacker James Morris ends up being the best player out of this class. And you have to believe there are some other great “sleeper” prospects in this bunch. Carl Davis is a 300-pound defensive tackle who regularly dunks in his high school basket-ball games in Detroit. I can’t wait to see what that guy looks like.

— From my experience, recruits who also have played sports such as basketball and tennis generally have very good footwork that translates well to the football field.

If that’s the case, this is a really good group. I counted 14 players among the 21 in Iowa’s class who play or have played for their high school basketball teams. Fiedorowicz already is his school’s career scoring leader. Brandon Scherff and Austin Vier are among the top rebounders in the state of Iowa right now. B.J. Lowery and Martin-Manley are going to be four-year lettermen at the var-sity level. Tanner Miller and Jim Poggi are in their third varsity season. Derby, who is sitting out this basketball season, helped Iowa City win a Class 4A state title as a sophomore.

Scherff, who is listed at 310 pounds, also lettered in tennis as a freshman in high school.

Erb, Campbell had great years, too

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The players get most of the credit when a football team has the kind of season Iowa has had.

And the head coach takes his share of bows.

The offensive and defensive coordinators also get a small piece of the credit.

But as offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe pointed out last week, a couple of other assistant coaches also deserve a large share of credit for the fact that the Hawkeyes went 10-2 in the regular season.

O’Keefe made note of how much work receivers coach Erik Campbell has invested in making Marvin McNutt into a topflight Big Ten receiver. And he said what Lester Erb has done as the team’s running backs coach is nothing short of amazing.

Entering fall camp, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher were pretty much No. 4 and 5 on the depth chart, but they end up playing extremely well. Robinson set Iowa’s freshman rushing record and Wegher had the highest yardage total ever by a true freshman. Between them, they rushed for 1,303 yards and 12 touchdowns and did an exceptional job of picking up blitzes on pass plays.

“I have to say Lester Erb has done an unbelievable job the last two years,’’ O’Keefe said. “He took Shonn Greene off the furniture truck and got him ready to play. And Jewel Hampton was only a true freshman. Then this year he took two guys who were great high school players but hadn’t ever played at this level and got them ready.’’

All-Big Ten teams had some surprises

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

There were only a few surprises on the All-Big Ten teams that were announced Monday night. One of the surprises was that Iowa was as well-represented as it was.

I figured the Hawkeyes might get as many as five first-team selections, but they had a league-high seven first-team players on the team chosen by the BigTen coaches, only four on the media team.
The five I thought were deserving: Linebacker Pat Angerer, strong safety Tyler Sash, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Amari Spievey. All of those players made the coaches team and all but Spievey were honored by the media.

The coaches also put Dace Richardson and Tony Moeaki on the first team even though Richardson missed the last 4 ½ games of the conference season and Moeaki was more or less missing in action over that same span.

Other thoughts:

– The offensive line, which never really got its act together, had four players selected. In addition to Bulaga and Richardson, Rafael Eubanks and Kyle Calloway made the second team.

– Although 19 Iowa players received some sort of mention, there was at least one more that merited at least honorable mention. Receiver Marvin McNutt scored six touchdowns in a span of four Big Ten games, including some of the clutch plays of the season.

– Iowa’s defense received the recognition it deserved. The only two starters who didn’t get some sort of mention were Jeremiha Hunter and Shaun Prater.

– Although everyone knew Wisconsin’s John Clay and Penn State’s Evan Royster would be the first team running backs, I thought Adam Robinson had a chance to make the second team. He ended up being honorable mention on both teams with Purdue’s Ralph Bolden and Ohio State’s Brandon Saine making the second team.

– There was widespread disagreement on the first team wide receivers. The coaches picked Minnesota’s Eric Decker and Michigan State’s Blair White. The media went with Indiana’s Tandon Doss and Purdue’s Keith Smith. I would have voted for White and Smith.

– It was interesting that Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick was the coaches’ defensive player of the year, but he wasn’t even first team on the media squad. There’s no way he had a better season than Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield, Michigan State’s Greg Jones (the media pick) and Angerer.

– You can’t help but wonder how the coach of the year voting might have gone if the voting hadn’t been done with a week to go in the season. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz won the award, but Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern club finished very strong, beating Wisconsin in the final game to finish 8-4. Fitz might have gotten a few more votes if the voting was done later.

Rash of injuries a big concern

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

One of the hardest hitting games of the season prompted a handful of injuries and a great deal of uncertainty about Iowa’s lineup for next Saturday’s game with Indiana. A look at the injuries and their potential ramifications:

Dace Richardson: He has started every game this season, at three different offensive line positions, but I’m guessing we’ve seen the last of the big guy this season. He suffered what appeared to be a very serious foot or ankle injury (allegedly a fracture) and I can’t imagine he would be back before the end of the regular season. The good news is that there shouldn’t be much drop-off with veteran Julian Vandervelde ready to step back into the lineup at right guard.

Brett Greenwood: It looked really bad when they strapped Greenwood to a board and took him off on a cart, but that may have been largely a precautionary measure. The junior free safety was back on the sidelines in sweats at the end of the game. If Greenwood is out, fifth-year senior Joe Conklin becomes the starter. Conklin showed some inexperience when he was thrown into the action Saturday night, but with more preparation time he should be OK.

Colin Sandeman: He got knocked cold on a vicious hit by Michigan State’s Jeremy Ware. Head injuries aren’t anything to be taken lightly and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sandeman sit out a game or two. His absence would mean more playing time at receiver for freshman Keenan Davis, but it’s not clear who would replace Sandeman on punt returns. Maybe Davis. Maybe Tyler Sash. Maybe Amari Spievey. Sandeman had done a very good job since taking over for Paul Chaney so this could be a bigger loss than it appears.

Adam Robinson: Many people probably didn’t even realize that Robinson injured his ankle late in the game because he and Brandon Wegher share playing time at running back anyway. Wegher also was banged up in the game (a shoulder, I think) although he came back and played after that. It not clear at this point how badly hurt either of them is. If both of them are out, it’s a major crisis. Hawkeye fans aren’t eager to see Paki O’Meara return to the starting lineup.

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.