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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.

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.

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.

Maybe one more recruit?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Upon further review, maybe the Hawkeyes aren’t quite finished recruiting.

It looks as though they could get one more recruit this weekend when Lorain (Ohio) Clearview star Anthony Hitchens makes his official visit to the Iowa campus. Hitchens was regarded as a fall-back recruit – someone the Hawkeyes only would take if other recruiting pitches fell through — but they made him an offer earlier this week and in comments he made to Rivals.com, Hitchens sounded as though he was thinking he would give his commitment before leaving Iowa City.

Hitchens made an unofficial visit to Iowa to watch the Hawkeyes’ game with Indiana in October and felt then that this is where he’d like to go. He had offers on the table from Kansas, Indiana and other schools, but was holding off on a commitment, waiting to hear from Iowa.

While most of those other schools see the 6-foot-1, 195-pound speedster as a running back, the Hawkeyes probably will play him at safety. He rushed for 1,428 yards and 21 touchdowns last fall, but also made 76 tackles and had two interceptions on the defensive side. He’s only rated a two-star recruit and he’s not ranked among the top 75 players in Ohio, but he’s the kind of recruit the Hawk-eyes love to develop.

He won’t be the only recruit visiting campus this weekend. Nine players who already have made verbal commitments to Iowa – Marcus Coker, Andrew Donnal, Austin Gray, Matt Hardy, Christian Kirksey, James Morris, Brandon Scherff, Don Shumpert and Austin Vier – also will be making their official visits.

This is how backward recruiting has gotten. Many of those players have been committed for close to a year. Morris, whose father is Iowa’s equipment manager, has been committed for more than two years. But they’re just now making their visits.

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.