Hawkmania football & basketball blog

Road work

October 19th, 2014

My ballot for this week’s Associated Press college football poll only includes a handful of changes and I did vary from my normal practice a bit as well in a couple of instances.
Florida State continues to top my ballot after withstanding a challenge from Notre Dame. I like Mississippi State a lot as well, but right now I’m sticking with the Seminoles until I have a reason to move them out of the No. 1 slot.
Mississippi does replace Baylor in the three hole following the Bears’ loss to West Virginia. With Baylor and Notre Dame losing from top five last week, Oregon and Michigan State each move up two slots into fourth and fifth following solid wins over the weekend.
I have Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Auburn rounding out my top 10.
Typically, I’ll drop a team that loses seven to eight slots. I did not do that with Notre Dame this week, moving them only from fifth to eighth based on their play vs. the Seminoles on the road Saturday night and their body of work this season.
Baylor moves into 11th this week, heading a Big 12 trio of TCU and Kansas State. I bumped Oklahoma from 12th to 20th following its loss to Kansas State and West Virginia joins Utah as newcomers on my ballot this week.
I gave serious consideration to Oklahoma State as well as Duke and Clemson for the final spots. The Cowboys face West Virginia this week so per usual, things will work themselves out on the field.
I am currently ranking Nebraska 14th and Minnesota at 22nd. Both are in the same positions they were in a week ago. The Wildcats had a solid road win at Northwestern, while the Golden Gophers rallied for win over Purdue. I continue to feel like the West Division in the Big Ten is there for the taking but I suspect the reality of it will be that we will likely see teams knock each other off.
That’s great for competition, but not so hot for climbing in national polls.
Here my ballot for this week, crafted this morning over a cinnamon roll and orange juice at the Detroit airport on my way back to the Quad-Cities from the Iowa-Maryland game:
1. Florida State
2. Mississipppi State
3. Mississippi
4. Oregon
5. Michigan State
6. Alabama
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Auburn
11. Baylor
12. TCU
13. Kansas State
14. Nebraska
15. Arizona
16. UCLA
17. Arizona State
18. East Carolina
19. USC
20. Oklahoma
21. Marshall
22. Minnesota
23. LSU
24. Utah
25. West Virginia

Report card: Iowa at Maryland

October 18th, 2014

The good news: The Hawkeyes did 433 yards of offense.
The bad news; Everybody has been doing that against Maryland and the Terps have a 5-2 record to show for it.

Maryland coaxed Iowa into a passing game the Hawkeyes couldn’t win, not with a group of receivers who struggled to get open throughout much of the game’s first three quarters.
Jake Rudock, sacked four times and under duress throughout much of the game as the Terps won the battle up front, should never have to attempt 60 passes against a Big Ten opponents, but he did today.
The lack of receiving yards did allow Mark Weisman to get a little something going on the ground, but he didn’t carry the ball once in the fourth quarter against a defense that is prone to surrendering big yardage on the ground.
Iowa did get off to a fast start, but a 7-of-21 conversion rate on third down isn’t going to cut it
The good news: The Iowa defense forced Maryland to turn the ball over twice.
The bad news: Everybody has been doing that against the Terps and they have a 5-2 record to show for it.
For the second straight week, Iowa’s defense has given up 200-plus rushing yards. Poor tackling and bad pursuit angles remain a problem.
Elusive, mobile quarterbacks have always been a problem and C.J. Brown of Maryland reminded the Hawkeyes of that. The Terps only converted four times in 16 tries on third down. It only seemed like they were about 110 out of 100. Like Rudock, he was sacked four times, but his elusiveness allowed Maryland to mask any mistakes. The Hawkeyes struggled up front much of the day against the Terps.
The wind was wicked
at Byrd Stadium today, but there is no excuse for the type of punting numbers Iowa put up in the first half. The Hawkeyes tried both Connor Kornbrath and Dillon Kidd and neither mustered more than 32 yard average in the first half to help Maryland seize control of the lead.
A dropped punt catch by Desmond King that was recovered by the Terrapins only added to a not-so-special day by Iowa’s special teams.
A defensive holding call on a PAT attempt by Marshall Koehn allowed Iowa to escape adding insult to injury. He converted on a second chance on the Hawkeyes’ last PAT try of the game, allowing the longest ongoing string of successful PAT attempts in college football to continue.
Beyond the fast start, created in part by Drew Ott’s interception, Iowa pretty much muddled its way through a game which could have left the Hawkeyes 3-0 in the Big Ten West heading into a bye week. From failing to put the ball in the hands of leading rusher Mark Weisman in the fourth quarter to an inability to have a wide receiver catch the football in the first three-and-a-half quarters, the Hawkeyes looked discombobulated throughout much of the afternoon. Iowa’s defense again lacked the cohesion it is known for. While most of that fall on the players, some of the responsibility falls on those who prepare them each week.

Introductory offer

October 18th, 2014

Iowa’s first-ever game against Maryland provided the Hawkeyes with a chance to head into a bye week with a 3-0 record in the Big Ten.
It proved to be an introductory offer that was too good to be true for an Iowa team that looked like anything but an Iowa team in its 38-31 loss to the Terrapins.
Coach Kirk Ferentz served up the “E” word in his postgame news conference and he hit the ball out of the park.
The results were embarrassing.
The effort was there, but the execution certainly wasn’t.
Iowa struggled to sustain drives on offense and did little to prevent them on defense.
Throw in an assortment of special teams mistakes and inconsistencies and it added up to the longest game of the season for Iowa both literally and figuratively.
It took 3 hours, 50 minutes for the Hawkeyes to take their 38-31 loss from start to finish, a game filled with enough mistakes to keep Iowa busy on the practice field from now until it turns its attention to Northwestern one week from Sunday.
“We can’t let this one game beat us again,” Iowa running back Mark Weisman said.
There are more good running backs and solid defenses ahead on the Hawkeye schedule and failure to correct what ailed it today will likely lead to repeat storylines in future weeks.
A win today would have vaulted Iowa into title talk in the Big Ten West and thoughts that the Hawkeyes belonged in the national rankings.
But instead of being 6-1, Iowa sits at 5-2 and will spend upcoming days searching for answers that may provide a more competitive outcome in future games that may be closer than the one today which was not as close as its seven-point final score would indicate.
We’ll know in a couple of weeks if Iowa has found any solutions because the true grind of the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten schedule is about to begin.
Northwestern. At Minnesota. At Illinois. Wisconsin. Nebraska.
That November schedule will determine what this Iowa team is all about.

Four-down territory: Maryland

October 17th, 2014

Four things that Iowa and Maryland can do to put themselves in a position for success in Saturday’s Big Ten game at Byrd Stadium:

IOWA (5-1, 2-0)
1. Establish the run. Iowa has been able to accomplish that the past two games and that must continue against a Terrapins team which ranks 13th in the Big Ten in stopping the run, allowing 212 yards per game. The Hawkeyes topped 200 rushing yards for the first time in nine games last week against Indiana – the same number of games it has been since Iowa had a 100-yard rusher. The combination of Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Jonathan Parker have been effective for Iowa.

2. Be cohesive on defense. The strength of Iowa’s defense lies in the cohesion which was missing at times a week ago against Indiana. Poor pursuit angles and missed tackles opened the door for Tevin Coleman to pile up 219 yards on the ground. Maryland doesn’t have a Tevin Coleman, but the Terrapins do have some ability. The rushing threat of quarterback C.J. Brown, who leads the team in rushing, along with the abilities of Brandon Ross and Wes Brown provide the Terps with three rushers who average better than four yards per carry. Iowa will need to clean up its shortcomings from a week ago if the Hawkeyes hope to earn a fifth straight road win.

3. Start fast. The arm of Jake Rudock and good play calling combined to help Iowa start quickly last week against Indiana. A repeat of Rudock’s 14-of-18 first half against the Hoosiers would be beneficial. The junior will get the start and is expected to take most of the snaps again this week. He’s had good protection from Iowa’s offensive line and is working with a group of receivers led by the consistency of Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith as well as tight end Jake Duzey. Iowa has completed passes to at least 10 receivers in four games this season. That trend needs to continue.

4. Play physical. The Terrapins struggled with the physicality presented by a tough Ohio State defense two weeks ago, a tone that Iowa is capable of setting as well. Drew Ott, Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have the ability to dictate up front and if the Hawkeyes can make that happen, it will only benefit Iowa. On the flip side, Iowa must gain that type of an edge on the offensive front. There have been glimpses in recent games, but the consistency hasn’t matched what is transpiring on defense. Jordan Walsh’s availability will be important, although Tommy Gaul performed well in his absence last week. Walsh, who suffered an ankle sprain in the Indiana game, has been attempting a return in practice this week. If he cannot go, look for Austin Blythe to again slip into the guard spot and Gaul to take the field at center.

MARYLAND (4-2, 1-1)
1. Be aggressive. Maryland runs a 3-4 defense for the most part. The Terrapins have allowed some yards, surrendering 451.2 yards per game to rank 13th in the Big Ten ahead of only Illinois, but Maryland makes up for it with an aggressive approach. The Terps lead the Big Ten in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score only 62.5 percent of the time. Maryland linebacker Yannick Ngakoue leads the Big Ten with 8.5 tackles for a loss, end Andre Monroe shares third in the league with 5 sacks this season and defensive back Will Likely leads the conference with two fumble recoveries this season. The Terps thrive on the big play defensively, and will need to create some havoc against an Iowa team which is tied for 19th nationally in turnover margin.

2. Put the dual in dual threat. Quarterback C.J. Brown leads Maryland in rushing with 263 yards on 64 carries this season. Iowa has had its share of issues with mobile quarterbacks in recent seasons. Brown is the first true dual-threat QB the Hawkeyes have seen this season. A 57.5-percent passer, a successful blend of the run and pass will help an offense which ranks among the Big Ten’s most productive with its average of 34.7 points per game.

3. Be special on special teams. This hasn’t been a problem for Maryland this season. The Terrapins will test Iowa’s special teams in about every way imaginable. Likely leads the Big Ten in punt returns, averaging 22 yards per return, while talented receiver Stefon Diggs shares the league lead in kickoff returns with his average of 24.4 per runback. Likely’s skill will test Iowa’s punt coverage unit and the leg of Dillon Kidd. Recent opponents have attempted to simply kick away from him. The consistency of Marshall Koehn on kickoffs will be important as well. He ranks second nationally in touchbacks and Iowa will need the junior’s leg to deny Diggs opportunities. Maryland kicker Brad Craddock is having an all-American type of season. He has hit 17 consecutive field goal tries, including all 11 of his attempts this season. Of those, he is 6-of-6 between 40-49 yards and hit his only attempt from beyond 50 with a 57-yard field goal against Ohio State. He also ranks third in the conference in touchbacks.

4. Have big-play receivers play big. Stefon Diggs merits the attention receives as one of the Big Ten’s premier receivers. He has caught 36 passes for 450 yards and three scores this season but he is only one part of a strong receiving corps which will test Iowa. Senior Deon Long and juniors Marcus Leak and Brandon Ross are capable receivers as well. All three average better than 11 yards per catch and they have combined for 53 catches through Maryland’s first six games. The Terps average 259.3 yards per game through the air, something which will test the Hawkeye secondary.

Block party

October 16th, 2014

Jonathan Parker finished off what Jacob Hillyer and Jake Duzey started last Saturday for the Iowa football team.
As sweet at Parker’s 60-yard run to the end zone on a jet sweep was for the Hawkeyes in their win over Indiana, it wouldn’t have happened if receiver Jacob Hillyer and tight end Jake Duzey hadn’t done their part.
They created the hole that Parker needed to slip through and Hillyer contributed a major block on the play that helped send Iowa to an early lead.
For receivers at Iowa, that is part of the deal.
If they want to play, they must block and the sooner they realize that, the sooner they see the field.
“That’s part of that little package,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The guys have done a good job with that in practice, too, so it was good to see.”
Good, solid blocks from receivers are traditionally a part of the effectiveness of the Iowa offense.
As receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley puts it, “Playing under Ferentz, you better block.”
Technique is drilled repeatedly, yet the Iowa coach says a notion takes some receivers longer than others to grasp.
Typically, blocking doesn’t top the list of priorities for young receivers.
“The further away you are from the ball, it seems like it’s less of a priority at all levels,” Ferentz said. “It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to try to work at and we still can get better there yet.”
Ferentz praised the blocks that Hillyer and Duzey delivered that sprung Parker free.
“It’s something that has to happen if you want big plays to work,” Martin-Manley said.
For receivers, blocking frequently entails dealing with a moving target, often a linebacker or defensive back where contact begins downfield.
“The ability to see your target, stay square and keep your feet alive,” Martin-Manley said. “The more you grab and try to reach, the more of an advantage the defensive guy has. We’re making progress, becoming better blockers and that’s only going to help us as an offense to get it down.”
It’s the type of trait that separates contenders from pretenders in the Big Ten race.
“It doesn’t get noticed too much, but it’s an important part of the equation,” Martin-Manley said. “And at Iowa, it’s who we are.”

Special situation

October 14th, 2014

When Kirk Ferentz suggests that Iowa’s special teams will truly need to be special in Saturday’s game against Maryland, it’s not just coach speak.
The Terrapins will test the Hawkeyes with some elite specialists who have played a significant role in Maryland opening the season at 4-0.
Kicker Brad Craddock is perfect in 11 field goal attempts this season, including successful six successful kicks between 40-49 yards in addition to hitting a 57-yard field goal against Ohio State in the Terps’ most recent game. Dating back to last season, Craddock has hit his last 17 field goal attempts.
On the flip side, Maryland has blocked two punts and a field goal this season. Only five teams at the FBS level have more blocks than the Terrapins.
Maryland will test Iowa with strong return personnel as well.
William Likely leads the Big Ten with an average of 22 yards on punt returns, returning one of the eight punts he has returned for a touchdown. The sophomore who also shares the Big Ten lead with three picks from his spot in the Terrapins’ secondary is a product of Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fla., the same program which produced Iowa quarterback Brad Banks.
For kick returns, Maryland’s Stefon Diggs shares the Big Ten lead with Marcus Jones of Minnesota with his average of 24.4 yards per return.
“This will be as tough of a challenge as we’ll have,” Ferentz said.
In this case, Ferentz isn’t overstating the test Iowa will face this week.
The legs of Marshall Koehn and Dillon Kidd and the Hawkeyes’ ability to cover Maryland’s return men will play a role in Iowa’s chances of extending its ongoing four-game winning streak on the road.
This truly is a special situation.

Sunday morning shake up

October 12th, 2014

Saturday results continue to lead to a Sunday morning shake-up on my ballot for the Associated Press college football poll.
The top 25 I just submitted includes only three teams holding down the same positions I ranked them in a week ago, a byproduct of the parity we are seeing play out on the field this season.
I still have Florida State at the top of my ballot, although I gave serious consideration to moving my new No. 2, Mississippi State, into that position.
The Bulldogs continue to impress, knocking off Auburn on Saturday and moving past Baylor which rallied to win a shootout vs. TCU in Big 12 play.
Mississippi continues to prove itself as well with a solid, solid win at Texas A&M that moved the Rebels ahead of Notre Dame and into fourth on this week’s ballot.
The Irish I moved down one spot after a close call with North Carolina, perhaps a case of looking ahead to next week’s game with Florida State that will hand one more team its first loss of the season.
The first loss of the year for Auburn and Arizona knock both out of my top 10 for the time being, with Oregon, Michigan State, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State filling the bottom five slots in my top 10.
Seven teams on last week’s ballot find themselves looking to rebound from losses today.
That’s led to openings for four newbies this week.
Unbeaten Marshall makes its first appearance in my top 25, as does Minnesota. USC and Arizona State also return.
The list of those just on the outside looking in this week includes, in no particular order, Stanford, Utah, Iowa, Duke, Washington, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.
Here is my ballot for this week’s Associated Press top 25:
1. Florida State
2. Mississippi State
3. Baylor
4. Mississippi
5. Notre Dame
6. Oregon
7. Michigan State
8. Alabama
9. Georgia
10. Ohio State
11. Auburn
12. Oklahoma
13. Arizona
14. Nebraska
15. TCU
16. UCLA
17. Kansas State
18. Oklahoma State
19. East Carolina
20. USC
21. Marshall
22. Minnesota
23. Texas A&M
24. LSU
25. Arizona State

Where did that come from?

October 11th, 2014

All of a sudden, the Iowa football team has an offense.
In reality it’s always been there, but it finally showed up today at the same time the game started.
That was a nice change of pace which allowed the Hawkeyes to play their game in a 45-29 win over Indiana.
By halftime, Iowa had already eclipsed its top-scoring output of the season and that allowed the Hawkeyes to dictate how the second half was played.
Iowa worked the clock and the Indiana defense, grinding out yards to move on to the next opponent instead of trying to figure out another way to rally.
It was refreshing.
Faster starts and bigger plays. Iowa players heard a lot about both on the practice field in the two weeks since the Hawkeyes had hopped home from Purdue with a 24-10 win.
Iowa got both against the Hoosiers. From a 28-yard first quarter to touchdown plays of 72 and 60 yards, Iowa’s demonstrated growing development in its offensive game.
It’s taken this group some time, but today’s effort was a step forward.
The Hawkeyes averaged 4.7 yards per rush today, a respectable number despite a lineup change in the offensive line when Jordan Walsh left the game on the second snap with an injury.
Through the air, Iowa averaged 10.4 yards per completion. Solid, but in general terms, coaches are looking for 12-14 yards on average to put a team in a position to be successful.
Translation: the work there continues and the Hawkeyes were quick to say that.
“It feels good to finally be seeing what we’re doing in practice pay off,” running back Mark Weisman said. “There are still things we need to clean up, and that’s okay. It means we can become even more productive. I think we’re all excited about that.”
Indiana’s defense has not been confused with one of the Big Ten’s best in years and the Hawkeyes will need continued growth in the weeks ahead.
But at least for one afternoon, there were tangible results for the work that has gone on.
Things worked out.
Preparing for the second half of the season, that provides confidence and a starting point for what lies ahead.
It was a collective effort as much as anything, with 10 players catching passes, two players throwing them and six Hawkeyes rushing the football.
That may be the true identity of this Iowa team. Its strength may be in numbers.

Iowa report card: Indiana

October 11th, 2014

This is about growth and there was plenty of that to go around today. Quarterback Jake Rudock put together one of his better performances, hitting 9-of-11 passes to open the game and teaming with C.J. Beathard to put the ball in the hands of Iowa’s running game, which piled up a season-best 207 yards as it kept the ball out of Indiana’s hands. The Hawkeyes’ 15-play, 80-yard drive which led to Jake Duzey’s 12-yard TD catch which put Iowa on the board provided confidence. Damond Powell and Jonathan Parker provided some big-play life to an offense which had sputtered out of the chute early in previous games. A turnover-free and generally solid day.

Iowa defenders left Kinnick Stadium today knowing that the Sunday film session could be a rather lengthy experience. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman rushed for 219 yards against a defense which on average had allowed 93-plus yards per game on the ground. After the Hoosiers left Iowa City, that average had risen to 130.3 yards per game. Iowa’s tackling left something to be desired and its pursuit and angling weren’t as crisp as we have seen. Give Indiana credit. The Hoosiers have offensive weapons, but the Hawkeyes have some work to do this week.

Marshall Koehn hit his only field goal attempt and put five of his seven kickoffs into the end zone.
Dillon Kidd delivered a mixed bag of results at punter, averaging 40.9 yards on eight attempts. He did drop three balls inside the 20 but continues to lack the consistency Iowa is looking for.
Riley McCarron fielded punts. That’s the good news. He attempted to return three of them for all of two yards. That’s the no so good news. And, he let one that should have been fielded skip past him. That’s the bad news. Still room to grow there.
There’s still some work to do here.

This was a strange game in a lot of respects. Tevin Coleman proved to be a defensive coach’s nightmare and while Iowa limited him to 22 yards on 12 of his carries, he busted loose for touchdowns and 197 yards the other three times he ran with the ball. The Hawkeyes had no answer. Iowa’s offensive game plan was solid. A mix of short and long passes, good use of the running game to work the clock. Iowa gave opponents some new things to worry about, a pitch to Jonathan Parker and a tight end screen added variety to the Hawkeye attack.

Four-down territory: Indiana

October 10th, 2014

Four things Iowa and Indiana can do to position themselves for victory Saturday at Kinnick Stadium:

IOWA (4-1, 1-0)
1. Establish the run. Talk all you want about quarterbacks, but Iowa’s chances for winning center around continued development of a rushing attack is beginning to show signs of a pulse. The numbers aren’t pretty. The Hawkeyes average 140.2 yards per game on the ground, 91st among FBS programs and 11th in the Big Ten. However, Iowa has looked more like an Iowa football team in its past two games with Mark Weisman getting 20-plus touches. The Hawkeyes ran for 175 yards at Purdue two weeks ago, a season best, but that type of progress needs to continue.

2. Deliver a 1-2 punch at QB. Iowa will play two quarterbacks Saturday. Jake Rudock will start. C.J. Beathard will see what coach Kirk Ferentz labeled “significant minutes” during his radio call-in show this week. Iowa needs consistency from both and some sort of fluidity from its offense. Rudock is a proven commodity, a quality game manager who may be a solid fit for keeping the ball in Iowa’s hands and countering the quick-strike approach deployed by the Hoosiers.

3. Start fast. Iowa has done a great job of wearing opponents down in the second half. From its depth on defense to being able to grind things out on the ground, that ability has been good to the Hawkeyes this season. Iowa has rallied from 10 points down in three of its wins and has came from behind in each of its four wins this season. That said, the Hawkeyes need stronger starts. Iowa has outscored its opponents 51-50 in the first half of games this year, mostly thanks to a 14-3 edge in the game it lost to Iowa State, but first-half production looms large moving forward.

4. Win the ground game. Indiana averages 81 snaps a game, something which will challenge the Hawkeye defense in a different way than it has been tested this season. The Hoosiers’ high-octane approach averages 300 yards per game on the ground, led by one of the elite backs in the Big Ten in Tevin Coleman. Iowa is allowing 93.2 yards per game on the ground, seventh best in the country and third best in the Big Ten. Something has to give and Iowa’s success defensively starts by stopping the Hoosiers on the ground.

INDIANA (3-2, 0-1)
1. Figure it out defensively. Indiana’s issues throughout Kevin Wilson’s tenure have been on the defensive side of the ball, something that has not changed this season. Brian Knorr is the Hoosiers’ first-year defensive coordinator, joining the program from Wake Forest. Indiana returns 10 defensive starters from a year ago and is utilizing a three-man front which averages 307 pounds per player. After allowing 38.8 points a year ago, Indiana is giving 28.6 this time around. Indiana has struggled against the pass, allowing a Big Ten-worst 285.4 yards per game.

2. Ride the horse. Iowa faces one of the nation’s elite running backs for the second time in three games. Pitt’s James Connor ran for 155 against the Hawkeyes and now, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman will test his abilities against Iowa. Coleman is part of a rushing attack which averages 300 yards per game, ranking second nationally with his average of 168.2 yards per game. He has help. D’Angelo Roberts averages 71.8 rushing yards for Indiana.

3. Play big at QB. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Nate Sudfeld works behind an offensive line which has allowed seven sacks this season, the third-best effort in the Big Ten. He has had his moments, completing 23-of-29 passes last week against North Texas and 18-of-33 in Indiana’s win at Missouri. Sudfeld became the survivor of a three-way race at QB when Tre Roberson transferred to Illinois State during the summer. He’s working with essentially a new group of receivers, although Shane Wynn has emerged as Indiana’s leader there. Wynn averages 13.9 yards per reception.

4. Push the pace. Indiana is at its best when its no-huddle attack is in rhythm. The Hoosiers average 81 snaps per game, maximizing opportunities. Working behind a veteran line that includes four starters who have been named to Big Ten all-freshman teams over the past two seasons, the Hoosiers have no shortage of offensive weapons to test an Iowa defense which is facing a true up-tempo team for the first time this season.