Hawkmania football & basketball blog

No surprise party

September 16th, 2014

Don’t count Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz among the people who are surprised by the Hawkeyes’ lack of cohesion on offense during the opening weeks of the 2014 season.
“We had a lot of guys coming back, but we lost good talent from a year ago. Our challenges are a result of us trying to put things together. We’re a 2-1 team,” Ferentz said today. “I’m not going to sit here and say we’re surprised. We’re still trying to put the pieces together.”
Ferentz said all of Iowa’s staff, including offensive coordinator Greg Davis, are on the same page when it comes to building an effective offense.
He called Davis a “stellar” coach and person and said he believes the veteran coach will guide Iowa through its offensive issues.
Ferentz said he meets daily with Davis and continues to be involved extensively in the Hawkeyes’ offensive game planning, as he has been since being named the head coach 16 seasons ago.
“I spend more time in our offensive room,” Ferentz said. “That’s kind of where I hang out. They’ll let me, so I’m totally in tune. It’s not like something is going on that I’m not aware of.”
Ferentz said his offensive beliefs have not changed since Davis was hired to replace Ken O’Keefe three years ago.
“The one thing I’m firm on, I think we have to have the ability to be balanced, and we would hopefully play in a physical nature,” Ferentz said. “We’re not going to have a finesse offensive football team. I want the ability to run or pass. That could come out of a three-wide set, it could come out of a one-wide set. I’m not as hung up on those things.”
That’s why Ferentz doesn’t get caught up in the deep ball-short ball passing game discussion. What he wants is an offense that can produce based on what it is seeing from opposing defenses.
He insists that Iowa’s issues right now have more to do with execution than schematics.
And, he insists that the Hawkeyes have the personnel on the field and on the coaching staff to fix the early-season issues.
He said Davis is doing just fine in his role.
“If we were 500 yards a game, 35, 40 points a game, he’d be doing great, but we’re not,” Ferentz said. “It’s coaching. He’s been around, too. He knows the drill.”
That’s why Ferentz believes in Davis.
“If you coach and have a resume, a long career, you’re going to go through highs, you’re going to go through lows. If you don’t go through the highs, you probably are in a different profession at some given point,” Ferentz said. “If you’re in it long enough, you’ll get your tail kicked. That’s part of the deal. If you can’t deal with it, you probably have to do something else.”

Opposites attract

September 15th, 2014

At first glance, Saturday’s game between Pittsburgh and Iowa appears to be a meeting of two opposites.
The Panthers have topped 300 rushing yards in every game this season, while the Hawkeyes haven’t let an opponent top 100 yards through its first three games of the year.
Led by James Conner, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound sophomore who has rushed for 544 yards through three games, Pittsburgh has had its way on the ground en route to a 3-0 start this season.
The Panthers have piled up an average of 344.3 yards per game and have rushed for 12 touchdowns.
Saturday, Pitt will be tested by an Iowa defense which is one of eight teams in FBS football to have not allowed a single rushing touchdown through 12 quarters of football.
Iowa is allowing 65.7 yards per game on the ground and 2.3 yards per carry, a number that compares to the 6.4 yards per rush that Pittsburgh has totaled in 161 rushing plays.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst, who is building his program around a power game that he used while working as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator during a stint there as an assistant from 2005-11, welcomes the chance to test his team against the physical style of the Hawkeyes.
“We’ve got to rise up and meet that challenge,” he said Monday. “It’s a great opportunity for us. The amount of success that (Kirk Ferentz) has had for a long time, there’s a lot of programs across the country trying to do that.”
Chryst said the soundness of Iowa’s defensive scheme is enhanced by the quality of the players the Panthers will see this weekend.
“You’ve got to work to get yards on them,” he said. “Whatever you get, you’ll earn. It’s fun to play them that way because nothing will be given.”

With whole wheat toast, please

September 14th, 2014

I ordered my eggs scrambled this morning, just like my ballot for this week’s Associated Press college football poll.
Only six teams – including my top five – are holding down the same position they held in last week’s ballot.
Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn fill the top five slots for the third straight week. While I saw a lot to like in Oregon’s win over Michigan State, I saw no reason to move any of the teams above them down.
I did slip UCLA down three spots following its hard-fought win vs. Texas, moving Baylor, LSU, and Texas A&M ahead of the Bruins, who I have in ninth one spot ahead of Michigan State.
Losses by Georgia and USC moved the Spartans back into the 10th spot, where I have them followed by Notre Dame, Ohio State and then USC.
I have South Carolina, Georgia and Ole Miss in the next three positions, among eight SEC teams on my ballot this week.
Nebraska is this week’s lone newcomer on my list following a road win at Fresno State.
Among the teams just on the outside looking in this time around: Clemson, Duke, Louisville, Marshall, Northern Illinois, Pitt and TCU.

Here is my top 25 for this week’s Associated Press college football poll:
1. Florida State
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Oregon
5. Auburn
6. Baylor
7. LSU
8. Texas A&M
10. Michigan State
11. Notre Dame
12. Ohio State
13. USC
14. South Carolina
15. Georgia
16. Mississippi
17. Stanford
18. Arizona State
19. Florida
20. Wisconsin
21. Nebraska
22. Missouri
23. North Carolina
24. BYU
25. Kansas State

Report card: Iowa State

September 13th, 2014

Grading the Hawkeyes’ performance in today’s loss to Iowa State:

The Hawkeye offense continues to suffer an identity crisis. Nothing came easily for Iowa against Iowa State. The Cyclones got to QB Jake Rudock four times and the junior struggled to connect with Iowa receivers when it mattered most. The Iowa ground game showed a pulse early, and Jordan Canzeri averaged six yards per carry the three times he ran with the football, but he didn’t run with the football in his hands in the second half. That only added to Iowa’s issues.

From untimely penalties to allowing the Cyclones to craft a 92-yard drive when the game was on the line, the Hawkeye defense did not have one of its better days. ISU became the third opponent which failed to reach 100 yards on the ground against Iowa, but the defensive failed to sack Sam Richardson once and the secondary struggled to deal with athletic receivers as ISU rallied.

Not everything could be compared to the Hindenburg on Saturday at Kinnick Stadiium. Dillon Kidd enjoyed his best start as Iowa’s punter, averaging 38.2 yards on four attempts and dropping three punts inside the 10-yard line. After going for It on 4th-and-8 at the ISU 16 in the first half – and converting – Iowa did show some faith in Marshall Koehn in the fourth quarter and the junior responded by hitting a 44-yard field goal to tie the game with 4:08 left on the clock. He also knocked all four of his kickoffs into the end zone as Iowa denied ISU a chance to get much going in the return game. Jordan Canzeri averaged 21.5 yards on a pair of kick returns among few bright spots Iowa had Saturday.

Iowa’s play calling in short-yardage situations – combined with execution – was somewhat mystifying at times from start to finish against the Cyclones. ISU was at times it’s own worst enemy in the first half, helping the Hawkeyes to a 14-3 halftime lead that didn’t stick. Iowa’s inability to generate offense and defend the pass in the second half came back to haunt an Iowa team facing an opponent desperate for a victory. One team showed up with a killer instinct Saturday. The other was Iowa.

The week that wasn’t

September 13th, 2014

From the minute Drew Ott found himself as a potential hood ornament for the Buick that collided with his scooter on Monday to the Brandon Scherff circus that followed, the Iowa football team just finished the week that wasn’t.
Iowa State added insult to injury, or injuries if you prefer, by proving itself perfectly capable of rallying from an 11-point halftime deficit to earn a 20-17 victory over the Hawkeyes.
The Cyclones out-played Iowa during the second half of today’s game and that might have proven more painful to the Hawkeyes more than the medical issues they dealt with in the days leading up the Cy-Hawk showdown.
In a battle of two teams still looking to define just what they are this season, Iowa State rose up and handed the Hawkeyes a humbling setback.
Credit ISU with keeping it all together. Even after DeVondrick Nealy fumbled as he headed toward the end zone late in the second quarter, the Cyclones didn’t blink.
It would have been easy to call it day.
But the short field created by the first turnover ISU has forced this season followed by a 10-play, 92-yard march to the end zone for the go-ahead score gave the Cyclones a much-needed dose of confidence.
Things can and do turn around that quickly.
Iowa players didn’t want to hear much about that following the game. This loss stung, as it should, and the week that wasn’t ended in frustrating fashion for a team which continues to struggle to find answers to questions that have dogged Iowa through its 2-1 start.
An offense that has struggled to find itself, a defense which remains susceptible to the pass and special teams that remain works in progress give Iowa plenty to work on when they turn the page to a new week.
Pittsburgh, 3-0 following a second-half rally of their own Saturday at Florida International awaits.
The Panthers trailed 16-14 on the road at the half, but rallied for a 42-25 win, outscoring FIU 28-9 over the final two quarters to reach 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
Iowa players will watch tape Sunday, fix correctable mistakes on the field and then turn the page.
It’s a fresh start that will probably be more welcomed than most.

Four-down territory: Iowa State

September 12th, 2014

Four things the football teams from Iowa and Iowa State can do to position themselves for a win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium:

IOWA (2-0)
1. Establish the run. Easier said that done so far, the Hawkeyes need to get something, anything, going on the ground if they hope to realize their potential this season. With four backs sharing the bulk of the carries so far, the Hawkeyes’ ground game has struggled to find much rhythm. Mark Weisman carried 35 times last year against Iowa State. He likely won’t see that many touches Saturday, but the senior along with Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock will be looking for more improved production against an ISU front seven which has surrendered 534 yards on the ground through two games. With starting left tackle Brandon Scherff most likely watching from the sidelines with a knee injury, don’t be stunned if Iowa were to challenge ISU with more three tight-end looks to strengthen blocking as much as anything.

2. Answer unanswered questions. The last three Iowa-Iowa State games have been decided by a combined total of 12 points. That illustrates how important special teams can be in this type of game and Iowa’s new starting specialists have lacked consistency early this season. Punter Dillon Kidd has averaged 36.6 yards per punt – 11th in the Big Ten – while Marshall Koehn and Mick Ellis have struggled to hit 2-of-6 field goal tries. Those numbers don’t cut it moving forward.

3. Keep on chuckin.’ Jake Rudock is off to a solid start throwing the football. His 68.8 percent completion rate includes connections with 14 receivers through two games. He’ll face a relatively young Iowa State secondary on Saturday, something which should present Rudock with an opportunity. ISU opponents have completed 59.6 percent of their passes this season. Rudock has completed 64 passes so far, but only two have gone for gains of longer than 20 yards, a 50-yarda pass to Canzeri against Ball State and a 46-yard strike to Derrick Willies in the UNI game.

4. Continue defensive growth. Iowa’s defense made strides from week one to week two, a situation that will need to continue when the Iowa State bus pulls into Kinnick on Saturday. The Hawkeyes’ front four has helped Iowa limit opponents to an average of 1.9 yards per carries, a number which benefits from 17 tackles for a loss. Only two Big Ten defenses are allowing fewer rushing yards than Iowa. The Hawkeyes were vulnerable through the air against Northern Iowa and the average of 254.5 yards Iowa is giving up on the pass rates 11th in the Big Ten. ISU quarterback Sam Richardson will test the Hawkeyes with his feet and arm.

1. Finish what you start. The Cyclones have yet to score a first down or even venture into the red zone during the second half of a game this season. That has allowed two-touchdown leads to evaporate in season-opening losses to North Dakota State and Kansas State. Quarterback Sam Richardson talked this week about the importance of being able to convert on 3rd-and-1 or 3rd-and-2 to keep drives alive. ISU has two crystal-clear examples of why that matters.

2. Establish the run. Much like Iowa, the ground game has been an issue for Iowa State. There has been some adversity up front, with senior starter Jacob Gannon walking away from the sport during the week between the Cyclones’ first two games. Redshirt freshman Jake Campos made his first start against Kansas State last weekend and will be counted on to help an rushing attack which is averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy are capable backs, but have combined to average just under 60 yards per game on the ground.

3. Exploit the perimeter. Against an Iowa front four on defense which has been allowing 1.9 yards per rush, the Cyclones’ best bet to move the ball may be to find ways to work around the brick wall that the Hawkeyes will present. ISU has some speed, including in the skill of Jarvis West and true freshman receiver Allen Lazard. Senior E.J. Bibbs is one of the top tight ends in the Big 12, but has been relatively quiet in the portions of the scheme that first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has unveiled during the opening weeks of the season.

4. Find a hero. Iowa State’s most significant recent success against Iowa has been a result of some of the biggest days in the careers of Cyclone players. From Seneca Wallace accounting for 391 yards of offense to hand Iowa its only regular-season loss in 2002, to Bret Culbertson’s five field goals including one in the final seconds in 2007, Steele Jantz’s five touchdown passes in 2011 and Darrien Davis rushing for 244 yards to end 15 years of frustration against Iowa in 1998, memorable individual performances have been significant for ISU in its match-up against the Hawkeyes.

The QB shuffle

September 12th, 2014

C.J. Beathard continues to be the most popular man on the Iowa campus – that goes with territory as the No. 2 quarterback on the Hawkeye depth chart – but just how and when should the sophomore be utilized in his current position behind second-year starter and junior Jake Rudock?
Beathard saw his first action of the season a week ago against Ball State, hitting 2-of-3 passes he attempted and having a video replay overturn a third catch during an eight-play drive which ended in a punt.
It was a respectable season debut, although Beathard missed an open Damon Bullock who had the needed yardage on the third-down play when he opted to toss a 39-yard ball to Damond Powell in the end zone.
The goal line is desired destination for any quarterback, but was it the right play at the right time for the Hawkeyes in that situation?
Because it was determined Powell didn’t have possession of the football while he was inbounds, Iowa was forced to punt both the football and the chance to sustain a drive.
That missed opportunity could have proved costly in a game the Hawkeyes eventually found a way to win thanks to a pair of TD passes in the final three minutes by Rudock.
Those are situations that Beathard, who has never been questioned about the strength of his arm or his willingness to put it on display, can learn from and that is what Hawkeye coaches are hoping he learns as he gains experiences.
Beathard said following Saturday’s game that he was told to be ready to go back into the game following the one series he received, but much like the UNI game the week before, the timing was never right.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday he was not opposed to utilizing Beathard at some point in each game moving forward in the right circumstances.
He said at that point coaches had not discussed that possibility, and we may all get a hint of where that conversation led during Saturday’s game against Iowa State.
“I thought he played well when he was in there,” Ferentz said. “… His statistics would have been pretty good if that (overturned call) would have gone through. He did a good job out there, so we have confidence in C.J.”
Iowa has used two quarterbacks on a regular basis in the past, most recently in 2001 when Brad Banks completed 41-of-68 passes for 582 yards and rushed 41 times for 151 yards in a reserve role before starting in Iowa’s Big Ten championship season the following year.
Banks benefitted from that experience, something Hawkeye coaches hope that Beathard can say as his career moves forward.
He has a bright future, but for now the experiences he gains and lessons he learns presented by any opportunities he receives in his current role are what will truly benefit Beathard when his time arrives.

Deals on wheels

September 9th, 2014

The only place Iowa football players are required to wear helmets is on the field.
One day after a collision with a four-door sedan gave Big Ten defensive player of the week Drew Ott a taste of Iowa City pavement following an early-morning car vs. scooter collision, coach Kirk Ferentz said he has always felt awkward about mandating that his players put on a helmet any time they choose to travel by scooter.
“We don’t (require helmets, but we encourage it like any parent would,” Ferentz said, recalling that the use of helmets for motorcyclists was required by law in his home state of Pennsylvania when he was growing up.
“That would be a great help. I don’t know if I’m a real political activist, but it may be something to consider though I’m sure we have reasons why we don’t.”
Iowa is one of three states — Illinois and New Hampshire are the others — with no laws on the books requiring at least some people to wear helmets if they are traveling by motorcycles or some other type of motorized scooter.
Several Iowa coaches, including men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery and wrestling coach Tom Brands, do require that their players wear protective headgear if they choose to motor around Iowa City on a scooter or motorcycle.
The mode of transportation is a popular one for student-athletes who live off campus and need to move from one side of campus to the other.
More four dozen mopeds were parked outside of the Iowa football complex on Tuesday, owned by football and baseball players and track and field athletes who train in that area.
Logistically, the reason is simple.
“I think anybody that’s ever visited our campus and probably most any campus, parking is a nightmare situation,” Ferentz said. “… Campuses are typically landlocked and parking is a huge issue. Our campus is no different, so mopeds make a lot of sense. I always marvel at our guys riding around on them in January, February, December, but parking is the real issue so it’s a good logistical answer to it.”
Ferentz, who also accurately pointed out that Iowa’s parking meter enforcement staff may be among the most efficient people on the planet, has a point.
Like any university student, the mopeds must be registered and parked in spaces set aside for their use and given the strange hours required of athletes — early-morning strength and conditioning sessions and evening academic study tables — the use of scooters makes perfect sense as they travel from apartments sometimes located several miles away from campus.
As I left Iowa City this afternoon, a track athlete on a scooter followed me from the area near Kinnick Stadium across the Iowa River and well to the east of downtown Iowa City. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, but he joined me in keeping up with heavy late-afternoon traffic that is not all that uncommon in the campus and downtown area.
This isn’t the first issue time that helmet-less Iowa athletes on mopeds have collided with motor vehicles.
Four years ago, Hawkeye football player Josh Koeppel was flipped head over heals after the moped he was driving collided with a truck at a busy downtown Iowa City intersection.
Koeppel walked away with only scrapes after his incident, which was caught on the camera of a police vehicle that was also at the intersection at the time.
Ferentz acknowledged today that his players were “fortunate” to have only minor injuries to deal with following the accidents.
He suggested that maybe Iowa’s athletic department should look at implementing a helmet rule for all Hawkeye student-athletes, going as far as saying that maybe helmets should be furnished by the university to those individuals.
If it’s a good idea on the field, it might not be that bad of an idea on the road.

Word of the week

September 8th, 2014

Welcome to rivalry week, where one word will be echoing through the halls of the football buildings at Iowa and Iowa State.
It’s on the minds of both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones as they work toward their 2:30 p.m. game Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa may be 2-0 and ISU may be 0-2, but this week is as much about improvement as it is about the chance to hoist the latest reincarnation of the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
Iowa has its issues.
It took coach Kirk Ferentz no time to spit them out in numerical order during a Sunday interview with WHO radio in Des Moines.
“One, we need to protect the ball better, our fumbles directly led to 10 points (against Ball State),” Ferentz said, quickly adding, “Two, special teams. Our core is solid, but we’ve missed too many field goal opportunities and that is where one of our fumbles came from. If we don’t clean that up, we’re going to find ourselves in trouble. Three, we’re two games in and we need to know what’s good and what’s not good. We have a lot of new players playing and finding the best way to utilize them is the next challenge.”
That includes sorting through the seven rushers and 14 receivers who have had their hands on the ball during Iowa’s 2-0 start.
As coaches have attempted to learn about the depth of skill players that exists on the Iowa roster, rhythm in the offense has been missing.
The Hawkeyes have averaged 4.1 yards per carry so far this season, with running backs carrying for an average gain of 3.6 yards on the 50 attempts they have had so far.
With two starters on the offensive line seeing the most extensive action of their careers as well, inconsistency has followed.
“We’re going to have to figure this out because clearly we’re not running the ball as effectively as we need to,” Ferentz said following Saturday’s game.
Iowa State has its own issues.
Those problems start with stopping the run
The Cyclones have surrendered more than 200 yards per game on the ground in their first two games and rank 108th among FBS programs in stopping the run.
Coach Paul Rhoads said during his weekly news conference this morning that the Cyclones made significant strides from week one to week two, but he said that improvement must continue.
“We need to take a similar jump this week,” Rhoads said. “We need to become a better football team, become more consistent.”
The Cyclones have watched two-touchdown leads vanish in each of their first two games, outscored 29-0 in the second half so far this season.
“Is it all about adjustments? No,” Rhoads said. “It’s about execution and a lot about long fields which we’ve been in both second halves.”
He said a variety of issues need to be cleaned up for the Cyclones to finish games the way they have started.
“This or that has stopped us,” Rhoads said. “It’s part of the adversity that we have to face. Sooner or later, people will make plays and end up in the end zone.”
Rhoads knows that Iowa will try to establish the run when it takes the field on Saturday.
After all, the Hawkeyes ran for 218 yards against the Cyclones a year ago in their 27-21 win over ISU at Jack Trice.
“I’m sure they’re trying to figure things out like every team in America,” Rhoads said, including his own team in the equation.
It is September, a time when inconsistency tends to be among the most consistent traits of college teams.
But, the lessons learned and momentum gained from week-to-week growth at this time of year form the foundation of what teams ultimately become.
ISU has already lost three players to season-ending injuries – the latest special teams standout Levi Peters to an Achilles injury last week – and had starting offensive lineman Jacob Gannon walk away from the sport last week.
“There will be adversity in athletics. That’s a given,” Rhoads said. “It’s how you respond that matters.”
That’s a part of growth, a part of improvement that is the name of the game this week for both participants in the Cy-Hawk showdown.

B1G changes

September 7th, 2014

A rough weekend for the Big Ten is reflected in my ballot for this week’s Associated Press college football poll.
I bumped both Michigan State and Ohio State out of my top 10 following losses Saturday. The Spartans were competitive with Oregon in a game that was a bit closer than the final indicates, but the Buckeyes were upended at home by an unranked nonconference opponent for the first time since 1982 by a Virginia Tech team that may be better than advertised.
I dropped both six slots after they fell to 1-1 on the year and dropped Michigan State into the 12th position and Ohio State into 14th on this week’s ballot.
My top five remains unchanged, with UCLA, Georgia, Baylor, LSU and USC filling the sixth through 10th spots.
I kept Wisconsin at 19 this week following its win over Western Illinois and Michigan’s stay on my ballot was short-lived following the Wolverines’ shutout loss to Notre Dame.
Big Ten unbeatens Nebraska and Iowa remain on the radar, but with close calls for both Saturday I couldn’t see adding either to my ballot.
BYU and Kansas State join by list this week, with Virginia Tech, Clemson and Marshall among those just on the outside looking in.
Here’s a look at my ballot for the week:
1. Florida State
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Oregon
5. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Baylor
9. LSU
10. USC
11. Texas A&M
12. Michigan State
13. Notre Dame
14. Ohio State
15. Mississippi
16. Stanford
17. Arizona State
18. Louisville
19. Wisconsin
20. Florida
21. North Carolina
22. Missouri
23. BYU
24. South Carolina
25. Kansas State