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One memorable day

October 22nd, 2014
Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of one of the most emotion-filled days the Iowa football program has had in its 125-year history. From what played out on the field to the circumstances off of it, the Hawkeyes' 6-4 victory at Penn State on Oct. 23, 2004 was one memorable day for a number of reasons. The Hawkeyes were in the midst of a run to a share of their most recent Big Ten championship, part of a season which ended with Drew Tate's dramatic game-winning touchdown pass to Warren Holloway in the Capital One Bowl. Injuries at running back forced Iowa to dig deeply into its depth chart and six days before coach Kirk Ferentz was scheduled to make a trip to his home state his father John, died. Ferentz and his family, including son Brian, then a starter on the Hawkeye offensive line, flew to Pittsburgh following practice on Wednesday of game week and on Friday about two hours west of Beaver Stadium Kirk Ferentz delivered the eulogy at his father's funeral. Assistant coaches put the team through its final preparations for what proved to be one of the most dominant defensive performances of the season and the Hawkeyes' fifth straight win over Joe Paterno-coached Penn State. It was a defensive slugfest from the onset and when it was over, Iowa had held Penn State to six first downs and 147 yards of offense. Each of Iowa's four starters in the secondary - Sean Considine, Marcus Paschal, Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson - ended Nittany Lions' drives with interceptions. A fumble recovery and two missed field goals also positioned Iowa for the win on a day when Sam Brownlee made his first collegiate start at running back. Brownlee had started the season fifth on the depth chart, but found himself in a starting role when the players ahead of him all were sidelined by injuries. Tate, meanwhile, endured a 14-of-31 passing performance that covered 126 of the 168 yards Iowa managed in its first road win of the season. Two field goals by Kyle Schlicher, both from 27 yards, one in the first quarter and one in the second, were enough for the Hawkeyes to overcome the two safeties that provided Penn State with its only points. When it was over, drained from the emotions of the week and the game, Ferentz met the media in the cramped visitor's interview room tucked underneath one corner of Beaver Stadium. "There were some moments today when it was tough. The mind wanders a bit, but I know what dad would have expected from me,'' Ferentz said. "Sometimes in life you've got to do things you don't want to do personally. We made it through.'' The Iowa coach went on talk to talk about his father, and how the effort displayed by the Hawkeyes went a long way to helping his entire family deal with a difficult week. He called it "the best medicine for our entire family. The aches are still there, but this will help us heal.'' Defensive end Matt Roth said the team dedicated its effort to Ferentz. "It's been a tough week for him and his family and we wanted to come out today and put together a special game,'' Roth said. "It was our way of doing what we could to pick him up a bit, just like he would be there for us if we were in a tough spot.'' Chad Greenway, who recovered a fumble to end the Nittany Lions' final possession of the game, said the Hawkeyes performed that day the way they had practiced all week. "Coach has had a lot to deal with this week, but before he left he made sure that everything was together for the team. That's the way he is, and this win was for him.'' Ferentz had talked to the team about his father on Tuesday, sharing how his father had lived a full and rewarding life. "Everybody needs a role model, and I feel fortunate to have had him as mine,'' Ferentz said. "I know he's up there smiling today.'' Why wouldn't he be at the end of one memorable day, one of the most memorable days in Hawkeye history for a number of reasons.

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
OFFENSE: D 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 DEFENSE: D- 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. SPECIAL TEAMS: D 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. COACHING: D 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
OFFENSE: B+ 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. DEFENSE: C 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. SPECIAL TEAMS: C 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. COACHING: B- 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.