Archive for October, 2012
Steve Bigach started a new week with a new look, hoping that can translate into newfound success for the Iowa football team. Bigach has shaved his head, a look that drew chuckles from teammates. "I just think it was time for a change,'' Bigach said. "I was headed in that direction anyway so I just sped things up a bit.'' He admitted a couple of teammates talked him into the new look. "Maybe it will catch on. Probably not, but maybe,'' Bigach said. The senior is more hopeful that Iowa will regain its edge on defense, something has been lacking the past two weeks in losses to Penn State and Northwestern. "We've gotten kicked around a bit the last two weeks and when that happens, you have fight back,'' he said. "That's the great thing about football. It's a different game every week and we get a chance to get back on the field and try to turn things around.'' Bigach figures it's time for a new look there, too. "The last two weeks haven't been a lot of fun. We haven't executed the way we are capable of executing,'' Bigach said. "We need to keep working together and work through it. It's about maintaining our assignments and continuing to trust each other. That's where it starts.''
They said all the right things. After a humbling 28-17 loss at Northwestern, an Iowa football team which started Big Ten play at 2-0 finds itself at 2-2 at the midpoint of its Big Ten schedule. For the third straight game, Iowa's offense struggled early and for the second straight week, an opponent picked apart the Hawkeye defense. So what's next? Indiana. That's the way it works, and in reality, it's the way it has to work. "There aren't many options,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You go back to work tomorrow and get back on your feet. That's the only choice that we have.'' Hawkeye after Hawkeye said the same thing. From Matt Tobin, "We'll be back at work tomorrow.'' From C.J. Fiedorowicz, "All we can do is go back to work. And from Damon Bullock, not missing a step despite missing four games, "When you lose, you come back the next day ready to go to work and move on to the next one.'' So Iowa is apparently planning to go back to work Sunday, knowing it needs wins in two of its final four regular-season games to be bowl eligible. After visiting the Hoosiers, Iowa hosts Purdue, travels to Michigan for Denard Robinson's final home and then welcomes Nebraska to Kinnick Stadium on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Linebacker James Morris provides some perspective. "This isn't where we wanted to be right now,'' he said. "But, there is nothing we can do to change what has happened. We have to pick ourselves up and keep playing football.'' Morris believes that will happen. "Nobody on this team is quitting. Nobody is divding this team. We're in a position where we have to keep working to play better football. It's about that simple.'' And the only way to make that happen is to go back to work ... again.
Four things the Iowa football team can do to position itself for a win Saturday at Northwestern: 1. Establish the run. The Hawkeyes found out last week what can happen when you become a one-dimensional football team. Iowa's 20 total rushing yards against Penn State were the fewest since finishing with a minus-9 yards in a 31-6 loss in 2005 at Ohio State. A healthier Mark Weisman and the possible return of Damon Bullock as a complement to Weisman's hard-charging style could help the Hawkeyes get something going on the ground. 2. Win the war in the trenches. Penn State out-executed the Hawkeyes up front on both sides of the ball last weekend. Iowa's offensive line has undergone a bit of a makeover this week following the season-ending injuries suffered by Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal. Nolan MacMillan, who replaced Scherff at left tackle last week, or starting left guard Matt Tobin may move into Scherff's position while Austin Blythe moves back into the lineup at right tackle. Iowa's defensive line will also look to rebound from one of its most inconsistent performances. 3. Clog the passing lanes. Like Iowa, Northwestern has struggled to find consistency in its passing attack this season. The Wildcats rank last in the Big Ten with an average of 172.8 passing yards per game. Only three Big Ten defenses have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than Iowa has surrendered this season, giving up seven. 4. Never forget where Venric Mark is on the field. Containing Mark will be big in several phases of the game. The junior with sprinter's speed needs 90 yards to become the first Wildcat since Tyrell Sutton in 2006 to rush for 1,000 yards but that is only part of the havoc he can created. Mark leads the nation with an average of 25.1 yards per punt return, a number that 6.1 yards better than his closest competitor, Justin Brown of Oklahoma. Mark has returned two punts for touchdowns this season. He is also the Wildcats' leader in kickoff returns with an average of 16.5 yards. Four things Northwestern can do it help itself Saturday as it tries to win against Iowa: 1. Keep the heat on the Iowa offense. Northwestern end Tyler Scott leads the Big Ten with six sacks and is also the league leader with three forced fumbles this season. He complements the play-making skills of three quality linebackers Damien Proby, the team leader with an average of 9.2 tackles per game, Chi Chi Ariguzo and David Nwabuisi. 2. Limit Iowa's passing attack. The Wildcats will be without two significant contributors at cornerback on Saturday. Injuries are expected to keep Nick VanHoose, a redshirt freshman who starts, and frequently-utilized senior back-up Quinn Evans on the sidelines. Northwestern typically relies on zone coverage, but expect Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg to seek opportunities to test their replacements. 3. Dictate tempo. Much like the Penn State team which ran 90 plays against Iowa last week, the Wildcats love to push the tempo. Northwestern ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 74.6 snaps per game. The Wildcats have been at their best offensively when they have played at that kind of a pace, snapping in 15-to-20 seconds and allowing defenses little time to adjust. 4. Play sideline-to-sideline football. Playmakers Kain Colter and Venric Mark have the skill and ability to stretch a defense horizontally and Northwestern's ability to use the perimeter has shown an ability to wear Iowa defenders down in the past. The Hawkeyes do have a deeper rotation on their defensive line than in past seasons, but they will be tested by the spread attack Northwestern utilizes.
One of the toughest challenges that awaits Iowa football coaches has nothing to do with preparing to face fast-paced offenses or blitz-happy defenses. It's been a challenge for years. Probably always will be. One of the toughest challenges any coach faces is keeping injured players involved, letting them know that they are still valued team members and remain a part of things as they work their way back onto the field. Coach Kirk Ferentz announced today that Andrew Donnal has joined Brandon Scherff on the list of Hawkeyes who have suffered season-ending injuries. Donnal will have surgery to repair an injured knee. Scherff has already had surgery to fix a broken bone. "Keeping injured guys involved is one of the toughest things,'' Ferentz said. "It's hard, and it's part of football. Almost every player who comes through here deals with it at one point or another. You want them to still be part of the family.'' But as they stand next to teammates preparing to take the field on Saturday, those players know there is nothing they can do beyond offer support to help the team. Ferentz breaks things down into two phases. The first is physical, working through the medical part of the process, from the actual treatment and care to the rehabilitation process. "It can be a long, lonely time and it's hard work,'' Ferentz said. "Some of it is painful, but it's a necessary thing.'' The second phase is mental, the detachment that is part of it as players watch teammates head out on road trips and prepare for games. Ferentz said coaches and teammates work to make certain those players don't feel like they are on the outside looking in, although he knows that feeling exists. "We try to address it, but that doesn't make it any easier,'' he said. "It's a hard deal, but we do try to involve them in as much as we can, let them know they are still a part of the family.'' For both Scherff and Donnal, eligibility remains once they have healed. "The worst thing is when it is a senior who won't have a chance to come back,'' Ferentz said. "Those are the toughest ones. Younger guys, they still have a chance to get back and that provides them with hope. But all of them, you want them to stay with it, still be a part of things and we do what we can to make sure that happens.''
I wrote prior to the start of the current Iowa football season that this had the potential to be one of the more interesting seasons the Hawkeyes have had in recent years. I haven't changed my opinion. I based those initial thoughts on the inexperience that filled the Hawkeye lineup on both sides of the ball. Role players were being asked to step into key positions, newcomers were being asked to become role players. Kirk Ferentz warned anybody who would listen that there would be ups and downs. Together, we've all experienced both during the first seven weeks of the season as inconsistent Iowa has crafted a 4-3 record. The growing pains continued tonight at Kinnick Stadium, where Penn State delivered another reminder that this Iowa football team doesn't have the world by the horns just yet. The team that moved beyond a stinging loss to Central Michigan by handling Minnesota and finding a way to win at Michigan State was dealt a blow right to the heart of its ego by the Nittany Lions. Penn State pounced quickly and never took its foot off the pedal until it led 38-0 and Iowa fans began a slow, orderly processional toward the exits on a mid-October evening. "I thought this was going to be a really tight, competitive ballgame, that was my anticipation,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You know, they have got a good football team obviously and it's as well, at least from my vantage point, as they have played this year.'' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien expected that from his team. The Nittany Lions' up-tempo attack, which ran 99 plays a week earlier against Northwestern, ran 90 at the Iowa defense tonight. O'Brien said it had the desired result as Penn State piled up 504 total yards and quarterback Matt McGloin topped 200 passing yards for the fifth straight game. "When you go fast tempo, it's not conditioning. It's a matter of communication and getting lined up,'' he said. "Iowa is a tough, well-conditioned football team.'' O'Brien said McGloin may have played his best game against the Hawkeyes. "Through seven games, this guy has been prepared. When a guy is in his fifth year, he grows up and understands he only has a few shots left,'' O'Brien said. Iowa, which had its 11th first-time starter this season take the field when Greg Garmon opened at running back, doesn't have 11 seniors in its lineup like Penn State does. The Hawkeyes have played that way and the series of peeks and valleys this team has traveled will likely continue. Iowa has not shown the growth to this point that it takes to be consistent on offense and the loss of Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal to injuries only makes that challenge more difficult. Quarterback James Vandenberg doesn't have a Marvin McNutt to throw to this season and the lack of a consistent rushing attack, especially now with injuries in the line and Mark Weisman nursing an ankle sprain, is impacting the passing game as well. Iowa's defense spent over 38 minutes on the field tonight, far too long and something which only played into Penn State's hands. Even the consistent leg of Mike Meyer struggled against Penn State, illustrating again that this Iowa football team remains a work in progress. The victory at Michigan State in double overtime proved to be a bit of fool's gold, masking the fact that there is still plenty of work for this Iowa football team to do.
Four things the Iowa football team can do to help itself defeat Penn State: 1. Establish the run. Anybody else noticing a trend here? Even with Mark Weisman's tender right ankle - he's been attempting to practice through a sprain this week - Iowa must establish a presence on the ground if it hopes to have any chance for success against the Nittany Lions and a defense led by linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti and tackle Jordan Hill. Weisman's ability to cut and push off the ankle will determine how much or if he will get the chance to add to a collection of four straight 100-yard rushing performances. If he can't go, Greg Garmon is expected to be the next man in, with redshirt possibilities Jordan Canzeri and Michael Malloy waiting in the wings. Damon Bullock will not play again this week. 2. Play the pass. Penn State QB Matt McGloin is second in the Big Ten in passing and the Hawkeye defense's ability to make McGloin uncomfortable will be important. Joe Gaglione currently shares sixth in the Big Ten in sacks and is fourth in tackles for a loss. Iowa's secondary should benefit from the return of a healthy B.J. Lowery and confidence gained from last week's effort at Michigan State. 3. Make critical catches. Iowa is in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in third-down conversions, but Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Jordan Cotton have emerged as the most reliable targets for QB James Vandenberg. Davis has caught six passes in each of the Hawkeyes' last three games. 4. Make the most of an advantage on special teams. The Hawkeyes' Mike Meyer has been successful on 14-of-15 field goal attempts this season, including hitting his last 13 tries. Penn State's Sam Ficken has struggled this season, hitting 3-of-9 attempts, the longest coming from 32 yards. Ficken has hit two of his last four tries over four games, both from 21 yards. Four things Penn State can do to help itself win at Iowa: 1. Ride the arm of Matt McGloin. The senior quarterback has been more accurate, more decisive and thus, more effective this season. McGloin has thrown 12 touchdown passes and has been intercepted just twice while leading the Big Ten with an average of 249.8 passing yards per game. 2. Play with an attitude. Despite a blend of experience and youth in its defensive line-up, Penn State has maintained an aggressive approach on the defensive side of the ball. The Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes share the top spot on Big Ten turnover margin charts, gaining seven more possessions than they have lost. Penn State has recovered eight fumbles and intercepted four passes on its way to a 4-2 record this season. 3. Start fast. The Nittany Lions have been a fast-starting team this season, outscoring opponents 52-0 in the first qurater and 86-23 in the first half of games. The Nittany Lions had allowed just three first-half field goals before Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the opening two quarters of its Oct. 6 game at Penn State. 4. Get off the field. Since allowing Ohio and Virginia to convert on 61 percent of their third-down opportunities, the Nittany Lions have limited their last four opponents a 26-percent conversion rate. Northwestern started the game 0-for-6 on third down vs. Penn State before moving the chains for the first time late in the third quarter of the Nittany Lions' 39-28 win two weeks ago at Beaver Stadium.
With two wins by a combined four points and two losses by a combined four points on its resume, the Iowa football team is gaining an understanding of the fine line it walks. "We have to come out and play well every week if we want to put ourselves in a position to win,'' quarterback James Vandenberg said. "That's just the way it is in the Big Ten this year.'' The last team Iowa faced - Michigan State - understands that as well. The Spartans are 1-2 in the league and have lost those two games by a combined total of four points. "We have to understand that it's going to take 60 minutes every week if we want to get the win,'' cornerback Micah Hyde said. "We can't look any further than our next game and we can't look back at what happened in our last game, win or lose. It has to be a pretty narrow focus.'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has talked to his team about that and said that seems to simply be the way this Iowa team is built. He anticipates close games being the norm from now until the season ends. "If we are going to give ourselves a chance to be there at the end of games, we really do have to play well,'' Ferentz said. "I think everybody has embraced that.'' Ferentz said the 32-31 loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 22 will likely serve as a reminder of that for the remainder of the season. "If we leave the door open at all, people are going to go right through it and I don't care who we are playing. We can't let our guard down at all,'' Ferentz said. "We are really, you know, walking a fine line.''
Today's win was the 100th of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure as the Hawkeye football coach. It had the same type of look as many of the wins which came before it. Unheralded players stepping up big at critical moments, complementing consistent and persistent defensive efforts and just enough offense to get by. "We've got a lot of work to do on offense, but we're making enough plays to give ourselves a chance to win games,'' quarterback James Vandenberg said. "It means a lot to come here, hang around and make plays down the stretch when they matter the most. It won us a game today. It's kind of how Iowa typically wins games.'' It all adds up to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play for a 4-2 Iowa team that is still developing in many areas. "Our best football is still ahead of us, but to be able to win while we're growing, that's big,'' running back Mark Weisman said. "We're doing enough right things to give ourselves a chance and right now, that's big.'' And as Vandenberg puts it, "Now, we go back to work next week and try to get better, get more consistent. But, we'll take the win today.'' Lately, that's been the Hawkeye way.
Kirk Ferentz found himself again walking a fine line when three of his Iowa football players ended up on the Iowa City police blotter last weekend. The three were all received alcohol-related charges following separate late-night incidents during Iowa's bye weekend. The three - senior Micah Hyde, junior Drew Clark and sophomore Ray Hamilton - all found themselves in violation of Iowa's student-athlete code of conduct for the first time in their careers. The code exists to provide consistent discipline from program to program within Iowa's athletics department, creating uniform punishments that every Hawkeye can expect to receive for violating the code. It contains multiple tiers, allowing for harsher penalties based on the severity of the offense. Coaches have the ability to add additional penalties - as Ferentz is doing in this case - but the code assures that a student-athlete who is charged with public intoxication for the first time - as Micah Hyde and Drew Clark were - receive the same treatment that an athlete in another sport would receive for the same offense. It takes that part of the discipline out of a coach's hands, which isn't necessarily a bad thing from a lot of different angles. Discipline can be a tricky thing for coaches and Ferentz talked today about whether he ever second guesses himself about his approach. "Selfishly, I'd give them all 8 o'clock curfews and tell them to have a glass of milk and some graham crackers and go to bed at 10, but I think part of going to college is being part of the student body,'' Ferentz said. "I would suggest what happened to those three individuals this weekend is not unique to anybody in the student body, yet obviously they drew attention to themselves in a negative way. So, that's not acceptable, and it wouldn't be acceptable if they were non-participating athletes. It's a fine line.'' Ferentz said his approach to discipline has never had anything to do with timing. "To me, chances to win, winning, don't factor into discipline issues,'' he said. "I'd go back to August, 2002 to cite an example.'' It was then that Ferentz dismissed starting cornerback and eventual NFL player Benny Sapp from the team following a public intoxication charge which followed several other incidents. "We made a decision there. Part of my job is to make decisions. I made a decision without an answer on how we were going to address it competitively,'' Ferentz said. "You can't inter-mix it. That's always been my feeling about that and I think any decision I make as far as our program goes in general has to be over a five-year span in mind as opposed to a five-day or a five-week thing.'' Ferentz has shown consistency while walking that fine line. First-time offenders facing simple misdemeanors during his tenures have repeatedly been given a second chance, provided they fulfill requirements of the team punishment and the mandated discipline within the student-athlete code of conduct. Ferentz said he doubts that anybody has devised a perfect system for dispensing discipline. "I think ours is fair, and fairness is really important,'' he said. "Anytime you deal with things like discipline, playing time, et cetera, if you're fair and you communicate, then I think you at least have a chance to be successful.''
The sudden emergence and the success that Mark Weisman has had carrying the football for Iowa this fall has been as much of a surprise to Hawkeye coaches as has been to fans. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said today that the ability Weisman has shown at tailback since moving into that role following an injury suffered by starter Damon Bullock has been somewhat stunning. "If you would have asked me in August if I thought Mark Weisman would run the ball like he has, I would not have been able to honestly say that,'' Davis said today. "We had no idea he'd be as productive as he has been.'' The converted fullback who now averages 103 yards per game will continue to figure into Davis' plans once Bullock returns to the field. "I'm not so worried about carries and things like tht as I am things we can do to affect the defense,'' Davis said. "For example, if we can put what appears to be a base formation, two backs, a tight end, two wide receivers on the field with Mark being the fullback and Damon the tailback and then the next play the same group is out there with Damon, perhaps, as a wide receiver, you can do some things.'' Davis expects both to get plenty of opportunities and he expects to find the Hawkeyes riding the "hot hand'' at times. "It would be good to have two guys back there that have done it a little bit,'' Davis said. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker appreciates where his counterpart is coming from. "I'm just glad our guys don't have to tackle (Weisman) too much,'' Parker said. "In the spring when our offense went down and they wanted to score against us, they gave him the ball and they just let him plug it away. "It's hard to tackle him. I just think he has a lot of drive and he's strong.''