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Archive for September, 2013

Bottom’s up shake up

Sunday, September 29th, 2013
There isn't much movement at the top of my ballot for this week's Associated Press college football poll. My top seven teams - Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford, Oregon, Clemson, Louisville and Georgia - either won or did not play Saturday and as impressive as Georgia's win over LSU was, I saw no need to alter anything on my ballot. Texas A&M and Florida State did move into the eighth and ninth spots this week and I kept South Carolina in the 10 spot following a close call with UCF. Oklahoma and Washington all moved up a couple of spots following solid wins to open the second 10. Most of the movement this week came in my bottom five, where Fresno State's late-night 42-37 win at Hawaii and Northern Illinois' win at Purdue were the wins among teams I had in the 21-25 positions last week. I did bump Notre Dame and Mississippi out this week, and dropped Wisconsin one spot after its close loss at Ohio State. Texas Tech at 21 and Missouri at 25 are new to my ballot this time around. Here is my top 25: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Stanford, 4. Oregon, 5. Clemson, 6. Louisville, 7. Georgia, 8. Texas A&M, 9. Florida State, 10. South Carolina, 11. Oklahoma, 12. Washington, 13. LSU, 14. Michigan, 15. Northwestern, 16. Oklahoma State, 17. Miami (Fla.), 18. UCLA, 19. Florida, 20. Baylor, 21. Texas Tech, 22. Wisconsin, 23. Fresno State, 24. Northern Illinois, 25. Missouri

Report card: Minnesota

Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Iowa report card for today's 23-7 win at Minnesota: OFFENSE: B The Hawkeyes did a lot of things well against a Minnesota defense which has improved over recent years. Mark Weisman and the Iowa offensive line continue to wear down opposing defenses. The junior gained 147 yards against Minnesota and was complemented by 47 yards and another solid effort from Damon Bullock. Quarterback Jake Rudock persevered, and made a costly interception with a delayed throw intended for Tevaun Smith in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeye defense held, forcing a punt, but in a 20-7 game that had the potential to be a game changer. DEFENSE: A Iowa played one of its strongest team defensive games in a long time. The Hawkeyes took Minnesota out of the comfort zone of its running attack and forced quarterback Philip Nelson into a passing game which played right into the Hawkeyes hands. Iowa was aggressive at the right time, physcial throughout and was rewarded with a win which included four sacks and six tackles for a loss. Anthony Hitchens, James Morris, Dominic Alvis and Christian Kirksey led the way but this was a team effort. SPECIAL TEAMS: C Weather was a factor in this and Mike Meyer did deliver on three of his four field goal attempts, hitting from beyond 40 twice, but rattled a fourth try off the upright. Punter Connor Kornbrath struggled while dealing with the wind and averaged 29.5 yards on two punts. Iowa mustered 14 yards on a pair of Kevonte Martin-Manley punt returns and 40 yards on a pair of Jordan Cotton kick returns. Probably jaded a bit after how well things went a week earlier, but this was a pretty average day on special teams. COACHING: B+ From the swing pass to Adam Cox and the tunnel screen to make the most of Damond Powell's speed, there was solid variety in Iowa's offensive game plan. The Hawkeyes gave Minnesota enough things to worry about, built a lead and then played the clock to a 12-minute edge over the Gophers. Defensively, Iowa's strategy was perfect to quiet a potent running attack and force Minnesota into a passing game it has struggled with since the start of the season.

Not so fast

Saturday, September 28th, 2013
James Morris has been around the block a time or two in his four seasons as a starting linebacker for Iowa. That's one reason he isn't rushing to read too much into what the Hawkeyes have accomplished this season. He senses progress, but hastens the notion that Iowa may on the brink of something special. "It's tough right now. Everbody's happy because we won a game and played pretty well doing it, but there is a lot of season left,'' Morris said following today's 23-7 win at Minnesota. He points out that Iowa was 4-2 after its first six games a year ago only to finish the season with a 4-8 record. He recalls feeling good about things his freshman season, when Iowa found itself 7-2 before losing its final three regular-season games before beating Missouri in the Insight Bowl. "You never know, it's such a week to week thing and every week can be different,'' Morris said. That's one reason Morris expects the Hawkeyes to proceed with caution, looking no further than the next opponent. It's a small-world view that has served Iowa well over time, and one he will continue to live by as well. He'll leave paint the big-picture view of this season when the time is right, but for now Morris will celebrate another winning Saturday. Then, he'll get ready for Michigan State. The Hawkeyes do have reason to enjoy what took place Saturday against a Minnesota team that struggled to get anything going on offense. The Gophers ran 51 plays and totaled 165 yards to average 3.2 yards per snap. An Iowa team which entered the game with just two sacks on the season had four on Saturday -- by four different players and seven Hawkeyes had a hand in six tackles for a loss to add to a season total which now numbers 22. "We're doing some good things, building a good foundatin, but we've still got work to do,'' Morris said. "We can't be satisfied yet.'' Coach Kirk Ferentz appreciates that, saying repeatedly that there was nothing easy about the win Iowa earned with its first win at Minnesota since 2008. "Our concentration and determination made every play possible,'' Ferentz said. They'll enjoy it until Sunday, and then get back to work.

Four-down territory: Minnesota

Friday, September 27th, 2013
Four things Iowa needs to do to put itself in a position to win at Minnesota: 1. Establish the run. The Hawkeyes are piling up an average of 224 yards per game on the ground, but an improved offensive line faces its stiffest test of the young season. That's particularly the case for Austin Blythe at center, left guard Conor Boffeli and the rotating right guard tandem of Jordan Walsh and Andrew Donnal. They'll be left to deal with the Golden Gophers' 6-foot-6, 311-pound Ra'Shede Hageman, who is responsible for 5.5 of the 30 tackles for a loss Minnesota has collected in three games. 2. Find success through the air. The poise of quarterback Jake Rudock will be tested by the Gophers, and Iowa's ability to get something going in the passing game may only help the Hawkeye ground attack get going. Rudock has completed 62.1 percent of his passes, and that will need to continue as he works with primary target Kevonte Martin-Manley, Jacob Hillyer and Tevaun Smith. 3. D it up. Iowa's run defense has been effective throughout the season, allowing 91.5 yards per game on the ground and helping itself by making opposing offenses one dimensional. The Hawkeyes will be tested by Minnesota's ground game. The Gophers average a respectable 5.7 yards per carrry - compared to the 3.4 yards per rush Iowa has allowed - and have already topped the team's 2012 season total with 16 rushing touchdowns. Facing an offense which has scored on 19 of its 20 trips into the red zone, Iowa's defense will need to come up big on Saturday. 4. Be alert. Special teams plays have factored into Minnesota being able to win in each of the last two times the teams have played for Floyd of Rosedale at TCF Bank Stadium. In 2010 and 2012, the Gophers successfully executed onside kicks which made a difference in the outcome of the game. And now, four things the Golden Gophers can do to help position themselves for a win on Saturday. 1. Play strong on defense. Iowa ran through the Minnesota defense with ease a year ago when Mark Weisman finished with 177 yards and the Hawkeyes grabbed a 24-0 halftime lead before coasting to a 31-13 win. The Hawkeyes averaged 7.2 yards per carry vs. Minnesota last season, better than the 4.5 yards per rush Iowa has collected so far this year. Ra'Shede Hageman attracts a lot of attention at nose guard, but the Gophers return four of their front seven defensively from a year ago and the addition of junior college transfers De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson have added speed at linebacker. If the Gophers are going to have a chance, it starts with the way they play on the front end of the defense. 2. Spend time in Iowa's backfield. The Golden Gophers' Theiren Cockran shares the Big Ten lead in sacks and Cockran and Ra'Shede Hageman share the confernece lead in tackles for a loss. Their ability to disrupt Iowa's offense will be important. Minnesota already has 30 tackles for a loss this seaosn and if it can force Mark Weisman into an east-west type of game, that will only help the Gophers. 3. Protect home turf. The home team has won in this series in each of the last four years. Iowa was the last team to buck that trend, winning at the Metrodome 55-0 in 2008. 4. Find strength on the front. Minnesota has built its 4-0 record on a rushing game that has averaged 282.3 yards despite playing the last two weeks without its top returning back, Donnell Kirkwood, and playing without starting quarterback Philip Nelson last week. Mitch Leidner, who rushed for 151 yards last week against San Jose State, is expected to start at quarterback against Iowa although Nelson has been practicing this week. The true strength of this offense may lie in an improved front line which has been reminded repeatedly this week that it was handled by the Hawkeyes a year ago. Expect an emotion-filled effort on both sides of the ball from Minnesota.

A special segment?

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
Kirk Ferentz appreciated the way Kevonte Martin-Manley weaved his way through the Western Michigan punt coverage team all day Saturday, but he liked something else even more. The Hawkeye coach liked what was happening with the other 10 players on the field as Martin-Manley was working his way to the end zone. He also liked the way Connor Kornbrath has raised his season punting average to 39.1 yards and the consistency that senior Mike Meyer has displayed in the kicking game. Four games into the season, Ferentz likes what he sees developing with Iowa's special teams. "That was one of the good things Saturday beyond the returns,'' Ferentz said today. "The returns, that's obvious, and Kevonte's effort was good, but the best part to me was the 10 guys away from the ball were doing a good job.'' He sees a lot of good things developing of a similar ilk as he breaks down the performance of the Hawkeyes' special teams. "We're not there yet, but at least we're starting to make some strides,'' Ferentz said. "There was a concern a couple of weeks ago, a big concern.'' Ferentz said the Hawkeyes need for younger players on the roster who are gaining opportunities on special teams to embrace their roles. "Otherwise, we're going to wear (Iowa's starters) out. If we have to do that, we'll do that,'' Ferentz said. "Minnesota does a really nice job on special teams to that point, too, but we like to get other guys involved and guys have to embrace that and then go out and get the job done.'' Ferentz said first-year assistant Chris White, who is coordinating special teams with LeVar Woods, has brought his own approach to those units. He compares it to changing coordinators on offense or defense. "For the most part, I try to let the coordinators coordinate, and it's pretty much been that way for the 14 years prior,'' Ferentz said. "That part is the same, but Chris has a little different approach to things. We're still a little bit in the developmental stage there.'' How much development takes place will determine just how special Iowa's special teams can become this season.

Minimal movement

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013
Putting together this week's ballot for the Associated Press college football poll was a little like many of the games over the weekend - not too exciting. The 20 teams I voted for a week ago which played games this week all won and most dominated. The average margin of victory in those 20 games was 31.5 points, a function of quality scheduling before the start of conference play for many of those teams. A byproduct of that is there are relatively few changes in my ballot this week. I did flip Michigan and Washington between the 14 and 15 slots after the Wolverines struggled for a second straight week to put away an opponent and I moved Fresno State up one spot to 23rd over idle Mississippi following its dramatic win over a quality Boise State team on Friday. I continue to rank Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford, Oregon and Clemson in my first five slots. I received a reader question last week about Stanford and Oregon and liking the steadiness of Stanford's play to this point, I'm leaving the two where they are for now. They'll get a chance to settle it on the field in a few weeks. Here is my ballot for this week's poll: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Stanford, 4. Oregon, 5. Clemson, 6. Louisville, 7. Georgia, 8. Oklahoma State, 9. Texas A&M, 10. South Carolina, 11. LSU, 12. Florida State, 13. Oklahoma, 14. Washington, 15. Michigan, 16. Northwestern, 17. Miami (Fla.), 18. UCLA, 19. Florida, 20. Baylor, 21. Wisconsin, 22. Notre Dame, 23. Fresno State, 24. Mississippi, 25. Northern Illinois

Hawkeye report card: Western Michigan

Saturday, September 21st, 2013
OFFENSE: B- Iowa continues to spread the ball around offensively and the lopsided nature of this game allowed the Hawkeyes' depth to excel, from running backs to receivers to the first chance to see C.J. Beathard in action, there were plenty of positives. The Hawkeyes did lose two fumbles, both by running backs, and while Iowa won the turnover battle 4-2 on Saturday, the drops are a concern heading into the heavier hitting that looms beginning next week with the start of Big Ten play. Another solid effort by Jake Rudock, whose poise continues to impress. DEFENSE: B+ B.J. Lowery's two pick sixes, an interception in the end zone by Tanner Miller and two forced fumbles in addition to the continued ability to defend the run stand out in this game. Iowa is taking opponents out of their comfort zone and is beginning to force game-changing turnovers. Just how much this group has improved will be determined in the next few weeks as the challenges grow. SPECIAL TEAMS: A Not much to argue with here. Connor Kornbrath averaged 47 yards on three punts, Kevonte Martin-Manley returns two punts for scores, Iowa averages 32.5 yards on two kickoff returns and Mike Meyer kicks a field goal and seven extra points before Marshall Koehn connects on his first opportunity as a Hawkeyes. Iowa's special teams were just that, special. COACHING: B Iowa attacked where applicable, continued to play to its strengths and provided a bench with game experience was things were under control. It was as good of a tune-up for Big Ten play as anyone could ask for.

Solid start

Saturday, September 21st, 2013
One-third of the way through the Iowa football season, the Hawkeye defense has set a tone. While the development of a pass rush remains an ongoing process and the unit has given up its share of big plays - although none of 20 yards or more in today's win over Western Michigan - there is a foundation being built here that is solid. Iowa's run defense is improved over the 2012 season. The Hawkeyes have held their last three opponents to fewer than 75 yards on the ground, although that will be tested in next week's Big Ten opener at Minnesota. "This is when we have to take it to a new level,'' cornerback B.J. Lowery said. "We're making progress, but the Big Ten is a whole different animal.'' While the Broncos were an opponent still in search of an offensive identity, the way Iowa went about its business on the defensive end of the field shows growth. It's the type of growth coach Kirk Ferentz is seeing throughout his team. "I think we're certainly a better team than we were two weeks ago, and we probably weren't as good in week two as we were in week one,'' he said after today's game. "We lost one game and won the other, but week two was a little disappointing because in a lot of ways we stepped backward in my opinion. At least we're back on the right track now, and that game also served as a reminder that we are capable of going in reverse, too, but that's not what we're trying to do.''

Four-down territory: Western Michigan

Friday, September 20th, 2013
Four things Iowa can do to position itself for its third nonconference win of the season Saturday when Western Michigan visits Kinnick Stadium: 1. Establish the run. The Hawkeyes have flourished in their last two games because of the growth of a power running attack fueled by solid offensive line play and the physical running style of Mark Weisman. That recipe for success should be available again against Broncos defense which has surrendered more than 200 yards on the ground the past two weeks against Nicholls State and Northwestern. 2. Stop the run. Iowa's run defense has been stingy. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch is the only player to rush for more than 50 yards in a game against Iowa this season - he had 56 - and as a team, Iowa is limiting opponents to 97.3 yards, a number which ranks fifth in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes' ability to make opponents one dimensional is helping this team. 3. Limit big plays. Iowa has given up 10 plays of 20 yards or longer this season, including nine through the air. Improved one-on-one coverage by the secondary is needed, but greater success is also incumbent on an improved pass rush. 4. Take nothing for granted. While Western Michigan is 0-3 and has not looked good doing it, the Broncos have played at Michigan State (26-13) and Northwestern (38-17) this season so the speed and physical nature of a Big Ten opponent will not be unexpected. Iowa has lost three of its last four home games against teams from the Mid-American Conference, including its last two. Four things Western Michigan can do to position itself for a chance to win Saturday against Iowa: 1. Complete passes. The Broncos' have a fifth-year senior in starting quarterback in Tyler Van Tubbergen but he has been anything but consistent in the passing game this season. The 6-foot-3 Holland, Mich., native has completed 59 percent of the passes he has attempted in his career, but has struggled to a 44.6-percent completion rate this season. Van Tubbergen has completed 46-of-104 attempts in two-plus games (he was knocked out of the season-opening loss at Michigan State by injury) and has been intercepted five times while throwing two touchdown passes. True freshman Corey Davis has been the team's most consistent receiver, topping 100 yards in the last two games. 2. Row the boat. A phrase used by first-year coach P.J. Fleck to describe the need to have everybody working in cohesion to things forward, the Broncos have not been a well-oiled machine in their first three games, including a 27-23 loss to Nicholls State two weeks ago. In addition to inconsistent play on offense, special teams have been problematic at times. Sophomore J. Schroeder averaged 29.4 yards on seven punts last week at Northwestern, including a pair which went for 12 yards. 3. Primary secondary performance. The defensive backfield is the strength of the Western Michigan defense and will test Iowa's passing game. The Broncos have held opponents to a 54.5-percent completion rate so far this season, forcing 10 quarterback hurries and nine break ups. Justin Currie and Donald Celiscar have intercepted passes this season. 4. Hang around until the fourth quarter. As fellow MAC members Central Michigan and Northern Illinois have discovered in recent visits to Kinnick Stadium, the longer you hang around in a game, the better the chances of earning a win. To do that, the Broncos must find a way to shorten this game, something Iowa's last two opponents have struggled to do because of clock-chewing drives which have resulted in 15-plus minute advantages in possession times. Western Michigan running backs Brian Fields and Dareyon Chance have averaged 4.7 and 4.4 yards per carry, respectively, and an effective ground attack will be a necessity for the Broncos.

Big buckets weekend

Friday, September 20th, 2013
One week before the start of practice, this could be one of the more important weekends of the year for the Iowa basketball program. Four recruits will make official visits to the Iowa campus this weekend as coach Fran McCaffery and his staff work to fill four available scholarships for the 2014 recruiting class. The group includes 6-foot-8 power forward Tory Miller, 6-8 forward Dominque Uhl and a pair of shooting guards, 6-5 Scott Lindsey and 6-3 Brady Ellingson. Miller is a Lee's Summit, Mo., native who is currently attending New Hampton Prep in New Hampshire. His Iowa visit follows one to Arizona State. Miller, who weighs in at 245, also has offers from Marquette, Miami (Fla.) and Colorado. Uhl is a native of Germany but he now calls Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., home. He made an official visit to Temple earlier this month and has one scheduled for Boston College in the next few weeks. Uhl is more of a wing forward, weighing 185 pounds and having solid range. That has also attracted offers from Maryland, Penn State and Minnesota. Lindsey, who attends Oak Park Fenwick of the Chicago Catholic League, is a 6-5, 180-pound combo guard who has narrowed his college choices down to Iowa, Northwestern and Vanderbilt. He broke two bone in his lower leg in a pick-up game during an unofficial visit to Vanderbilt earlier this month, but is expected to make a full recovery. Like Lindsey, Ellingson is gaining attention for his shooting skills. A Sussex, Wis., native who plays at Hamilton High School,Ellingson has made an official visit to the University of San Diego and has offers from Utah, Missouri and Drake. McCaffery and his staff also continue to search for a point guard following Tyler Ulis' decision to verbal with Kentucky. Riley LaChance, a 6-foot-2 native of Brookfield, Wis., is expected to make a visit to Iowa within the next couple of weeks. LaChance, who plays at Brookfield Central High School, has already taken visits to Baylor and Vanderbilt.