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Archive for October, 2013

Awkward moment

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
For years, college coaches have followed each game by trotting across the field for a quick handshake and best wishes for the rest of the season. Surrounded by cameras, the show of mutual respect and sportsmanship is generally brief and nothing to write home about. With one coach winning and another losing, they can create an awkward moment or two. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz did a quick pass as he exchanged handshakes with Ohio State's Urban Meyer earlier this month in Columbus. While Ferentz understands the reasoning for the postgame greetings, he'd prefer not to deal with it. "I just want to get to the locker room. That's all I want to do, win, lose or draw,'' Ferentz said. "I want to get to the locker room, period. Maybe that's wrong, but that's how I feel.'' Ferentz finds its somewhat comical the significance people put on the postgame handshakes, trying to read things into them that go well beyond the realm of reality. "I don't know really what you're supposed to do, hug people? Shake hands? I really don't know what protocal is there,'' Ferentz said. "I can tell you this, for me personally, I think it's uncomfortable before a game to talk to an opponent. We're both thinking about the same thing, I would assume. Our team wants to beat their team. Their team wants to beat ours.'' And postgame, Ferentz finds it even more awkward. "If you win, what do you say? If you lose, what do you say? I'm hardly Pop Warner, but I've been doing this for 15 years now and I have not found a good thing to talk about before or after games.'' That doesn't mean Ferentz lacks respect for his peers. He likes them, likes them a lot. He says he enjoys spending time with them at conference meetings and other out-of-season gatherings. But on game day, his thoughts are elsewhere. Ferentz isn't alone. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who will likely be the other end of a Ferentz handshake sometime Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium, appreciates where Ferentz is coming from. "I've found the best thing you can do is say 'Congratulations' and move along,'' Andersen said. Joining the other coaches in saying he appreciates the sportsmanship aspect as much as anyone, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he has moved beyond trying to mask feelings when he's shaking the hand of an opposing coach. "We're all out there trying to rip each other's heads off on game day. That's the way it is,'' Hoke said. "All you can do is be who you are.'' No matter how awkward, that approach probably accurately reflects the reality of the moment. That hasn't changed for years ... and don't expect it to be any different anytime soon.

Conference calls

Sunday, October 27th, 2013
For many college football teams, it's that time of year when conference competition leads to familiarity and close calls. Miami, Stanford, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Fresno State all survived on Saturday, part of the nature of the beast at this time of year. On my Associated Press top 25 ballot, I am moving Baylor ahead of Miami as the Bears continue to impress and join Texas as the lone unbeatens in Big 12 play. My top four remains unchanged with Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State filling the top slots followed by Baylor and Miami. I still have Stanford, Clemson, Oklahoma State and Louisville as one-loss teams in my top 10. There are a few changes in my second 10, precipitated by losses by Texas Tech and Missouri, which I had in the 8-9 spots a week ago. I do have Big Ten Legends Division leader Michigan State in the 12 spot, and I'm growing more comfortable with that as the Spartans offense continues to grow although a challenge from Michigan awaits this week in East Lansing. Iowa's next opponent, Wisconsin, is 19th on my ballot and the Wolverines are 21. Northern Illinois moves up one spot to 22nd after a three-point loss to bowl-bound Duke, I'm moving Virgina Tech out of my 25 (from 24th a week ago) and inserting Notre Dame in the 25th spot. The Irish are 6-2 and have lost only to Michigan and Oklahoma this season. Here is my top 25 for the week of Oct. 26: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Oregon, 4. Florida State, 5. Baylor, 6. Miami (Fla.), 7. Stanford, 8. Clemson, 9. Oklahoma State, 10. Louisville, 11. Texas A&M, 12. Michigan State, 13. Texas Tech, 14. Auburn, 15. South Carolina, 16. Oklahoma, 17. Missouri, 18. LSU, 19. Wisconsin, 20. Fresno State, 21. Michigan, 22. Northern Illinois, 23. UCLA, 24. UCF, 25. Notre Dame

Forward pass

Saturday, October 26th, 2013
Jake Rudock's game-deciding touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz allowed the Iowa football program to move forward Saturday, exorcising a demon or two in the process. The win over Northwestern was just the Hawkeyes' third in the past nine games Iowa has played against the Wildcats but equally important, it showed defensive growth. The Hawkeyes are finding ways to slow the ever-elusive running quarterback. Iowa is finding ways to deal with the slippery signal callers who have haunted the Hawkeyes in recent seasons. It's doubtful that Kain Colter was 100 percent healthy Saturday because of a recent ankle injury, but Iowa defenders had something to do with limiting the senior's production as well. Iowa rushed three defenders and dropped eight into coverage and at times started with all of its defenders standing up instead of having its linemen drop into stances. Linebacker James Morris said the look dates to the days of retired defensive coordinator Norm Parker, but was put back into Iowa's package of defensive looks in the past week to provide Colter with something else to think about. The scheme utilized Reggie Spearman and Quinton Alston and added athletic ability to deal with Colter's quickness. It worked. The Hawkeyes held Colter to 60 rushing yards, 106 fewer than he had against Iowa a year ago and 16 fewer than he ran for two years ago in his most recent stop at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz suspects that today's outcome was just the latest twist in what has become a solid rivalry. Ask if felt the win exorcised some demons, Ferentz remained a realist. "For at least a day, maybe for five minutes,'' he said. "We've had great games with them. I'll go back to my first year, '99, They were a different team, but I remember they ran it down on the goal line. I think it was a fourth-down call. That's winning and losing. "We've had a lot of games with these guys that - and I can't tell you why - but it goes back and forth and this was no different.'' And much of it made litte sense. Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock completed 5-of-11 passes in the first half and the Hawkeyes took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at the break. In the second half, Rudock connected on 14-of-16 passes and it took an overtime for Iowa to escape with a win. Defenses dictated on both sides, and turnovers proved critical. As much as exorcising any demon, Ferentz thinks there was another reason for what transpired at Kinnick Stadium. "That's conference play, and it certainly seems to be the way it goes when we get together, whenever these two teams play,'' he said.

Four-down territory: Northwestern

Friday, October 25th, 2013
Four things Iowa can do to end its two-game Big Ten losing streak when Northwestern visits Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. 1. Establish the run. This Iowa team has been at its best when that has happened. The past two games, the Hawkeyes have not been able to consistently move the ball on the ground and the results show in the outcome. Much like Michigan State, the Wildcats will likely crowd the box although Northwestern has not enjoyed the same level of success in stopping the run that the Spartans have this season. 2. Take care of the ball. Iowa has essentially been turnover neutral this season, with a plus-one turnover margin. Many of the mistakes have come in the second half of games, including six of the seven interceptions thrown by Jake Rudock this season. The Hawkeyes will be challenged by the Big Ten leaders in takeaways today. Northwestern has forced a league-leading 17 turnovers, including 13 interceptions. 3. Contain the quarterback. Defensive end play will be important for Iowa as Kain Colter returns to the rotation behind center for Northwestern. His scrambling ability led to 166 rushing yards on 26 carries for the Wildcats quarterback a year ago in the Hawkeyes' 28-17 loss. Iowa's ability to keep him between the ends will be significiant. 4. Produce in play action. Iowa effectively used a three tight end alignment during the first half of last week's 34-24 loss at fourth-ranked Ohio State. Not only did that create defensive mismatches Iowa exploited, but it also opened the opportunity for the Hawkeyes to gain 101 rushing yards in the first half against the Buckeyes. Iowa's ability to get things going through the air in play action will only help the needed ground attack work. Four things which will help Northwestern add to its collection of five wins in the last six games it has played against Iowa: 1. Regain its offensive mojo. The return of Kain Colter to a rotation with Trevor Siemian at quarterback should help the Wildcats offensive compete. Northwestern has scored just 23 points in hits last eight quarters of football, in part because its offense has stagnated with only Siemian at the controls. While Colter has mastered the read-option and Siemian has generally been the Wildcats' passing quarterback - something more than obvious to opponents - slowing that combination when Northwestern has a rhythm has been an issue. The pair combined to throw for 343 yards against Ohio State, completing 25-of-31 passes. 2. Play healthy. Northwestern has been a beaten up football team in recent weeks. In addition to regaining Colter at quarterback, the Wildcats' defensive line is expected to regain the services of one of its top players against Iowa. Tackle Sean McEvilly, out since the third game of the season, will likely return to action today and that should help the Wildcats compete. Northwestern ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring and rushing defense and is 11th in the Big Ten in defending the pass. 3. Establish the run. Colter cannot be Northwestern's lone running threat, although his return will help a rushing offense which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. With Venric Mark, a top threat in the backfield and on special teams, still nursing an ankle injury, the Wildcats need production from tailbacks Mike Trumpy, Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley. Northwestern totaled 94 yards on the ground last week in its 20-17 loss to Minnesota. That won't cut it if the Wildcats hope to end their slide. 4. Make the most of Jeff Budzien's leg. The Wildcats have one of the most consistent kickers in the Big Ten. The senior has has successfully converted on 31 of his last 34 field goal attempts dating to the start of the 2012 season. He has been successful on all six of his attempts in Big Ten play this season and despite a windy forecast, Northwestern will need to make the most of his skill in a match-up of two of the Big Ten's top kickers.

Another good story

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013
For Iowa's footbal team to reach beyond expectations, Kirk Ferentz likes to see "good stories'' develop. The unexpected growth and performance by players who may not have been in the picture in the spring or even early in fall camp have frequently helped the Hawkeyes reach beyond preseason projections. Desmond King has become one of those "good stories.'' The true freshman was named Monday as the Big Ten freshman of the week as he continues to produce from his spot at right cornerback. Ohio State presented him with plenty of opportunities, testing King's abilities to defend the pass frequently in the passing game on Saturday. King responded by recording a career-high 12 tackles, including 10 solo stops. His work followed an 11-tackle performance against Michigan State in the Hawkeyes' most recent prior game two weeks earlier. The opportunity to accomplish that opened up for King when Jordan Lomax went down with an injury, limping off the field with a muscle injury in his leg during the Hawkeyes' season-opening loss to Northern Illinois. "He's been a good story for us and not necessarily one we saw coming,'' Ferentz said today. "Jordan's leg issues left us in a position where Desmond had to come on early and he stepped in and did a good job. He hasn't played perfect, but nobody does.'' Ferentz compares it the way Antwan Allen stepped into the lineup and competed on Iowa's Big Ten championship team in 2002, moving in as a redshirt freshman to start in the Hawkeyes' lineup at right cornerback after Benny Sapp was dismissed from the team. Allen delivered unexpected results, starting every game that season. "Antwan got thrown into the mix and did a nice job and we're seeing the same from Desmond,'' Ferentz said. "It's a tough position for younger guys to play and I'm proud of him and what he's been able to accomplish so far this season.'' With his growth, he has become another good story in a long line of them to emerge on Ferentz-coached teams.

The rise and fall

Sunday, October 20th, 2013
Another week of struggles by teams near the top of the Associated Press college football poll made this one of the more challenging weeks I've had to put together my top 25. My top three from a week ago, Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon, remained unbeaten with wins and are holding onto the spots I've had them in. Five of the next seven teams on last week's ballot lost, resulting in a shake-up which moves Florida State and Miami (Fl) into the top five and unbeaten Baylor, Texas Tech and Missouri into my top 10. They're taking the place of Clemson, Texas A&M, South Carolina and LSU, who I've moved to double-digit spots for this week following losses to conference foes. Florida, Washington and Georgia are also off the chart this week, replaced by Auburn, Wisconsin and UCF. Here's my ballot for the week: 1. Alabama, 2. Ohio State, 3. Oregon, 4. Florida State, 5. Miami (Fla.), 6. Baylor, 7. Stanford, 8. Texas Tech, 9. Missouri, 10. Louisville, 11. Clemson, 12. Oklahoma State, 13. Texas A&M, 14. Michigan State, 15. Auburn, 16. Oklahoma, 17. South Carolina, 18. LSU, 19, UCLA, 20. Fresno State, 21. Wisconsin, 22. Michigan, 23. Northern Illinois, 24. Virginia Tech, 25. UCF

Report card: Ohio State

Saturday, October 19th, 2013
The report card for Iowa in today's 34-24 loss to Ohio State: OFFENSE: C What started off well turned into a pretty average perforamnce after Ohio State turned up the defensive heat in the second half. Iowa, which moved the ball effectively and sustained drives in the first half, converted just once on a third-down play after halftime. That led to a tired defense and the evaporation of a 6-minute edge Iowa had in possession time through two quarters. Quarterback Jake Rudock effectively worked the tight ends into the offensive game plan in the first half. DEFENSE: C- The Hawkeyes held the Big Ten's most productive offense 12 points below its season average and accomplished something no other opponent has done this year, holding Ohio State to three first-quarter points. But, Iowa's inability to get OSU off the field on third down came back to haunt the Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes scored on their first four possessions after halftime to rally for the win. SPECIAL TEAMS: B Iowa's Mike Meyer converted on his only field goal try, Jordan Cotton had 118 yards on six kickoff returns and Connor Kornbrath averaged 38.3 yards on three punts. Ohio State was not credited with a punt in the game, keeping Iowa's punt return unit off the field. COACHING: B The use of the tight ends provided an effective way for Iowa to move the football and opened some room for running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock to combine for 108 yards on the groun. The game plan wasn't the problem Saturday against a team which played like the fourth-rated team in the country when it needed to the most.

Four-down territory: Ohio State

Friday, October 18th, 2013
Four things Iowa can do to position itself for a fourth consecutive win against a top-five rated opponent: 1. Establish the run. It's probably unrealistic to expect the Hawkeyes to reach their season rushing average of 207.5 yards against another strong defense against the run. The Buckeyes have limited foes to 86.2 yards per game on the ground, a number topped only by the Michigan State defense which held Iowa to 23 rushing yards in the Hawkeyes' most recent game. With Mark Weisman insisting that a foot injury that took him off the field against the Spartans has healed, Iowa will need to establish the run to bring balance to the offense. That starts up front and includes both effective games from Weisman and Damon Bullock. Without that, it could be a long day in the horseshoe for the Hawkeyes. 2. Start fast. The Buckeyes have been one of the fastest-starting teams in the country this season, averaging 21.3 points in the first quarter. Iowa has totaled just 27 points in the opening quarter during the entire season. The Hawkeyes need to reverse both of those trends, slowing the Buckeyes offense and finding their way onto the scoreboard themselves. The longer the Hawkeyes can hang around in this game, the better the chance Iowa has of improving to 3-0 on the road. 3. Frontline success. When Iowa battled Ohio State to an overtime game in Columbus in 2009, Adrian Clayborn was a beast on the defensive front. The Hawkeyes, who have improved this season across the defensive line, will need that type of above average performance again against an OSU offense which averages just under 500 yards per game. Four of Iowa's front seven on defense missed at least part of the Michigan State game with injuries. All are expected back and they will be needed if Iowa hopes to extend its string of 24 straight quarters without allowing a rushing touchdown. 4. Go deep. If Ohio State has issues on defense, they lie behind a physical, athletic front seven. Jake Rudock's ability to work over those players and challenge a secondary which has been giving up 240 yards per game through the air will be important. While offensive coordinator Greg Davis has said he is comfortable with Rudock throwing the deep ball, Iowa has connected on just 14 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season. They'll need to add to that against the Buckeyes. Four things Ohio State can do to keep Iowa winless in Columbus since 1991: 1. Establish the run. Ohio State's ground game has been punishing this season, piling up 280.7 yards per game. Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and freshman Ezekiel Elliott have all had success working behind a strong offensive front. The Buckeyes are well aware that Iowa hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown this season and Hyde talked earlier this week about how OSU planned to stick with its game and take the ball right at the Hawkeyes on the ground. 2. Plenty of play action. Braxton Miller, back from a knee injury which kept him out of two games and most of a third, has had another week to heal as Ohio State joins Iowa in coming into Saturday's game off of a bye. The junior option quarterback found success in moving the Buckeyes' offense at Northwestern with play-action passes and he has the receivers to make that work. Corey Brown and Devin Smith have combined for 53 catches covering 743 yards through six games. 3. Take care of the ball. While Ohio State has forced opponents to turn the ball over 12 times this season - only three Big Ten teams have collected more - the Buckeyes have given the ball away eight times this season including three times in their two Big Ten games. The ability to avoid those potentially game-changing mistakes will be important for Ohio State. 4. Keep on keeping on. The Buckeyes have won 18 consecutive games, the longest ongoing win streak in college football and the fourth longest in the program's history. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring at 46.8 points per game and have been holding opponents to 19.2 points, fourth among Big Ten teams. Replacing six of their front seven on defense, the Buckeyes are still fifth in the league in total defense. Coach Urban Meyer's team has had two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes and that may not be a good thing for Iowa. Meyer-coached teams at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State are 34-2 when having more than one week to prepare for an opponent.

Lesson learned

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
There is no question that Iowa is recruiting the state of Ohio harder now than it has in some time. Phil Parker, Brian Ferentz and Jim Reid are Hawkeye assistants who work the state, searching for talent. There are five Hawkeyes in the two-deep roster this week from the state and coach Kirk Ferentz said the state will continue to be a priority for Iowa moving forward. "We can't get the majority of our roster from in-state, unfortunately,'' Kirk Ferentz said this week. "I wish we could, but it's probably not realistic based on history so we have to go other places.'' Ferentz views Ohio as a talent-rich state, something which attracts recruiters from throughout the Big Ten area. "Ohio State can't take them all. It's a good football state,'' Ferentz said. "Typically when we go into another state, we know we're at least starting in an outside lane behind the instate institution and maybe some other schools.'' But, that doesn't end the search. Micah Hyde is an example of an Ohio native who excelled at Iowa and now is suiting up for Green Bay in the NFL. Those types of under-recruited players are the ones Iowa looks to uncover, although the growth of scouting services makes finding that diamond in the rough a bit more difficult than it was a decade or two ago. One thing that Iowa will not do is send any coaches out to scout high school games in the state on Friday. Consider that a lesson learned. Kirk Ferentz recalls being sent out to an Ohio high school game the night before Iowa played at Columbus in early November in 1985. In the heart of Buckeye country in the heart of the season, the day before a game against Ohio State, the reception Iowa coaches received was about as chilly as the night air. "People hardly rolled out the welcome mat,'' Ferentz recalled. "I felt like I was from another country, let alone another state. I went and saw Ron Stoops. He was very nice to me for obvious reasons, since his brother was on our staff. Outside of that, we didn't get treated too well. It just wasn't a good day to show up.''

A new world

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013
There's a lot to like about the new geographical-based divisions that become reality for Big Ten football teams next season. For Iowa, the new seven-team West Division will renew annual border rivalries with Wisconsin and Illinois, ensuring that the Hawkeyes will play both teams each season in addition to annual games with Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue. There are rivals to appease fans from every corner of the state, from Larchwood and Hamburg to Keokuk and New Albin, there should be a rivalry for every fan to get into. But that change comes with a cost. The new divisional alignments will mean fewer opportunities for fans attending games at Kinnick Stadium to see long-time rivals. Fewer match-ups with Michigan. Fewer visits by Ohio State. Fewer games with Indiana, Michigan State and eventually Penn State. Despite expansion to a nine-game league schedule, that's one of the downsides to the growth of the Big Ten to 14 teams and the subsequent shake-up of the league's divisions. At least with the Legends and Leaders, Hawkeye fans would get a look at Michigan every other season. Now, Maryland makes more trips to Kinnick Stadium than Michigan will over the next six seasons and Rutgers will play there as often as Ohio State. And if you're hoping to catch the next Iowa-Michigan State game in Iowa City, you will be waiting until at least 2020. The Big Ten announced future schedules through 2019 today and they provide a glimpse of the new world Big Ten football teams will live beginning next season. For traditionalists, the look is eye opening. Iowa will play Michigan State and Ohio State just once over the next six seasons, visiting the Spartans in 2017 and hosting the Buckeyes the same year. Other than that, a match-up in the league title game is the only way the two will meet. Michigan is on the upcoming schedule just twice, visiting Iowa City in 2016 and hosting the Hawkeyes in 2019. Penn State and Iowa will meet more frequently. After not appearing on the Hawkeyes' schedule the next two seasons, the Nittany Lions and Iowa will meet annually from 2016-19, with games in Iowa City scheduled in the odd-numbered years. Over the six years, Indiana plays in Iowa City only in 2014, while Rutgers arrives in 2019. Maryland will visit in 2015 and 2018. The Big Ten's new world may reach the East Coast and its potentially large television markets, but not without a cost to many traditional Midwestern rivalries.