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Archive for September, 2014

Something’s cooking

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Successful defensive coordinators are a little a good cook, always tinkering with a recipe to find just the right mix. At Iowa, Norm Parker's defenses were known for playing the game with plenty of spice. Hard nosed. Tough minded. Team oriented. Phil Parker, who took over when Norm Parker called it a career three seasons ago, continues to create the same type of blend. Like his predecessor, Phil Parker seems comfortable searching for the right seasoning to give Iowa a decided edge on the defensive side of the ball. "I love what we do, trying to stop guys,'' Parker said. While much of what Iowa does is rooted in the scheme and beliefs that Norm Parker held, ideals he shares with Phil Parker, the current Hawkeye coordinator believes he creates his own recipe for success. "It's the same type of philosophy, but I think I probably look at things different,'' Phil Parker said, drawing on his own experiences as a defensive back at Michigan State three decades ago and from his work as a secondary assistant. "I think I take it more from the back end. How can my guys fit into the run game? How are they going to be able to cover in the pass game?'' he said. "I probably take it from the back end down where Norm started more at the front and worked back.'' Parker said today he likes the combination he sees brewing on an Iowa defense which is among five in the Big Ten which have held opponents to an average of less than 100 yards rushing per game. "I think everybody is getting closer and starting to understand what we have,'' Parker said, pointing to improved communication and a deep rotation which saw 29 Hawkeyes on the defensive side of the ball make the trip to Purdue last week and saw 24 of those players take the field. "As a coach, you're always trying to improve. I don't think we're exactly where we want to be right now, but the kids are working hard and it's a good time to have a bye week,'' Parker said. That will allow the Hawkeyes to prepare to welcome the nation's current rushing leader, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, to Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 11. Coleman runs for 172.8 yards per game as part of an offense which averages 493.2 yards. It's that type of challenge that Parker welcomes, cooking up something to be effective against a potent offense. "Every week, there's a new test,'' he said.

Holding serve

Sunday, September 28th, 2014
Things pretty much held true to form on the field over the past couple of days, leading to little change on my ballot this week in the Associated Press college football poll. With three of the top four teams idle and other nine teams winning by an average of 23.4 points, the top 12 spots on my ballot remain unchanged this week. South Carolina's home loss to Missouri was the only setback among the top 19 teams I had listed from a week ago. At 3-2, the Gamecocks are not appearing on my ballot this week and neither are the Tigers, who lost a week ago at home to Indiana. I'll keep an eye on both moving forward. The only real change on this week's ballot is at the bottom, which has been a constant churn the past few weeks and will likely remain so. I'm moving unbeaten Arizona in at 21 this week, with newcomers Oklahoma State and Kansas State in the next two slots. I moved idle East Carolina up one position and included Louisville in the 25th spot after the Cardinals improved to 4-1. On the outside looking in, beyond South Carolina and Missouri, in no particular order are Marshall, Duke, Georgia Tech and TCU. Here is my ballot for this week's AP poll: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon 5. Auburn 6. Baylor 7. Texas A&M 8. Michigan State 9. UCLA 10. Notre Dame 11. USC 12. Ohio State 13. Mississippi State 14. Georgia 15. Mississippi 16. Stanford 17. LSU 18. Nebraska 19. Wisconsin 20. BYU 21. Arizona 22. Oklahoma State 23. Kansas State 24. East Carolina 25. Louisville

As good as it gets

Saturday, September 27th, 2014
C.J. Beathard passed his first test as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level on Saturday. In the pass-fail world, he passed as did his teammates, earning a Big Ten road win at Purdue. The Iowa quarterback will have better days. At least he hopes he does. Beathard completed 17-of-37 passes for 245 yards. He threw one touchdown pass which moved Iowa ahead to stay and he watched Purdue's Frankie Williams race 39 yards into the end zone after he picked off an ill-advised throw for the game's first points. Iowa receivers didn't help Beathard at times, although Jonathan Parker made a hero of him when grabbed a tipped pass, spun and recorded a 34-yard gain on a drive which set up Iowa's game-tying field goal. Hawkeye receivers dropped six passes and Rudock missed the mark on a few attempts himself, struggling especially early with recognizing when the pocket was disintegrating around him. That may have provided a hint or two as to why Iowa coaches entrusted Jake Rudock with the starting role at the onset of a season which has Iowa taking a 4-1 record into the bye week. "There are always going to be times when things don't go well. Guys miss blocks. Quarterbacks make bad throws. Receivers drop balls sometimes. The main thing is to move on,'' Beathard said. "I didn't let the pick-six define my day. I kept competing. We all did. That's what it takes.'' On a day when Iowa overcame a double-digit deficit to win for the third time this season, Beathard survived. It's a safe bet he'll learn from the experience, as he hopes his teammates learn. "One of these games, we're going to come out and play a full 60,'' he said. "We're not there yet, but we need to keep working for it.''

Report card: Purdue

Saturday, September 27th, 2014
The Iowa football team's report card following today's 24-10 win at Purdue: OFFENSE: C Most of this grade is a result of persistence. They didn't go away after a dismal first quarter that saw the Hawkeyes gain 14 yards, including two on the ground. Iowa averaged 3.4 yards per carry and helped itself with an average of 14.4 yards per pass completion. C.J. Beathard showed a little character in the way he bounced back from an early pick-six. That bodes well for the future, whether he is or isn't the starter when Iowa takes the field in two weeks against Indiana. Things could have been even better, but Iowa receivers dropped six catchable passes along the way. DEFENSE: B+ Other than allowing Purdue to sustain a few early drives, the Iowa defense turned in one of its most dominant efforts against Purdue. Iowa's depth made a difference for the second straight week, wearing the opposing defense down as the game progressed. The Boilermakers averaged 2.5 yards per play - just over half of what Iowa averaged at 4.8 - and were a limited to 5.5 yards per pass completion. From winning the turnover battle to holding Purdue to nine first downs, it was the type of effort Iowa needed. SPECIAL TEAMS: B From punter Dillon Kidd's 39.7-yard average to Marshall Koehn's successful game-tying field goal from 28 yards to Jonathan Parker's 47 yards in kick returns, it was a solid day for Iowa special teams. COACHING: B Given Iowa's inexperience at quarterback, the game plan was solid. Iowa tested Purdue's secondary and trusted its running backs with the ball 51 times. This was a good day to break in a new quarterback and the Hawkeyes eased C.J. Beathard in, not pushing him to play beyond his abilities. Continued use of depth on defense remains one of the most encouraging aspects of this team.

Four-down territory: Purdue

Friday, September 26th, 2014
Four ways Iowa and Purdue can find their way to success in Saturday's game at Ross-Ade Stadium: IOWA (3-1) 1. Establish the run. Iowa's ground game has been slow to develop this season. It was at its best a year ago against the Boilermakers, who are improved defensively but have surrendered a Big Ten-worst seven rushing touchdowns through the opening weeks of the 2014 season. Jordan Canzeri thrived at Purdue a year ago, gaining 165 yards, but Iowa will continue to go with the hot hand. Mark Weisman rushed 22 times at Pitt last week, providing him with a chance to get in a bit of rhythm. With the potential for a first-time starter at quarterback, Iowa will need to be at its best on the ground to take the pressure off of whoever is behind center. 2. Kick it deep. Iowa specialists face a unique challenge against Purdue. Kicker Marshall Koehn will work to keep the ball out of the hands of Raheem Mostert, a Big Ten sprint champ who ranks second in the league in kick returns at 27.2 per attempt, while Dillon Kidd will be dealing with Frankie Williams, who averages 20.2 yards on punt returns. Koehn has deposited 16 of his 19 kickoffs into the end zone, leading the nation in touchbacks. Purdue can do some damage there and how successful Iowa specialists can be will have a say in the field position battle today. There may be yards to be had for Iowa's kick returners as well. Purdue ranks last in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage with its net average of 36 yards. Jonathan Parker and Jordan Canzeri share the top spot on the depth chart there. 3. Have a productive day behind center. C.J. Beathard may well get his first career start at quarterback as Jake Rudock deals with a hip injury he suffered last week at Pitt. Iowa quarterbacks have combined to complete 68.1 percent of their passes this season. Iowa will need to take care of the ball and continue that level of production as it opens Big Ten play on the road for the 12th time in the last 16 years. 4. Build on the momentum. Iowa put together its strongest half of football this season in the second half against Pitt, a combination of improved offensive execution and a defensive effort which stiffened. Purdue will test Iowa with speed -- Mostert is the defending Big Ten 100- and 200-meter dash champ -- and Iowa will need to deal with that on the perimeter. PURDUE (2-2) 1. Find a flow on offense. Purdue has been its own worst enemy at times this season and a pair of fumbles will leave leading rusher Raheem Mostert on the sideline when Saturday's game begins. As second-year coach Darrell Hazell tries to get his team to embrace the notion that ball security is critical, Akeem Hunt will start at running back and Keyante Green, one of 13 freshmen to play so far this season for Purdue, will see action as well. The addition of junior college transfer David Hedelin at offensive tackle after he sat the first three games of the year because of an NCAA suspension for playing on a club team in his native Sweden will strengthen a young group of linemen. 2. Get after it. Purdue has found success with a 4-3 defensive front after toying with a three-man front a year ago. Led by Jake Replogle, Ryan Russell, Sean Robinson, Anthony Brown and Ryan Watson, a nose guard who ranks among Big Ten leaders with four sacks, the Boilermakers are attacking aggressively. Purdue has 22 tackles for a loss so far this season and has gotten to the quarterback 11 times, the third-best total in the Big Ten. 3. Make special teams special. The abilities of Mostert as a kick returner and Williams on punt returns have the potential to give Iowa fits. They're a 1-2 tandem that the Hawkeyes have not seen this season and will need to contain this week. Purdue kicker Paul Griggs has been successful on six of his seven field goal attempts this season. He has a 51 yarder on his resume, joining Iowa's Marshall Koehn among three Big Ten kickers who have had success from beyond 50 during the opening weeks of the season. 4. Deliver through the air. Danny Etling has completed 42-of-66 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns while being intercepted twice since being benched during the Boilermakers loss to Central Michigan. The sophomore has capable receivers in a group led by Danny Anthrop, Hunt and tight end Justin Sinz. Purdue's passing game is similar to the one deployed by Iowa, focusing on short- to mid-range passes designed to help the Boilermakers control the ball. Iowa will need to show continued growth in the pass rush to challenge Etling.

Constant reminder

Thursday, September 25th, 2014
Purdue players are having no problem remembering who their opponent is this week. Members of the Boilermakers scout team are wearing helmets at practice with Tiger Hawk decals on the side. The decals, according to the Lafayette Courier Journal, were placed there at the suggestion of defensive backs coach Taver Johnson as a way to keep the challenge that awaits Purdue at the forefront of the team's thoughts this week. Coach Darrell Hazell's team is viewing Saturday's 11 a.m. game at Ross-Ade Stadium as a measuring stick for growth Purdue has made since last season when it finished 1-11, went winless in the Big Ten and did not defeat a team from the FBS level. Purdue already has doubled its win total from a year ago, finishing the nonconference at 2-2 and has an FBS win on its resume as it prepares for the start of its Big Ten schedule. Iowa piled up 509 yards of offense against the Boilermakers last year, including 318 on the ground as it pulled away late for a 38-14 win with 17 points in the fourth quarter. Hazell said the decals his starters are looking this week as they prepare are designed to be a constant reminder of the significance he wants the Boilermakers to place on Big Ten games. "It's a reminder of how important the opponent is,'' Hazell told the Courier Journal. "We have a lot of respect for Iowa and the things they do and have done. It's a reminder to our guys of how good we have to be Saturday.''

Depth perception

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
One thing as much as anything led Iowa to a win Saturday at Pittsburgh. The number of bodies the Hawkeyes threw at the Panthers defensively made a decisive difference in Iowa's 24-20 win, keeping fresh legs on the field in the second half to help the Hawkeyes compete against an offense which had its way with Iowa in the first half. "When the game was on the line, our defense was fresh and we were able to get off the field when it mattered,'' defensive end Drew Ott said. "It might seem like a little thing, but it was really a big deal.'' As part of the plan against an offensive line which averaged 318 pounds per player, Iowa rotated defensive linemen early and often. At one point in the second half, Ott and starting tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat were all watching from the sidelines as the Hawkeyes started to successfully turn things in their favor. The play of back-up tackles Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson and as well as Mike Hardy at the end position made as much of a difference as the execution the starters contributed. "That was the biggest group that we've played in quite some time, and they're really a physical, well-coached group,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said today. "They're a really good offensive football team, so that was part of the plan.'' On the back end and at linebackers, players rotated as well although those moves were created in part because of in-game injuries. Maurice Fleming started in place of Greg Mabin, who had sprained an ankle during the week, but returned to the field when Fleming went down at left cornerback. Along with the first-half suspension of Jordan Lomax that provided Andrew Gair with additional playing time, there was a constant churn that worked for Iowa. Ferentz liked the way players on the back end competed, pointing to Mabin's willingness to return to the field and give it a go despite not being at full strength after Fleming went down. "We've had a lot of guys do that the last couple of weeks, and that's a positive sign, too,'' Ferentz said. "Guys getting up, going out there and getting the job done. That's really a positive.'' The positives extended beyond what transpired at Heinz Field. Taking advantage of the depth that exists on the Iowa roster, the experience those players gained in meaningful minutes on the field when a game's outcome was on the line can only help moving forward. Ferentz pointed to Gair as an example. After being thrust into action when Lomax was ejected in the second half of the Iowa State game a week earlier, Gair competed well against Pittsburgh and held his own before Lomax was eligible to return in the second half. "Wasn't perfect, but he responded well, and I think he played better Saturday,'' Ferentz said. "Hopefully he learned something about himself, maybe that he's a little better than he thought he was. One of those deals. Hopefully, we'll grow from there.'' The trust shown by Iowa coaches in those players, including in some inexperienced players, can only benefit them and the Hawkeyes moving forward.

The QB question

Monday, September 22nd, 2014
Iowa's depth chart at quarterback looks a lot this morning like it did a week ago. Jake Rudock is listed as the Hawkeyes' starter for Saturday's Big Ten opener at Purdue and C.J. Beathard is listed as the back-up. That's not a surprise. Rudock has started the last 17 games Iowa has played, and if he has recovered enough from what coach Kirk Ferentz has described as a "hip area injury'' and "a sprain'' it is likely Rudock will open behind center against the Boilermakers. He's shown resiliency, competing despite knee sprains on a couple of occasions last season, so if he can play it is likely he will take the field and if he takes the field, history tells us that he will likely start. Beathard should have earned more playing time with his relief work against Pitt once Rudock left the game, unable to run the way he needed to move to compete. The sophomore was decisive with his throws, completing seven of the eight he attempted, and fed off of improved play by Iowa's offensive line and running backs. He put himself in the conversation for additional snaps by leading the Hawkeyes on scoring drives on Iowa's first three possessions of the second half. Points have been hard to come by so far for the Hawkeyes, who begin this week ranked 95th in FBS football in scoring offense and 97th in total offense. Regardless of who plays quarterback, that won't cut it if Iowa hopes to be a player in the Big Ten West Division and the fix there remains a collective one, not anywhere close to as simple as inserting one player into the lineup. So as the Hawkeyes begin work toward Saturday's test at Ross-Ade Stadium, the quarterback question remains clearly cloudy, to borrow a favorite phrase of the Iowa coach. Work on the practice field this week will likely determine who starts against Purdue and with a bye week to follow, the Hawkeyes have some time to figure things out. If Rudock misses significant time this week, the guess is that Beathard will get the call. If the junior gets at least a couple of days of work in, expect Rudock to start against the Boilermakers. But, the leash may be a little shorter. As Ferentz put it following the Pitt game, "It's a luxury to have two great quarterbacks which is what we feel we have.'' When both are healthy, figuring out how to utilize them remains the challenge.

Idle moments

Sunday, September 21st, 2014
With the start of conference play quickly approaching, eight teams on my Associated Press college football poll ballot had byes in week four of the season. But there were not so many idle moments elsewhere, with Florida State and Oregon surviving scares on Saturday night from Clemson and Washington State, respectively. They were pushed, tested and then they prevailed, as Oklahoma did in its Big 12 test at West Virginia. My top six isn't changing this week, with Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon, Auburn and Baylor staying put. LSU's loss to Mississippi State creates movement after that. I have Texas A&M sliding up a spot to seventh, followed by Michigan State, UCLA and Notre Dame. Unbeaten Mississippi State moves onto my ballot at 14 this week, with LSU dropping from seventh to 18th. Most of the rest of the movement is in the bottom five, where four of my last seven from a week ago suffered their first losses of the season. That opens spots for Washington, Penn State and East Carolina to move onto my ballot this week. Currently just on the outside looking in are, in no particular order, Kansas State, Marshall, Duke, Georgia Tech, TCU, Louisville, Florida and Missouri. Here is the ballot I submitted this morning: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon 5. Auburn 6. Baylor 7. Texas A&M 8. Michigan State 9. UCLA 10. Notre Dame 11. USC 12. Ohio State 13. South Carolina 14. Mississippi State 15. Georgia 16. Mississippi 17. Stanford 18. LSU 19. Nebraska 20. Arizona State 21. Wisconsin 22. BYU 23. Washington 24. Penn State 25. East Carolina

Four-down territory: Pittsburgh

Friday, September 19th, 2014
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Pittsburgh can do to position themselves for a chance to win Saturday at Heinz Field: IOWA (2-1) 1. Establish the run. Iowa averaged 2.9 yards per carry last week against Iowa State. That won't win many games. The issues are multiple, and from finishing blocks to making the cuts, Iowa needs to get something going on the ground. For the first time this season, a running back actually tops Iowa's rushing statistics. Mark Weisman has gained 96 yards, four more than Jake Rudock has picked up on the ground. Weisman is averaging 10.6 carries per game. If the Hawkeyes' ground attack is going to reach its potential, it needs to narrow the use of multiple backs and give those backs and the offensive line a chance to develop the rhythm and tempo that accompany successful rushing games. Jordan Canzeri, limited to three carries last week after injuring a foot on a return, is expected back today. 2. Go vertical. With receivers struggling to create needed separation, Rudock has settled for the short pass and Iowa has struggled to get much going in the downfield passing attack. It's on both the receivers and Rudock to change that situation. Rudock wisely isn't throwing to well-covered targets, but Iowa must get something going mid-range perhaps through play action to take some of the pressure off of the ground game. Those 20-yard connections can and will make a difference. Iowa is averaging 9 yards per reception on the season. That number must grow into the 13, 14 range on average if Iowa truly hopes to be successful. 3. Know where James Conner is at. At 181.3 yards per game, the Pittsburgh sophomore ranks fourth in the nation in rushing. Iowa has been solid against the run this season, and will need to be so again against a team which averages 344 yards per game on the ground. Iowa's ability to get to football and force Conner or whoever has the ball in his hands - quarterback Chad Voytik topped 100 rushing yards a week ago as well - and force them into a lateral game could be significant. 4. Leave your troubles behind. This might be the perfect week for Iowa to get away from Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes were a solid road team a year ago, going 4-1 away from Kinnick during the regular season, and Saturday's game can set a tone for what lies ahead. The us-against-the-world mentality has been a successful one for Iowa in the past. It needs to return this weekend. PITTSBURGH (3-0) 1. Establish the run. An offensive line that averages 318 pounds per player and a back that packs 250 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame have allowed the Panthers to pile up plenty of yards on the ground and that has translated into points. Pitt averages 41.7 points per game, helped by a rushing attack that has averaged 344.3 yards on the ground. Iowa will test the Panthers with a rushing defense that allows 65.7 yards per game. 2. Deliver on defense. Tackles Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render anchor a front which has helped Pittsburgh rank among the nation's top defensive teams. The Panthers are allowing 211 yards per game, fourth best in FBS football, while limiting opponents to 77.3 yards per game on the ground. Pittsburgh has helped itself with five interceptions through three games. 3. Pick up the pass. Given the success Iowa has had in defending the run, Pittsburgh will likely need to put the ball more than it in its three season-opening wins. Starting quarterback Chad Voytik has attempted just 50 passes so far, completing 29, and at an average of 9.5 yards per completion the Panthers' passing attack has not been much more successful than the one it face Saturday from Iowa. Sophomore Tyler Boyd does provide Pitt's quarterbacks - Trey Anderson saw brief action late in the fourth quarter at Florida International last week - with a go-to receiver. He has caught 11 of the 32 passes Pittsburgh has completed this season after rewriting the ACC freshman record books a year ago. Boyd caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards last fall and he will test an Iowa secondary which will be without suspended free safety Jordan Lomax for the first half of Saturday's game. 4. Be special on special teams. An area where inconsistency has plagued Iowa, Pitt field goal kicker Chad Blewitt hasn't missed in four tries this season. He converted from 49, 42 and 41 yards in the Panthers' 30-20 win over Boston College. Punter Ryan Winslow averages 39.8 yards per attempt and Boyd ranks in the top-20 nationally in punt returns, averaging 13.3 yards.