It is Iowa week and so we turn to a familiar friend for some knowledge on the Hawkeyes. Patrick Vint and Black Heart, Gold Pants need no introduction. So… away we go…
LTP: Let’s cut to the chase. After Ferentz watches film of both Penn State and Nebraska dictating our offense, we can assume Iowa will play cover-2 man and when Trevor Siemian is in force him to throw along the boundary. How good are your cornerbacks this year?
Patrick Vint, Black Heart Gold Pants: You are making a lot of assumptions here. One, that Ferentz will watch tape from last week, which I’m not certain will be the case. If he does, you’re assuming he will take Nebraska’s tactics and run cover 2 man. Honestly, even if that worked 100 percent of the time against Northwestern last week, it is a coin flip at best that Ferentz would follow that lead. Iowa ran a lot of man coverage last week against Penn State and got shredded, so that’s in the background.
Compounding that is Iowa’s cornerbacks, who are great for what Iowa does at corner — competent in zone coverage, good tacklers, strong in run support — but have been lackluster in one-on-one man coverage the few times they have been asked to play it this year. Micah Hyde, now in his 16th year of eligibility, is the best of them. On the other side, super-senior Greg Castillo jumped junior B.J. Lowery for the second spot two weeks ago. He’s been competent since then, but he also has a long history of coverage problems even with safety help over the top.
LTP: On the flip side, our starting cornerback Nick VanHoose, who was building an All-Big Ten year campaign is out as is our other corner – Quinn Evans, along with back-up Demetrius Dugar. We’ll be starting a third string and second string CB vs Vandenberg, but you’ve been slightly less worse in the passing game then we have. Is it the lack of multi-last name WRs? Did Vandenberg regress? What’s going on in your passing game and based on our secondary injuries, give us reasons to worry that Vandenberg can complete north of 50 percent?
BHGP: Oh, we have multi-last name wideouts. We have Kevonte Martin-Manley. We have tight end Henry Krieger-Coble. More important to you guys, we have a defensive tackle named Louis Trinca-Passat (THAT’S RIGHT OUR VERY OWN LTP) who I suppose could be converted to wide receiver in a pinch.
But dual-named receivers are just about all we have. Iowa finally thrust off the yoke of Ken O’Keefe last winter, only to be burdened with the even more oppressive Greg Davis as offensive coordinator. Davis used to lead Mack Brown’s offenses at Texas, commonly known to Longhorn fans as “the horizontal offense.” We thought they were kidding. After seven games, we’re all stunned at how much they were lowballing it.
Iowa’s passing game has three problems. One, the Hawkeyes are missing a safety blanket and a deep threat (McNutt was both for us last year). Two, they have traded a medium-risk, medium-reward intermediate passing game for a low-risk, low-reward offense full of screen passes and wheel routes into the flat and quick outs, which is fine when your quarterback can complete 75 percent of his passes but makes little to no sense when that number is closer to 50 percent. Three, Vandenberg has been genuinely terrible, which is the great enigma of this season. Iowa has a long and distinguished history of quarterbacks regressing as seniors, but never like this. It genuinely looks at times like they pulled a visiting scholar from, let’s say, Kazakhstan, out of a chem lab and sent him out there without explaining the game to him.
And in many ways, they have. Iowa’s offense under O’Keefe simplified a lot of things for the quarterback and receivers. Virtually every play was a seven-step drop or a shotgun formation, simplifying the footwork. The receivers ran prescribed routes regardless of defensive alignment. The running back almost always stayed in the pocket to pick up blitzers. There was a lot of play action, a lot of rolling out. Everything was pretty simple. Under Davis, the receivers and quarterback make sight reads. There are three-step, five-step, seven-step, and shotgun drops. The play action game has been reduced, the use of screen passes upped, the additional protection afforded by the halfback cut significantly. Vandenberg has not responded well, as you can see. At first, we chalked it up to new-system bugs. We’re now convinced it’s beyond that, that the passing game will never really be worked out this year.
Vandenberg could complete north of 50 percent — he’s done so in five of Iowa’s seven games — but it won’t matter so much when those completions are botched screen passes or two-yard out routes on third and six.
LTP: You’ve had some significant coaching changes since last year, yet you seem to be the same old stingy Iowa “D” (39th in rushing “D”, 44th in passing) including the all-important scoring “D”, giving up a mere 20 points per game. Breakdown the strengths and weaknesses (if any) on this side of the ball.
BHGP: The secondary was supposed to be the strength of this defense, the line a distinct weakness. The linebackers, which have always been the most important part of Iowa’s defense because they are expected to do so much, were thought to be average. It turns out the defensive line, which started the season without any bona fide starters, isn’t that terrible. The linebackers have improved. And the secondary has been a dumpster fire a couple of times this year. At the end of the day, there isn’t a particularly spectacular unit on the defense, but there also isn’t a terrible weakness.
The one thing Iowa doesn’t really have is a consistent pass rush. Iowa’s ends aren’t great speed rushers, and they don’t have the strength of guys like Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard that made them so effective at getting to the quarterback. The secondary hasn’t been good enough for Iowa to get too crazy with blitzing — the basic Iowa philosophy is to stop the run and stop the big play, so blitzing doesn’t really stem from any philosophical principle we have — and so we’ve settled into essentially containing opposing quarterbacks and making them throw from the pocket, which could be effective against Northwestern.
LTP: You’ve still got Nebraska and Michigan on the schedule which you’ll be underdogs against, along with Indiana and Purdue whom you’ll be favored against. That would make Saturday’s game the potential make/break for a winning season. What’s the mindset of Hawkeyes fans coming in to this game after the bloodbath last Saturday night?
BHGP: After last week, Iowa fans are expecting a loss to Northwestern, a loss at Indiana (who always gives us trouble and is running an offense that is anathema to everything we do defensively), a 50/50 game against Purdue, and unmitigated disaster against Michigan and Nebraska. This was the same mindset after the Central Michigan loss, and was so quickly brushed aside when they stomped Minnesota and beat Michigan State on the road. It’s been an exhausting year, because the only consistency is Iowa’s inconsistency. If Iowa loses ugly Saturday, it’s knives out. If they win, Penn State will be immediately forgotten and Ferentz apologists will spend the next week pushing for another contract extension.
LTP: Mark Weisman. Clearly, until he got injured two weeks ago, he was the feel good story of the entire conference this year. Do you expect him to play or is the AIHRBG back in full effect? Give us the other options if Weisman is a no-go.
BHGP: He’ll play. According to reports after the Michigan State game, he had a mild ankle sprain. I fully expected him to play against Penn State, which happened for about four plays. The offense has only worked this season when he’s been in the game, so Iowa will play him if they can.
You’re right that Weisman is the feel-good story of the conference. He was lightly recruited by Iowa out of high school, but took a scholarship to the Air Force Academy before realizing that it’s the Air Force Academy and that means all the service academy stuff was required. Weisman spent a week sleeping on the floor of his barracks because he’d finally made his bed properly and didn’t want to mess it up. For obvious reasons, he left before the season even began, and walked on at Iowa for spring. He’d been cast as a fullback — he’s 235 lbs. and runs right at people — but got his shot when both halfbacks went down injured against Northern Iowa. He ran for 115 yards in a half against UNI, 217 against Central Michigan, 177 against Minnesota, and 116 on Michigan State before spraining his ankle on the last play of regulation.
If he can’t go, look for sophomore Damon Bullock, who was the starter for the first three weeks before sustaining a concussion. Freshman Greg Garmon could get some carries, but he has not been good in limited action so far. And sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who tore his ACL in spring football and has made a miraculous recovery, will be available if called upon.
LTP: Top 3 surprises this year. Top 3 disappointments.
BHGP: Surprises: (1) Weisman, who can quite literally save the season for Iowa; (2) Weakside linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who is leading the conference in tackles; (3) um…did I mention Weisman?
Disappointments: (1) Vandenberg, who has gone back into the cocoon where we found him while he filled in for Ricky Stanzi in 2009…and now I’m thinking of the Ricky Stanzi injury and I hate you guys again; (2) the offense in general, which was pitched as a high-tempo, high-speed, modernized pro-style attack and turned out to be the Kirk Ferentz running game grafted onto the Greg Davis passing game, which makes it difficult for either to work; (3) cornerback B.J. Lowery, who looked like the next great Iowa defensive back in Week 1 and was benched by Week 6.
LTP: Unit match-ups you like for Saturday and why.
BHGP: I like Iowa’s defensive front seven against Venric Mark, because they usually play well against an interior running attack (all bets are off for your Colter shenanigans). There’s nothing on our offense that I like against anyone unless Weisman plays, and even then it’s suspect because we’re missing two key linemen who were injured last week and will be unavailable.
BHGP: Iowa fans will fill at least 60 percent of Ryan Field, Iowa will hold Venric Mark under 100 yards rushing, neither team completes more than 20 passes or gets more than 175 yards passing, and Northwestern probably wins 13-12 on some fourth-quarter bullsh*t like they always do against Iowa.
LTP: As usual, you delivered on what we expected – great insights, high degree of sarcasm with a hint of fatalistic approach. I could see all of your predictions coming true, but no way you get over 50/50 this year as we’ve got the Homecoming spike on our side. I’ll give you 35%. Best of luck AFTER Saturday as we may very well need your help this year.
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