I figured since I’m venturing in to enemy territory on Saturday to attend the ‘Cats game at Kinnick, it was only fair to drag a Hawkeyes diehard over to LTP( By the way, in case you’re wondering how much Fitz’s “any other game” coachspeak is just that, be sure to check out CJ Bacher’s insightful commentary of behind the scenes of red-letter games and what it really means.Yes, he believes that Iowa does mean a little somethin’ somethin’ extra.)
Please welcome Adam Jacobi of famous Iowa blog, BlackHeartGoldPants. Adam and the LTP/BHGP relationship go way back. The insightful, humorous and from time to time inflamatory Iowa site is one of the anchors of college sports blogdom. Let’s get in to it with Adam, whose last name actually begins with a capital “J” for those keeping track at home.
LTP: At most schools, the most popular player is the clipboard holding back-up QB who is basking in his star ratings. At Iowa, it seems to be the most popular person in recent seasons was opposing teams’ offensive coordinators. How has the fandom taken to Greg Davis at OC? What are the significant changes and successes you’ve seen as a result?
BHGP: There’s been such a remarkable difference between Greg Davis Year 1 and Greg Davis Year 2 that it’s even more difficult now to issue a performance assessment than it was after the end of the first season. There’s still a great deal of apprehension after watching the horror show that was the 2012 season, but the talk during the off-season was that the offense didn’t have the right personnel with both the players and coaches–which is talk you simply never hear in a Kirk Ferentz regime–and they’ve backed that talk up with changes on both fronts and improvement to show for it. Iowa’s offense looked downright competent against Ohio State, even hitting a big play (to a backup tight end!) to tie the game late in the third quarter. If Iowa’s offense continues playing like that, this is a bowl team once again.
LTP: With a win on Saturday, Iowa would surpass 2012’s debacle of a 4-win season. What’s the temperature on Kirk Ferentz right now from the fan base?
BHGP: Ferentz’s seat has never been hot thanks to the widespread knowledge that his contract is as rock-solid as anybody’s in college football, but there had been a growing sense of disillusionment, as you can expect from a program where the overall W-L was 19-19 (10-14) over the last three seasons. That’s a three-year span that gets most coaches fired–if their contract is moveable. Iowa fans are at the very least waiting to see how this season shakes out, and if it ends in a bowl game and (fingers crossed) a .500 B1G record, that’s not ideal, but people in Iowa City don’t pick up the pitchforks for 7-5 (4-4).
LTP: Northwestern has been, well, pathetic, on offense the past two weeks without Kain Colter. It’s panics-ville among NU fans right now. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota went man coverage and exploited the middle of our O-line. Iowa rarely goes man-to-man, right? Do you see them changing things up for this week, especially if Trevor Siemian is getting the bulk of the snaps?
BHGP: If Siemian gets most of the snaps Iowa can start planning the victory celebration now. Northwestern’s offense is shockingly average when it’s missing Colter and Mark, and while it sounds like Colter’s back, it also sounds like Mark’s out. Iowa’s not very fast in the back seven, which makes it vulnerable to a player like Mark, but when it’s not challenged to get into position it’s very effective. Colter’s running ability changes the equation dramatically, and the fact that he’s been practicing all week leads me to believe he’ll be getting most of the snaps. For y’all’s sake he had better, because I can’t believe how bad Siemian has looked.
LTP: Iowa looked very impressive for three plus quarters at Ohio State. The O-line controlled Ohio State’s front seven and it’s no secret that Iowa will line up and use a steady dose of Mark Weisman mixed with some controlled passing from Jake Rudock to keep the ‘Cats on their heels. Break down the weak spots on offense for us, so we can cling to some hope.
BHGP: Iowa’s WR corps is thin (both in terms of depth and size) and young. Damond Powell is a game-breaking speedster, but he’s in the process of learning the offense so you won’t see him get thrown to more than two or three times. That’s why you’ve seen more 3-TE sets out of the Hawkeyes this year: there’s just more talent and depth there, and Iowa’s adapting its personnel packages to that. TE-heavy sets present their own unique challenges to defenses, and Iowa also goes 4-wide and even 5-wide at times, so Northwestern’s going to need to use several personnel packages of its own on defense over the course of the day, but if the ‘Cats are in a dime situation you probably don’t need to worry too much.
LTP: It’s fair to say Iowa struggled to contain NIU’s Jordan Lynch. Should Kain Colter be ready to go for the majority of snaps (ankle injury, out vs MN and Wisconsin), how does that change your perception of what will happen on defense?
BHGP: Not only did Iowa struggle with Lynch, but Braxton Miller rushed for over 100 yards on the day with two ridiculous first down conversions when Iowa was looking for stops. Colter isn’t Miller–who is?–but as mentioned before, that dimension gives Iowa trouble so the more Northwestern can keep him on the field and under center, the better your team will fare.
LTP: Key unit match-ups you believe Iowa wins hands-down. Question mark unit match-ups?
BHGP: Iowa’s ground game is predicated on LT Brandon Scherff’s road grader tendencies, and I’ll take him against Tyler Scott (who’s good, but not elite) all day long. DT Carl Davis against Northwestern’s interior line should be a problem spot for the ‘Cats as well. In terms of the biggest question marks, it’ll be very interesting to see what Iowa’s cornerbacks can do against the Northwestern wideouts. Northwestern’s probably going to have to pass early and often against Iowa’s mediocre secondary (much like what worked well for you guys against Ohio State), and that’s going to mean the Brothers Jones (shut up who cares if they’re not related) working themselves open against B.J. Lowery, Desmond King, Jordan Lomax and Sean Draper. Draper has found himself getting beaten a little too often, but if Iowa stays healthy he shouldn’t be on the field too much this week.
LTP: Obviously, we NU fans are quick to remind you of the Fitz-wizardry, or whatever you call it, over Iowa during his tenure. The ‘Cats are reeling, having lost three straight sending the fans in to the most vocal dissatisfaction in years. Based on recent successes, you might say we have Iowa right where we want them – as a favorite, in Kinnick. Thoughts on the recent historical success of NU in this series and how its impacting Iowa fans’ thoughts heading in to Saturday?
BHGP: I can’t speak for all Iowa fans, but while it would be satisfying to see a win in this one, the main satisfaction comes more from the whipping that Northwestern put on the Hawkeyes last year (a quite deceptively close 11-point win) than any of the ridiculousness in years past. The losses in 2009 and 2010 hurt, but those are ancient history. Nearly everyone involved in those games is already gone. That’s the nice thing about college football: the waves come quickly and frequently, and the sand castles rarely stay up. Obviously if streaks against certain teams last matters of 10+ years, that’s something worth noticing, but otherwise it’s all historical data.
LTP: Biggest surprises for Iowa this year? Biggest disappointment?
BHGP: For a guy that couldn’t get a single snap behind the B1G’s worst quarterback last year, Jake Rudock has been a revelation at QB; he’s got a serviceable arm, makes great decisions under fire (though he’s good for a couple head-scratchers per game, but only a couple–Northwestern needs to take advantage of these when they happen) and has the wheels to punish defenses that completely ignore him. He’s kinda Ricky Stanzi, kinda Kyle McCann, and a little bit Drew Tate. Hey, we’ll take it.
As far as disappointments go, the easiest way to score on Iowa by far is deep passes (10 of 13 offensive scores allowed this season are passes from outside the red zone), and that’s because the safety position is still a major weakness, which goes against years and years of history under Kirk Ferentz. We’re not expecting world-class athletes there, and aside from Bob Sanders Iowa has excelled without physical specimens patrolling centerfield. What any defense should expect from its safeties, though, is good positioning and ball skills and we don’t see that from Tanner Miller or John Lowdermilk. Lowdermilk has some potential but Miller is a walking minus sign, and if he’s the best Iowa’s got at FS that is the type of positional neglect that can wreck entire defensive gameplans.
LTP: And therein lies the paradox. The easiest way to beat you is deep passes (NU has proven we cannot due that this year), yet the other way to beat you is with Jordan Lynch/Braxton Miller-like dual threatness. We’re relying on this and praying that Kain can a)be as mobile as he can be and b)hit at least one deep ball to keep Iowa honest. Adam, thanks for the time. I can’t believe Iowa is only a 4-point favorite after the way the ‘Cats have been puke-like (Fitz’s word of the week) the past two weeks. Here is to Fitzwizadry reigning once again.