national champs baby
2012 Opponent Preview: Iowa
Iowa fans: tweet your penitence to @AIRBHG.
Our God is an angry God / He rains destruction on running backs from heaven above. In case you missed it, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God struck four times over the offseason:
- Marcus Coker, Iowa's starting tailback in 2011, is suspended for the Insight Bowl; transfers to Stony Brook in January.
- Backup Mika'il McCall endures a season in which he breaks an ankle, fumbles on his second carry back from injury, gets benched, and then gets suspended; transfers to Southern Illinois in January.
- Backup Jordan Canzeri suffers a torn ACL during spring practice; will likely miss the entirety of 2012.
- Incoming four-star recruit Greg Garmon is booked for weed possession after getting pulled over for an expired registration; status is up in the air, but the outlook is grim.
Iowa's tailback roster is currently decimated to the point where incoming three-star recruit Barkley Hill might get the starting nod on Sept. 1. If he's wise, he'll have asked to switch to linebacker by then.
So yeah, this sounds an awful lot like Michigan's secondary circa 2010, but the wrath of AIRBHG predates AMSHG by almost a decade. A Hawkeyenation.com post chronicles the smitten, beginning with Ladell Betts in 2001. AIRBHG's appetite for sacrifice is insatiable. By my count, no fewer than 27 Hawkeyes running backs come to judgment in the time since. Only Fred Russell made it through "unscathed" by leaving early for the NFL in 2003. He went undrafted.
The actual preview part
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Head coach Kirk Ferentz is in his 14th year at Iowa and has led his team to nine winning seasons, two shared B1G championships, and two BCS bowls. Since the miraculous 2009 season in which the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, however, Iowa has been cruising back to average. There's a real potential for the Hawkeyes to be below average this season.
Ferentz's $3.65 million contract goes through 2020. At the age of 56 (57 on Aug. 1 for those of you into sending e-cards), Ferentz will probably see his contract through before kicking the coaching bucket. But there's a chance he might not make it to then. No one wants a lame duck coach, and if Iowa doesn't start trending up within the next season or two it would be hard for him to avoid that label.
2012 might not save him. The schedule is on the favorable side and Iowa returns a quarterback who's had a year's worth of starting experience, but with a roster that returns just 11 starters (6 offense, 5 defense, 96th nationally) from units that were both pretty mediocre last year, along with the running back issues as mentioned above and a transition at both coordinator positions, it's hard to see the Hawkeyes being consistent enough to do much more than break even.
Still, nobody predicted Michigan to do as well as it did last season. If Ferentz is truly the coach he's reputed to be and his coaching hires prove to be the hires the program has needed, there may be some fight left in Iowa yet.
- Sept. 1, Northern Illinois
- Sept. 8, Iowa State
- Sept. 15, Northern Iowa
- Sept. 22, Central Michigan
- Sept. 29, Minnesota
- Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
- Oct. 13, @ Michigan State
- Oct. 20, Penn State
- Oct. 27, @ Northwestern
- Nov. 3, @ Indiana
- Nov. 10, Purdue
- Nov. 17, @ Michigan
- Nov. 23, Nebraska
At first look this schedule is relatively soft. Eight home games, no marquee non-conference opponents, just two tough road games, and no Wisconsin or Ohio State. Upon closer examination it's littered with trap games and underestimated obstacles.
Iowa opens at home against Northern Illinois, a MAC team that went 11-3 last season. Definitely not a gimme. Iowa State visits next, i.e. Steele Jantz returns to repeat his demolition of Iowa's defense. Northern Iowa is another team that finished at the top of a lesser conference (MVC) so again not a guaranteed win. Central Michigan is perhaps the only team that Iowa should comfortably beat at this point.
As far as B1G goes, Indiana is the only team that doesn't have a real shot at taking down the Hawkeyes. Minnesota beat them last year (A fluke? Maybe.) and should be better this year. Northwestern has made a habit of beating teams strongly associated with corn in recent years and has an offense that Iowa has a hard time dealing with. So does Purdue to a lesser extent, and Purdue should have a much better defense than many give them credit for.
Iowa might be able to squeeze a win or two out of the heavyweights, but it's not looking likely at this point.
This schedule is as favorable as: Vanilla paste.
X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes
I wonder if Adam Jacobi still thinks this is a thing. #ALLLOOKTHESAME
Style: MANBALL (with some no-huddle stuff that doesn't work very well) and PUNTOSAUR (except against Michigan).
Key losses: RB Marcus Coker (1384 yards, 4.9 ypc, 15 TD), RB Jordan Canzeri (114 yards, 3.7 ypc), WR Marvin McNutt (82 rec, 1315 yards, 12 TD), LT Riley Reiff, RG Adam Gettis
Top returners: QB James Vandenberg (58.7%, 3022 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT), WR Keenan Davis (50 rec, 713 yards, 4 TD), TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (16 rec, 167 yards, 3 TD), C James Ferentz
The biggest news for Iowa's offense not related to AIRBHG was the hire of Greg Davis from Texas to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left to coach wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins. Davis served as OC for the Longhorns during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy eras, but he is generally regarded as having as much to do with their success as Jim Bollman had to do with Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor's success.
Yes, Iowa has hired Jim Bollman, basically.
This development doesn't contrast that much with what Iowa already had going on, so we'll pretend nothing has changed. Vanilla Hawkeyes offense is vanilla.
Iowa's passing game shouldn't suffer too much this season despite losing about half of its receiver production from 2011. James Vandenberg returns a year wiser and a year more ready to deal with having no time to throw because his offensive line has occasionally forgets how to pass protect. Vandenberg was incredibly efficient last season as a first year starter, and there's no reason to believe he won't follow it up with at least a similar performance.
Except for one thing: the biggest weakness in this offense is at the running back position, as already discussed at length. The Hawkeyes run the offense Brady Hoke talks about fondly whenever Denard's not in the room, and having a bruising tailback to run between the tackles is critical for their success. Not having one is a problem. If Iowa can't threaten the run, Vandenberg might get into a lot of trouble when his receivers get locked down in coverage on every down.
Something tells me however that Ferentz will find a way to get production out of whatever guy is in the backfield. Coaching the offensive line is his thing, and they've paved the way for guys like Adam Robinson (transferred to Minnesota-Duluth after 2010), a two star out of high school, to become All-Conference performers very early in their careers.
One more thing -- there's been a lot of buzz about C.J. Fiedorowicz lately, a.k.a. the "next great Iowa tight end." Maybe he is, maybe he isn't, but he is worth keeping an eye on.
Fear level = 4.
Hands go above the waist.
Style: 4-3, Cover 2. Always.
Key losses: DT Mike Daniels (49.5 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9 sacks), DE Broderick Binns (46.0 tackles, 12 TFL, 5 sacks), OLB Tyler Nielsen (53.5 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack), CB Shaun Prater (42 tackles, 3 PBU, 1 INT)
Top returners: MLB James Morris (81 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT), OLB Christian Kirksey (86 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), CB Micah Hyde (60.5 tackles, 8 PBU, 3 INT), S Tanner Miller (64 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 PBU)
Coordinator change -- Norm Parker retired and got replaced by Phil Parker (no relation), who was defensive backs coach for the former Parker at Iowa. It's a significant loss, since Parker had been around for forever, but hiring someone internally means the philosophy won't change much, if at all. We'll see whether the level playcalling takes a hit.
On the player side of things, the Hawkeyes lose all of its significant production from its defensive line (sound familiar?), which bodes poorly for 2011's 62nd-ranked rush defense. Micah Hyde returns as the lone star in the secondary, and he'll certainly have his work cut out for him if Iowa hopes to improve from what their 58th-ranked pass defense from a year ago.
I don't have much else to say about the Hawkeye defense. They play cover-2 a lot. They don't often blitz (except against Michigan). They like taking two-star guys and milking every last drop of talent from them.
Yeah. Vanilla Iowa defense is vanilla.
Fear level = 4.
K Mike Meyer (14/20 FG) returns. Woo. I don't know why I still have this section. I think Iowa is replacing last year's punter with a dude from Australia, and I could not be bothered to look up who either of them are right now.
Record: Here's how it breaks down, I think.
- Likely wins: Central Michigan, Indiana;
- Close, but cigar: Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Minnesota;
- Close, but no cigar: Iowa State, Northwestern, Purdue;
- Likely losses: Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska
That comes out to about 6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G.
Against Michigan: Michigan's offense had an ill-advised game plan for Iowa last year and executed it horribly during Midwest Windstorm Part II. Things will be better offensively this year, as it will be in the Big House and Al Borges has resigned himself to zone running from shotgun at least for the time being. Michigan will have to be disciplined in the trenches on both sides of the ball as Iowa won a majority of those battles last year, and Michigan's front seven will have to get pressure on Vandenberg early. If Michigan gets to him their entire offensive plan is kaputt, but if Vandenberg gets in a rhythm, he and his receivers have the potential to take over the game.
I say Michigan ends its three-year drought against the Hawkeyes and wins 35-14.
Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: KYRU... I BERIEVE IN YOUUUUU.