Iowa Football

Iowa football mailbag: Which goes first in the Big Ten, 9-game schedule or divisions?

Put all of your money on the 9-game schedule, but divisions will get a long look

Iowa and Wisconsin line up for a snap during a 2015 game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. (The Gazette)
Iowa and Wisconsin line up for a snap during a 2015 game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. (The Gazette)
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It’s the #oniowapod mailbag, featuring Herman Menderchuk (super-deep “Kids in the Hall” reference).

Don’t get eliminated!

 

I am #TeamBigTenWest. I love divisions. I love that Iowa has border rivals pretty much the entire month of November. If Iowa is a serious football team in 2019, Iowa probably loves that, too.

But ...

I’m glad you brought up divisions and crossovers. This needs a do-over and divisions, sigh, probably should be junked.

Crossovers are having too much of a say in the Big Ten. Look around the league. Crossovers don’t really matter for Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Well, they “matter,” but more times than not, those three schools will have a better than 50/50 shot against any team in the Big Ten.

Which schools are affected by crossovers? The rest.

Want an explicit illustration? The Hawkeyes’ October 2020 is this: Play host to Michigan State, travel to Ohio State and then off to Penn State. Sure, that played Iowa’s way in 2015 with Maryland and Indiana (only eight conference games then), but, realistically, even the true believers will likely wait on buying tickets for Indianapolis 2020.

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Give everyone three protected rivalries (Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska for Iowa) and let the Big Ten scheduling computer do its thing. Best two teams and, likely, a bunch of tiebreaking criteria that surely will make everyone’s eyes bleed on who gets to go to Indy.

This isn’t a cry for change from me. I like divisions and, to me, geography works fine. I just feel like change is coming.

At Big Ten media days, a few of the prominent coaches in the East were open about the fact that “hey, the East is the beast.” Ohio State’s Ryan Day was one of those voices. The Big Ten does discuss divisions on a regular basis, but nothing is on the table as far as change goes.

The league tried to split divisions by competitive history (Legends and Leaders) before going with geography. I’d say another look under the hood on this is doubtful, but Kevin Warren will start his reign as Big Ten commissioner on Sept. 16. Jim Delany is around until January 2020.

So, there could be some change.

I doubt Warren goes after divisions during his first tour. I’d say the nine-game league schedule would be the first thing to be examined (and hopefully shot into space, the home game thing is crossovers all over again, a built-in advantage due to the schedule).

Whatever happens, I don’t see crossovers replacing bona fide rivals in November. There are too many good things going on.

 

 

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This is the residue of back-to-back reigns by incompetent head coaches. The Nevada contract was probably agreed to sometime during Darrell Hazell’s run (2013-16). The Boilermakers were 9-33 under Hazell.

To use the George Costanza “hands” thing, you need them even if you’re a Power 5 school hunting for non-conference games with Group of 5s. You have to be able to pay for a two-for-one. The Big Ten had yet to start kicking out $50 million a year at this point, too, so money was probably a factor.

There’s a line of demarcation in the Big Ten. Some schools have to travel for non-conference road games, presumably because they can’t afford or are reluctant to “buy” games. This year, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland and Wisconsin will do that. Wisconsin? I don’t know why the Badgers traveled to South Florida (Tampa) in week 1. Maybe recruiting?

No, I don’t ever see Iowa hitting the road for another non-conference road game that isn’t in Ames. Iowa can afford $600,000 to $1 million for non-conference one-offs. Iowa AD Gary Barta is on record with Iowa needing the seven home games (he always leaves the door open for neutral site, but it’s been seven years since the last one, so that’s just empty rheotric).

The Hawkeyes’ trip to Miami (Ohio) in 2002 was the result of a three-for-one that then-AD Bob Bowlsby made happen. I don’t see that happening ever again.

 

 

I have two for the first question.

The quarterback position seems like one of those deals you can’t talk someone out of. A lot of these guys are simply born to do it. Leadership, charisma, the skill to spin it, these are gifts and they are intoxicating. Everyone should want to play quarterback. It’s the ultimate.

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I would’ve tried like crazy to talk Jake Christensen into playing safety. It wouldn’t have worked. He was deeply invested in being a QB. It was a family birthright thing and in his blood.

Does anyone remember that Christensen set strength and quickness records for Iowa QBs? This was 2007ish, so maybe they’re still around, maybe not. We don’t get to see those very often.

 
 

Christensen had above average quickness and strength. I think he would’ve made a great free safety. Smart, strong and determined. The trick would’ve been talking him out of QB. No way that was happening.

The other is a QB, too. A.J. Derby would’ve been an all-American tight end. I liked the move to linebacker. I still think his best position might’ve been defensive end. But there’s his legit NFL tight end resume that screams he should’ve been a TE at Iowa. But again, the intoxication of QB. I get it.

This year? I have very little evidence to base this on, but I feel like Geno Stone has Micah Hyde ball skills. I’d engage that. Probably at running back. Believe it or not, I’m moving toward the idea of “positionless” players.

Amani Jones at fullback. I like Jones on the edge, but why not. Since we’re playing fantasy football, let’s give wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette a snap or two as wildcat QB.

 

 

This is a great observation. I thought Iowa was a little soft on the edge vs. Miami.

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I don’t think we, all of us Iowa observers, gave much notice to the breaking in of two new safeties. I’m counting D.J. Johnson, the cash safety, as a safety. He’s a redshirt freshman playing in his first games. And same for for free safety Kaevon Merriweather.

So, if the free safety is new and his job is to position linebackers for run fits, there might be some confusion. And Merriweather has said his communication needs to improve.

His teammates have to hear him make the calls. Maybe that was part of it. The outside linebacker has alley responsibility for a lot of plays. Ben Niemann is a Kansas City Chief because he was tremendous with that responsibility at Iowa. Nick Niemann is the outside linebacker this year. He seemed fine against Miami, but there are substitutions going on and maybe that’s a factor in how the linebackers see the game.

When edge play breaks down, Kirk Ferentz freaks out. He can’t stand it. It is basic football. Miami wasn’t going to beat Iowa running the ball, but Iowa has plenty of teams on its schedule that can do that.

I imagine this made defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s list.

 

 

Ferentz was adamant this week that Toren Young isn’t in there to do fullback stuff.

“He’d probably go on strike if that happened or threaten to quit, but no, it’s just a joke,” Ferentz said. “To play fullback for us, that means like basically you’re relinquishing all rights to touch the ball, so no, he’s not making that transition.”

So, why? I think it’s mostly just a thing, window dressing, something to make a DC think about the possibilities. But I also think it’s this: T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are in the NFL. Iowa can’t sign a free agent (it tried with former Rutgers TE Travis Vokolek, who ended up transferring to Nebraska), so the inventory of playmakers on the roster leads you to running back, where Iowa has maybe four players who can do the job.

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Why not get two RBs on the field? Sargent and Young are two of Iowa’s best playmakers on offense. How could this formation work? I’d guess there could be more impact in short passing, but Young threw blocks like a fullback vs. Miami.

 

 

I’m #TeamNEZ. First off, the press box sucks. Can’t hear anything. Can’t see the sideline. Nowhere to put your crap. The person who was in charge of the Kinnick press box design hated the media and stuck it to us at every turn. That’s truth, trust me.

I’d feel that way about any press box, though. Except Camp Randall, which turns into an amusement park ride during at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

I’d encourage all Iowa fans to check out the view from the north end zone. You’re looking down on the field. Yes, it’s up there, but the view of the field, which is the thing, is tremendous.

 
 

I’d totally do the north end zone under the scoreboard. The fancy rec room area is fine, but the upper deck is the place to watch. My No. 2 would be the outdoor club seats between the goal lines.

The press box is fine because I have to work and stuff. If I were a paying fan, I’d want way up in the north end zone.

 

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Brian Ferentz still likes the ISO play, so I believe that’s why the fullback is still around. They have one job and that’s block a linebacker on a lead play.

And you know what? It still works. Mark is totally right. I thought Iowa looked as confident and executed as well as maybe it ever has with run plays out of 11 (one back, one TE) and 11 shotgun. I had 13 rushes for 89 yards. If Iowa can get to a point where it’s running effectively and consistently out of 11 shotgun? Book Indy. That’s a lot of unpredictability that you won’t be able to keep up with (OK, maybe Michigan State, I am impressed).

How did Iowa do with two backs? Keep in mind, this wasn’t always with the fullback. There were a handful of plays with two running backs, and that also showed up in garbage time with Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin on the field together.

Two backs worked against Miami. I had 20 rushes for 111 yards and two TDs (I included two goal line 23 personnels — two backs, three TEs).

Iowa likes the ISO. By the way, when Kirk Ferentz was squelching the “Young as fullback” thing, he mentioned they have two or three young fullbacks they like.

Fullback isn’t going anywhere. Brady Ross played 23 snaps last week. My expectation is around that many depending on game plan.

 

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I don’t think so. I did see Riley Moss on crutches and so that looks like a weeks thing. I saw Brents this week. He wasn’t walking with a limp, but Ferentz did say a couple more weeks for him.

Those two are more corners than anything. I’m sure Moss got a look at cash; I know Brents did. Parker started talking about D.J. Johnson at the position all the way back to the Outback Bowl. Johnson came through spring and held the job.

Last week, lack of cash wasn’t personnel, it was what Miami showed. The RedHawks played with a running back and tight end (11 personnel) most of the night. If you see a tight end, that’s usually going to mean 4-3 and outside linebacker. Not always. The pattern last week seemed to be third-and-6 or more kept the cash on the field.

Backup cash? Great question. I know Michael Ojemudia got a look, but I don’t see Parker moving one of his most experienced corners around. That generally invites overthinking and trouble. (See the Steele Jantz game.)

When Brents is healthy, does he get a look? It felt like last week Parker wasn’t happy with 4-2-5 and just defaulted into 4-3 basic. There could be some growing pains without Amani Hooker. Wait, there will be growing pains without Amani Hooker.

 

 

Yeah, I went right to that. I think a lot of people did. It’s week 1, Josh. Let’s see how it plays out. I did get the sense that Epenesa was frustrated, but his answer was “I have to get used to that.”

 
 

Frankly, I’m not sure that’s a fix. It is an easy conclusion to reach. I really can’t remember the last defensive lineman Iowa moved around. Frankly, I can’t think of any.

Let’s see how Iowa’s stunt game develops. Epenesa affects the game without putting up a stat. Teams know where he is every passing down. I threw out the idea of moving Epenesa around. I’m sure that it’s not as easy as that. Also, something like that would probably change the structure of Iowa’s defense, mainly escape lanes for a QB.

I wouldn’t rule this out, I just can’t think of precedent and I’ve been around for 20 years.

 

 

“6-4: A man’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.”

I love this question, but my answer has always been the same. I’ll always be fascinated by 6-4. First, the score was 6-4!! Second, the emotional content in the game runs deep with me, especially after I lost my dad during the 2016 season.

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Everyone’s situation is different. I felt like I was falling down a well and couldn’t do anything to break the fall, but I was still at Penn State the next week. Totally felt out of place.

Beyond that — and I’m certain this idea will be stolen, so I probably shouldn’t mention it — Ferentz used to give out a ton of nicknames. Nothing fancy. Stuff like “Scooter” and “Stinky” and adding “er” to the guy’s last name.

I’d take the lore over the big moments.

 

 

That’s really hard for me to track on the TV angle. I kind of leave coverages and routes alone because I can’t review them with certainty. The person who figures out how to mass distribute all-22 football video will be the next Mark Cuban.

I can tell you this: According to Pro Football Focus, Iowa’s top three routes in 2018 were “go” (16 percent), “out” (15 percent) and hitches (14). For the “Iowa doesn’t work the middle of the field” crowd, there’s a reason for you to think that. The difference between a hitch and a comeback is which way the receiver makes his break, the sideline or the middle of the field. Iowa ran a lot of hitches in 2018. Comebacks, the one you break to the middle of the field. were 2 percent of what it tried last year.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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