Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: Good arguments for Mekhi Sargent to ascend to RB1

Lots of questions on Big Ten officiating; can Iowa's defense avoid the slow death this week?

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent (10) tries to avoid Maryland Terrapins linebacker Isaiah Davis (22) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes running back Mekhi Sargent (10) tries to avoid Maryland Terrapins linebacker Isaiah Davis (22) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

It was 18 hours last Saturday night on the Big Ten highway. Interstate 74, you are a cold, gray ribbon.

Sturgill came on and it all worked out.

“That’s the way it goes in this day and age. You ain’t gotta read between the lines, you just gotta turn the page. Well, the most outlaw thing that I’ve ever done was give a good woman a ring.

“But that’s the way it goes, life ain’t fair and the world is mean.”

Let’s #PaintedTower mailbag.

 

I’ve been on this channel for a couple of weeks, Josh.

Mekhi Sargent showed me everything I needed to see at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ D-line went to work on the Iowa offense. Sargent helped the Hawkeyes come up for air a little bit in the fourth quarter and finished with 91 rushing yards and a 15-yard reception.

He had 39 yards and two TDs at Purdue last week. He did get hit with a holding penalty, but he’s been Iowa’s best pass-blocking RB.

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We don’t get to see camp. Straight football answers have come easier for Kirk Ferentz this year, but I’m not sure we dug down to how forcefully Ivory Kelly-Martin might’ve won the job out of camp.

What if camp wasn’t close? What if it was Kelly-Martin and the other two and yada yada? I kind of feel like Kelly-Martin has gotten that look. It feels like he earned it coming out of camp.

I’ve covered the NFL combine the last four or five years. It’s fantastic for someone who’s interested in how the Play-Doh becomes a football team. The term “availability” really hit me last year.

That’s not only can a player make it to the game, but can they practice? Can they learn and show what they need to know going into the next game? Can they lift, work out, all that stuff?

Through no fault of his own, availability has stung Kelly-Martin this year. Ankle, concussion, ankle and now an ankle that he says is OK heading into Saturday’s game against Northwestern.

Kelly-Martin has missed Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Indiana. He was limited to five carries at Penn State. That’s too much missed time to stake a claim at the position.

It kind of feels like the staff is waiting for the hot hand to emerge. Circumstances haven’t allowed that to show up much if at all this year. Kelly-Martin has two 20-carry games. Toren Young has 20- and 19-carry games.

“Circumstances” is game situation and what the relative strengths of this offense are. You know it’s the passing game.

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Sargent has been Iowa’s most elusive and available back. Give him the keys. His high on carries this year is 16 at Penn State. He got 91 yards. That’s as hot of a hand as there is for Iowa’s running game.

Iowa was going to be a running back short this year, but it found Sargent in the summer. Iowa signed freshman Henry Geil last year. It felt the running back depth chart for 2018 was something the staff wrestled with a little bit.

Ferentz was asked about running back depth on signing day. He said wide receivers Samson Evans and Tyrone Tracy might get a look.

“We have a couple of guys in mind, Tracy and Evans both have the ability to run the football,” Ferentz said. “We’ll figure all that stuff out this summer. But I think we have some guys in the class, if we didn’t feel that way, we probably would have looked at taking another back. We did consider that but we felt we had the right guys.”

It’s felt like this all season.

To Scott’s question about RB1 next year ... great, great question. I’m not sure if I have a great answer. I’d open it up. I’d see what incoming freshman Tyler Goodson has and I’d recruit another running back. I still think IKM can be the No. 1. He needs to stay healthy.

 

Iowa does not have a grass practice field.

The last time the turf changed was 2009. Let’s go from there.

You’re basically talking about Iowa State, Purdue, Michigan State and Penn State, at least on Iowa’s schedule. Since 2009, with an Outback Bowl thrown in, I have Iowa at 13-11.

 

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I think a 9-3 Iowa makes the Citrus Bowl. I think that’s probably what happens. It could get jumbled. Maybe Michigan State rises out of the East. Penn State is sinking fast. I think the Nittany Lions get the Holiday Bowl.

Michigan goes to the CFP. Ohio State goes to the Rose Bowl. Could Northwestern with a Big Ten title game appearance on its resume shove Iowa down a peg? The Big Ten probably doesn’t do that.

I’m thinking Citrus. Matchup? Maybe Kentucky.

 

I always think the clock is ticking for teams facing a road game. There’s a certain time when all of the gear has to go into the semi. Your regular schedule is hindered. I think those little inconveniences maybe add up to “I’ve got to worry about that, too?”

But major college football programs pay people to deal with those headaches.

One thing that exacerbates this, in my opinion, is how November sets up when you’ve had your bye in September. From Purdue on Nov. 3 to Nebraska on Nov. 23, it’s four games in not much more than three weeks. That’s a grind.

I think this is the time of year flesh gets torn off every team and you just see what it really is. November didn’t start great, but Iowa has three weekends to change your mind.

 

Do I see Iowa blitzing more? No, probably not.

It feels like every year I do a really focused look at NU’s O-line, I think Iowa is up for a big sack day. I’m usually wrong.

The explosiveness of Purdue’s passing game impressed my eyebrows off. The timing was fantastic, too. Iowa’s front four couldn’t get there quickly enough. It was a hugely frustrating component of the game. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa broke it down perfectly with, basically, “it’s really frustrating seeing the ball just go up in the air.”

I expect Iowa to be sharper in coverage this week. Riley Moss and Julius Brents will be a lot better. Purdue’s speed was a tough matchup for Iowa. I really think if Moss runs through that first big TD, he makes that play or contests it much better.

I expect Northwestern to attack Iowa in a similar way. The Wildcats will try a quick passing game. Iowa has to disrupt it, whether it’s with pass rush or tight coverage. Does Iowa try something different up front? Does it get out of the 2 gap and get to something with a little more motion? Especially with the Cats not being a great running team?

The “this is what we do” stuff is just choosing to die a slow death. Quit making that point and find another vine to swing on. The slow deaths don’t look very fun for the team, and I know they’re driving fans nuts.

 

I lean A, but let’s get into it.

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It’s a great prelude if QB Nate Stanley and TE T.J. Hockenson don’t make the jump to the NFL. I’m already waving TE Noah Fant around the bases. That’s not official, but Fant gets to the combine, he’s going to blow up. All it takes is getting to the combine. If I’m him, I can’t wait to get out there and run a 4.57 40 and vertically leap 42 inches.

I think Stanley sticks. Hockenson? I’m not going to speculate. Let’s see how the NFL draft advisory thing goes in December.

Defensively? Iowa will be better if safety Amani Hooker comes back. I think safety is a tricky draft position. I lean stay, but I’m just guessing. Again, let’s see what the draft advisory board says. Defensive end Anthony Nelson? Let’s file him with Hockenson. Let’s wait and see. If he comes back, I think he’d be a major awards candidate.

A lot needs to play out before I can even start thinking about 2019, but O-line? Who’s the center? Can the inside match what I expect to be an excellent pair of OTs? Do they have a 1,000-yard running back? Wide receiver without Nick Easley? What is it?

Iowa needs development at defensive tackle. You’d like linebacker to be less fluid and have more of an impact. Safety is fine. I think Iowa has corners, it just needs to figure out the best two.

Special teams? Let’s leave that for spring.

I’ve been positive on 2019 Iowa on the podcast for a while now. I think it could be KF’s last year and I think the Hawkeyes could end up in Indy. The schedule is much tougher — I think that’s also some of the angst you’re feeling, the 2018 schedule put it on a tee for the Hawkeyes — with every game that raises on eyebrow happening on the road.

Really, it’s OK to feel like 2018 is a missed opportunity, especially given the last two weeks. Let’s see if they dig out of it. I’ll always believe 10 wins is a big damn deal at Iowa. Anymore, eight isn’t enough. It’s treading water. Everyone has been there, done that.

 

Yep, I wrote about this on Tuesday. Talked with Fant and Hockenson. They mentioned stemming routes, squaring routes off vs. man coverage, chopping hands and arms off them.

They mainly talked about being tight ends and feeling like LeBron going down the lane and getting hacked to death. I loved the parts where they said they’re not looking for a call or help from officials, but, yeah, it’d be nice to get one of those flags once in a while.

I thought that was a very honest answer. Totally appreciated that.

More stuff on what they can do from Hockenson: “It’s happened all year, it was just a little more emphasized last week. They (Purdue) did a good job. There’s nothing else you can say.”

Is it auto racing that has the line “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’?” I’ve definitely reached that conclusion this year. I can handle cheat techniques. That’s playing the game. I’m done with college basketball because the cheating in that sport happens in places you can’t see. I feel awful for schools that do it right. I’d whistleblow the hell out of it.

I digress.

Does Bobby Knighting referees work in football? I don’t think it does. Sound has an impact in a gym. You can’t hear what is said on a football sideline. I hope it stays that way. Going to be a lot of awkward apologies if sidelines get mic’d.

 

I think he’d laugh and then I’d probably ask, “Hey, at least it was a flip. You can relate to that, right?” He’d snort and have a funny line ready.

I do think KF and I could make comedy.

I’m still a little surprised KF didn’t immediately have Colten Rastetter strapped to a rocket and shot into space after the non-called fake punt vs. Ohio State last year.

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You know what? Give the 63-year-old coach credit for sense of time and place and being able to weigh how heavy things are in the moment.

I think there is some lightening up. I don’t think there can be enough lightening up of KF for a cellphone celebration to be well received. I’m going to go out on that limb.

 

Very upset. I’ve seen all but one of his postgames. I’ve never heard that.

That was building, though. He tracked down the head official (dude in the white hat) at halftime. Iowa had to wait on the field while Purdue walked up its inflated tunnel (ah, the majesty of college football). Refs stood between the Hawkeyes and Boilers. Ferentz used this moment to get a few words in.

And then the second half happened. I don’t fault Purdue at all. Every position coach should tell his players to play as close to the edge as possible until stuff starts getting called. It never got called. Advantage Purdue.

What else can the Big Ten do? It pays maybe $3,000 to officiate a Big Ten football game. Maybe two or three crews of “full-time” officials? No, then the schools that didn’t get full-timers would have a legit complaint.

I think this: Officials’ No. 1 is game management. Get that sucker done in three hours. That leaves a lot of penalties on the table. You’re used to that part by now. This isn’t a eureka.

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How about holding, both ways, isn’t a penalty anymore? It’s kind of ridiculous to let it go and then suddenly see it. Ferentz had a point on that last week. That was 55 minutes without holding and then Iowa got two on a drive in the fourth quarter. Switch jerseys, same thought stands. That’s incredibly inconsistent.

I think that was the crux of KF’s complaint last week. Fant wasn’t held on the goal line, but Brents’ deal was a PI?

We are running out of officials. It is an incredibly difficult job. I’ve talked with a ton of these guys. They take the job super seriously. They can’t drink beer on Fridays before games. That’d kill me.

That said, take a step back and let’s examine the logic and frequency of calls. Otherwise, nothing changes, officials continue to dwindle and inconsistencies ruin half of someone’s Saturdays.

 

Nope, can’t blame players for entering the draft and getting paid. That is the whole point. Anyone who isn’t comfortable with this arrangement will probably like college football a lot less in the future.

The NFL is a flaming bag of poo as far as headlines go. Player acquisition stems those headlines. So, why not carve a year off the college eligibility rule? Why not make it two years and out? I hope that doesn’t happen, but plausible, in my opinion.

Going into the year, I was good with corner. I thought Matt Hankins would stab that job and make it his. I wondered about Michael Ojemudia. I thought he had questions to answer. I’m not throwing out Riley Moss. He’s a competitor with a lot of what you need to be a good corner. Purdue has speed the rest of the Big Ten doesn’t. Here’s what I heard coming out of the Purdue locker room: Terry Wright is faster than Rondale Moore. The guy who had three TDs against the Hawkeyes is faster than the most exciting player in the Big Ten this season? OK then. There will be better days, starting this weekend.

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I did wonder about the OL. I think the running backs share in 2018’s shortcomings in the running game. It has had Iowa out of its comfort zone the last two seasons.

With Josh Jackson, maybe Iowa wins at Purdue. With James Daniels, maybe Iowa gets a first down at Penn State that helps it run out the clock. This is all fantasy football.

I also wondered about team speed on defense. I think Iowa always has to be conscious of that.

 

This is a veiled reference to me cutting my foot on Sunday.

My wife bought a loaf of pumpernickel (oh goodness, nerdly life details). It was too fresh to slice at the store. I used a butcher’s knife. It slipped out of my hands and fell to the floor.

Where my foot was.

Blood everywhere. Gushing out. I’m here to tell you kitchen accidents happen fast. This is no joke!

Anyway, after a few “This is my life nows,” my wife got the direct pressure going and I’m waddling around with airplane glue on my foot.

I guess that makes me 3-6 this season.

 

“Barely off-track ship.” I think you’ve nailed what Iowa is right now. It needs to redo the GPS and I think that’s really it. This is a good team that has lost tough games. It has three games left.

These are red-blooded, prideful dudes. Of course, win as many games as possible and sort it out.

And, by the way, somewhere along the line, we've all forgotten that 2003 and 2004 were nine-win regular seasons. We just remember them as 10-win regular season because the Hawkeyes closed them out with impressive bowl wins.

I think Iowa can get that. Northwestern is vulnerable. It’s not a great Northwestern team, but what did I tweet a few weeks ago? Northwestern can fall down stairs for three hours in a game, come out of the tuck and win. It just has that and it might be enough. It has been enough before against the Hawkeyes. Check last year.

Illinois is not a serious football program right now.

Nebraska is interesting. I want to say the Huskers get more and more interesting every week. I’m sorry, Iowa fans, but I think you feel that, too.

I’m not saying the Huskers are “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” but Iowa looked awfully vulnerable on defense against Purdue last week.

 

I don’t know. I’d imagine there’s a process that includes paperwork and makes it look like everything was thoroughly reviewed.

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Couple of things: An independent evaluator (NFL official) grades every play. The head referee reviews the grades with Jerry Markbreit or Dean Blandino (this was a few years ago, it might’ve changed).

If a crew totally stinks, the Big Ten has sat it for a week.

There’s a process in place. It’s much more extensive than you’d think. The league spends $1 million a year in training officials. There’s incentives to be good. The better you are, the better the assignments, the better the money.

And they’re still going to get stuff wrong. If you guys are still bitter about last week, check to see if Michael Cannon’s crew is out for a game this weekend. His crew did Iowa-Purdue. My guess is that crew gets a game and ...

wait for it ... the Big Ten could do itself a favor by at least looking transparent, but it always adds this line to anything the league issues on these sort of things ...

“The Big Ten considers this matter closed and will have no further comment.”

I guess it has to do that. Otherwise, we’d be talking about officiating all day. Kind of like we just did.

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

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