Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: Hello, Wisconsin!

It's not all or nothing, but it sure feels like it this week

It’s #PaintedTower mailbag time. Let’s see if it has a championship feel to it.

 

Let’s go over some of the recent scores and yardage totals and see if we can’t see a shootout.

The 2014 game was 26-24. It had otherworldly performances from UW running back Melvin Gordon and Iowa QB Jake Rudock. Gordon rushed 31 times for 200 yards and a pair of TDs. Iowa threw out the game plan and Rudock completed 20 of 30 for 311 yards and a pair of TDs. It was the last 300-yard performance for an Iowa QB until Nate Stanley put up 333 yards against Iowa State last season.

Saturday night, it’s Jonathan Taylor and Stanley in those chairs.

In 2010’s 31-30 Badgers win, 258 of the Hawkeyes’ 376 yards came through the air. Ricky Stanzi completed 25 of 37 for 258 yards and three TDs to no picks.

But here’s why no shootout: Of course, Dave Aranda, now the highest-paid coordinator in the land for LSU, brought his version of a 3-4 defense to Madison in 2013. He left. A couple other people left. Now, Jim Leonhard runs the Aranda 3-4 and it’s become the defense to beat in the Big Ten West.

Here’s how Iowa has handled the Aranda 3-4:

2013 — 289 total yards, 9 points, 110 yards rushing

2014 — 412 total yards, 24 points, 101 yards rushing

2015 — 221 total yards, 10 points, 144 yards rushing

2016 — 236 total yards, 9 points, 83 yards rushing

2017 — 66 total yards, 0 points (12 points for Josh Jackson, two for Miguel Recinos), 25 yards rushing

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The Hawkeyes have averaged 244.8 yards, 10.4 points and 92.6 rushing yards against the Aranda Badgers 3-4 of doom.

I’d give a shootout as much chance as setting a muskie free in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Never know, but the bottom line is Iowa hasn’t cracked Wisconsin’s Aranda defense. It hasn’t cracked it for average performances out of what Iowa does organically.

BYU scored on a WR pass. It’s probably time for some unconventional thinking. One size hasn’t fit all against this Badgers’ defense.

Jeffrey, “Woodshed” tear sheet headed your way.

 

Agree on the circling. This is a pride game for Iowa’s offensive staff.

Think about Brian Ferentz’s ride through this. As a player at Iowa, Brian Ferentz and the Hawkeyes traded punches with the Badgers. In his first season as offensive coordinator, it was four quarters of fetal position. Brian is not one to quietly eat the plate of crap and ask for another one, I think we all can agree on that.

Think about O-line coach Tim Polasek. He recruits the state of Wisconsin in Iowa gear. He’s a Wisconsinite. He was the O-line coach for 66 yards of total offense. You think he wants to rip off that T-shirt? I think he wants to tear it off and take it on the boat just in case nature calls. Anglers know where this is going. (Don’t call on bye week, I’ll put up taking docks out and trying for a fall muskie.)

Stanley is a different cat when it comes to sweating this personal stuff. He leaves that at the door. His lifetime of sports training has included plenty of sticky situations as a QB, on the mound as a pitcher and at the free-throw line as Menomonie’s career-scoring leader.

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Don’t get me wrong. If Stanley is sitting across from you at trivia night, he’s going to be wearing that T-shirt when the scores are totaled. There’s a monster competitor in there. He doesn’t seem to internalize this stuff. Basically, he’s a test pilot who can maintain low BP even when the plane is starting to break apart.

You heard RB Toren Young this week. He’s a Madison-area running back who didn’t get sniff from the Badgers. That’s just old-school football grudge. And, hey, if it helps fuel a 230-pound running back in a knuckle game, put it in your tank.

Tom, tear sheet for you.

 

I’m sorry, but no way David Byrne and Tina Weymouth care about defensive lines.

Oh, talking heads not capitalized. (Sorry for the lame new wave joke.)

My general take is this: Clemson and Ohio State have defensive linemen their fans have been following since they committed however many years ago.

They have the “starred” players. Iowa has Parker Hesse and Sam Brincks, self-made guys whose recruiting rankings didn’t mean a damn thing to them when they were being recruited, when they first stepped in the weight room to now.

This is how Iowa has to build. Get a few stars (Anthony Nelson, A.J. Epenesa, these types), get a few starred recruits and fill in with able leaders like Hesse, Brincks and Matt Nelson.

If Reese Morgan/Kelvin Bell keep this setup going into next year, the dividends the Hawkeyes will earn from Hesse, Brincks and Matt Nelson will be bountiful.

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Clemson and Ohio State have huge media followings. The national media laps up whatever they say (it’s the power of ratings and returning phone calls). Those two teams command more media blah, blah, blah. That’s what national titles do for you.

You know Iowa’s D-line has a chance to really be huge for the Hawkeyes this year. You enjoy that. Everyone else might catch up at some point.

And, really, just let soulless Ohio State be soulless Ohio State. Be happy your coach doesn’t have to keep his story straight.

 

Yes, actually.

I still haven’t picked Saturday night’s game, so I haven’t run scenarios beyond the Wisconsin game.

Going into the Wisconsin game, my view is this: Wisconsin’s loss to BYU is going to make it tough for any Big Ten West Division team to advance to the CFP. The Badgers will have to win the Big Ten title game. Same goes for Iowa. Same deal as 2015.

The Big Ten West has collapsed in three weeks. That cool-looking Northwestern-Purdue game on opening night? Those teams are a combined 1-5. Nebraska can still be interesting, but it needs QB Adrian Martinez to be healthy. Minnesota is interesting at 3-0. Let’s put a pin in that one. Illinois is locked in a fight for relevance. Good luck to the Illini.

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It’s not 2015 if the Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin, but it’s not not 2015. I really believe Kirk Ferentz put a ton on these first four weeks and having this Iowa team as good as it can be in September. If it all comes together Saturday night, time for you to start dreaming big.

 

I don’t see Iowa taking a lot of risks early. That’s not been the MO. The Iowa-Wisconsin game is a marathon and not a sprint.

Watching ESPN’s Steve Levy smile without using his eyes during Iowa’s 10-6 win at Wisconsin in 2015 is this game, is this series. ESPN wants cool games. Iowa and Wisconsin isn’t cool. It puts a heavy emphasis on ground control and defense.

It’s not a game you trot out the Evel Knievel play unless you’ve drilled it to the hilt and KF has signed off on it in triplicate.

I thought Michigan 2016 was a controlled game plan. Remember, that was a Greg Davis game plan. I thought Ohio State 2017 was simply an Iowa game plan that Ohio State did a terrible job of defending.

This game doesn’t set up that way. This is a game where the coin toss matters (seriously, that 50/50 deal might be the closest thing to a gamble in this game).

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So now the question is what has Iowa built in the first three games on offense? Depth on the O-line. Anything else? Anything consistent? No? There might be an Evel Knievel play. If Iowa is counting on that to turn the tables, this game is over. That’s not how Iowa is going to beat Wisconsin.

MSU 2010 is a long time ago. The variables that team had to work with compared to this season’s are different. And I really think OSU was more OSU stepping on its cape and Iowa executing the game plan.

 

It needs to be Ivory Kelly-Martin or Toren Young or Mekhi Sargent and the sooner the better.

It’s not completely necessary for an Iowa back to hit 100 yards this week. That would help take the thinking out of the playbook. Something too cutesy in this game usually gets sent back to the kitchen. If you have a hot hand in the backfield, feed it.

Young in the second half of the opener was the closest we’ve come to seeing that hot hand in the Iowa backfield this season.

 

Chop block is a legit penalty. Iowa had one vs. ISU. You can’t engage a defender high-low with two blockers. That’s been a penalty for a long time.

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Ferentz’s beef is with the tackle box, when the RB leaves it and squaring up for a cut block.

I think it’s a fight for blocking-tackling football — old man football, if you will. A lot of the rules changes or rules debates have gone toward spread offenses that use pace. This rule keeps defenders on their feet at the second level. It will make it difficult for Iowa to break big runs.

When Ferentz said Tuesday that they can’t cut block on the second level, that was a coach giving ground that he sees as important. Should a defender be able to set up shop in the middle of the field and not have to worry about paying a price for being in the middle?

Maybe this plays out like roughing penalties in hockey for hanging out in the crease. I expect Iowa to take a few more of these. Maybe the result there at least might be a linebacker with his head on a swivel against the Hawkeyes because the Hawkeyes are fine with taking a 15-yarder.

I know that sounds stupid. I can see Iowa editing that out for a game like this, where 15-yard penalties can turn it. But just having that threat might influence a defensive player.

 

Great observations.

I think holding UW to less than 150 rushing yards. With that number, you have maybe two explosive rushing plays and if those aren’t TD runs, maybe Iowa can survive 150 yards rushing.

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Now, depending what Iowa’s offense is doing, that could be the number that Iowa wins or loses with. The sack number? I think both teams will want to use the passing game as an addition to the running game. Whichever team ends up doing that, probably wins.

You can practice scheme all you want vs. Wisconsin, it’s the Badger heaviness that gets you. You see it when Iowa is in control. Those fourth-quarter blocks get heavier and heavier. The yards per carry doesn’t even have to be great, as long as time is coming off the clock.

 

That’s not weird at all, Jay.

Wisconsin is the only team on Iowa’s schedule on a yearly basis that draws a clear line of success with a victory. Win, first place in the West. Win, hold the tiebreaker over the other really good team in the West. Win, beat your main conference rival. Win, you get to carry a steer statue around Kinnick and high five fans.

You can’t say that against, say, Minnesota.

I’m not good at the “most anticipated” thing, but I’m not going to argue with anyone on that. That’s up to the beholder.

 

@lucasjchristain — Over/Under 5.5 passes to RB/FB in Wisconsin game?

That’s probably the number, Lucas.

It feels like Iowa wants to do more of that, but it has to establish the running game first. Stanley has left some money on the table with the RBs, but the RBs need to hold up their end. It’s felt early on their job in the passing game has mostly been protection.

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Maybe that switch flips this week. Can it be a game changer? I have my doubts, but all it takes is one explosive play and maybe that’s the field goal that wins it.

 

War Daddies for sure.

There’s too much sorting with Orcs. Sure, there’s a big one every once in a while, but War Daddies are all big and hate holding.

Thanos probably would be a great D-lineman. The Thing, heck yes. I’ve always though The Hulk was more of a guard. How about soccer hooligans as D-linemen? Let’s grow the game, Goodell.

 

Here’s the criteria from the UI website: To be considered for inclusion on the Kinnick Stadium Wall of Honor, former UI football players must be a member of the UI Varsity Club Hall of Fame, and meet one of the following three criteria: 1. Member of both the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame and the Helms Athletic Foundation Hall of Fame* 2. Member of one of the two above mentioned nationally recognized Halls of Fame, and a consensus All-American 3. Two-time Consensus All-American.

Don’t worry about the Helms thing, it no longer exists.

So, in my opinion, maybe former cornerback Desmond King has the best shot. But really, you won’t see anyone’s name going up until you see Kirk Ferentz Hawkeyes start making the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

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That’s the only way King is going to get there. Same for Brandon Scherff, Robert Gallery. Bob Sanders, Chad Greenway, or anyone else.

King would have to wait at least five years beyond his football playing career to earn a spot on that ballot. King is in his second year with the Los Angeles Chargers.

I’m thinking Iowa would like to get another name up there. Best bets are former all-Americans who have a shot at the NFF Hall of Fame.

 

Agree on the box thing. The Badgers are going to make it exceedingly difficult to run the ball.

Stanley has the arm talent. I think he’s proven that. Footwork, vision, going through progressions, that’s been the hard part so far this season. I don’t expect that to improve appreciably against the Badgers. They won’t allow it.

Iowa’s WRs and TEs also have to come along for this ride. The most consistent element in Iowa’s passing game so far has been TE T.J. Hockenson. Every play Iowa’s WRs make in this is like worth double for the Hawkeyes.

And I think it was more than four drops in the first two games.

 

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I’m going with KF as Hannibal. Fran McCaffery is Murdock. B.A. Baracus is tough, because it was Mr. T. Hmmm. Hard to beat Chris Doyle there, but let’s go with McCaffery. Face? I think you’ve locked that one down. I might also nominate David Raih for that one.

 

I have a feeling it’s going to have to be Stanley.

 

Iowa needs more of it.

I’ve been working under the theory that Kirk Ferentz really wants a clean September. I wondered if the bar wasn’t higher to get to the field. I really thought first-years like Tracy, Dallas Craddieth and D.J. Johnson might’ve gotten the green flag, but no because it’s been serious, serious football in the first three weeks.

Well, I was wrong. I asked KF that Tuesday and got a “not really.”

“With the new rule, if anything, we’re more tempted to play freshmen," Ferentz said. "We’re trying to win. Again, I think Saturday is a really good illustration of it. You look nationally, there are no gimmes. Those ‘gimme games’ they may happen. I can’t remember the last time we had one when we were going into one. We have tried to give ourselves the best chance to win, look like we can start getting some momentum, that type of thing. It’s an ongoing battle.

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“We’re going to put our best guys out there, whatever classification they may be, based on what we see in practice, how they’re performing, executing. Obviously health and those things factor into it, as well. We’re just trying to play one game at a time and win that game.”

On Tracy specifically: “He’s done some good things. We’re a little thin. We didn’t want to get somebody at that point in the game knocked out for a couple weeks here. We wanted to give him a chance. We were able to do it free, which was great. He actually made a play, which was better. Got up after he was nailed. That was good to see.”

If first-year players aren’t available (you know, hurt), I think it sets them back much more than a veteran player. Maybe we’re seeing some of that.

 

When I did that in the summer, I think I did underestimate how strongly people felt about Wisconsin 2015. It was in September. Iowa won and rode that wave to the only Big Ten West Division title that doesn’t have Wisconsin’s name on it.

So, yeah, a win this weekend would have a shot at maybe the top 10. Can’t just fixate on the games where the hardware is on the sideline. It’s hard not to, though.

 

Maybe. The crystal ball thing is tough for me right now on this topic. The variable we don’t know is so big — what will the market for media rights be in 2023 (after this current TV deal expires)?

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Is someone going to pay a lot of money for the rights to the Big Ten’s tent? Or is someone going to pay billions for TV rights and for streaming rights? Is that going to be one thing?

I love that Iowa has two Power Five football programs. My fear is that the next TV deal is more of an NFL setup, with maybe 35 or 40 schools involved in one big conference. I’m not sure both Iowa schools make that cut. And if they do, how would that look? This week, Florida State. Next week, Michigan.

Let’s not sweat that yet. There’s plenty to sweat Saturday night in Kinnick.

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

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.