Yeah. Vicious Electronic Questioning was already taken. So today we're going to do a little Malicious Internet Interrogation (wink wink) with Black Heart Gold Pants, SBNation's Iowa Hawkeye blog. If you don't read BHGP every day you might want to start. Those guys put out some of the funniest stuff you'll ever read. This is part one of the questioning. Go check out BHGP today as they will be posting a similar interview with me. I think you will find it very entertaining. Enjoy.
Penn State fans are crying in their beer after losing two games in a row. But then we look down the bar at the guy in the puke stained Drew Tate jersey and say "Thank God we're not that guy." You've lost three in a row and seven consecutive conference matches dating back to last year. The Hawkeyes were winning conference titles just a few years ago. What happened?
Sad over a two-game skid? You fools! You don't know what pain is, but we'll teach you... as we put the finishing touches on an 8-game conference skid, spread out over two seasons. Think of it as a Tiger Slam, except on the opposite end of the Suck Spectrum.
As for what has happened? Tough to say. Well, okay, it's tougher to answer "what hasn't happened?" The receiving corps has gone from dropping passes ('06) to dropping like flies ('07); the most experienced healthy receiver on the team is Trey Stross, he of 15 catches, 227 yards, and two touchdowns for his career. That's a slow half for James Hardy.
Our offensive line has also been plagued by injury, youth, and general haplessness. The stud prospects have been hit-and-miss, and the lightly recruited starters have been, well, misses. Indiana doesn't look like a collective group of slouches, especially on the defensive line, but there's something about giving up nine sacks to anybody that's just pathetic.
As far as the QB position goes, the stats don't tell the story. Jake Christensen is technically on pace for 22 touchdowns, 2500 yards, and only five picks, but the poor kid spends most of his time running for his life (often straight into a rush, which, frankly, is mystifying). He has been woefully ineffective since the first half of the Syracuse game. Truth be told, we would kill to have Anthony Morelli on our team. Re-read that sentence until blood pours out of your ears.
But really, as far as how a team can slide that far, from conference titles to laughingstock, it's clearly a bigger problem than just too few seniors on offense in a given year. Everyone's got their opinions (see axiom regarding those and posteriors), but clearly this is a problem at the institutional basis. There's an awfully large drumbeat of opposition to Ken O'Keefe at offensive coordinator, and considering the general disarray that the offense has usually found itself in this season, it's not altogether undeserved. Don't be surprised if Ferentz shakes things up at the end of the year, especially if the Hawkeyes are relegated to the Murder City Bowl--or worse.
Let's talk about Ferentz for a moment. It's widely speculated that 2008 will be Joe Paterno's last year at Penn State since that is when his current contract is scheduled to run out. Ferentz is widely rumored to be on the short list of possible candidates to take over along with Tom Bradley and Greg Schiano. It seems like his welcome in Iowa is running out and he's originally from Western Pennsylvania and has claimed he was a Penn State fan growing up. Do you think Ferentz would make a good replacement for Paterno? What was he successful and unsuccessful at doing in Iowa?
Well, Kirk has been in rumor mills ever since 2002, and he's repeatedly stated that he wasn't interested in leaving Iowa, no matter how many times the local media doubted his sincerity (talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy of doubt). Those rumors are drying up like Iowa's bowl hopes, though, so to hear that PSU may still want the guy must be a welcome gust in Kirk's sails. Kidding. I don't think Kirk would make that move, though; he doesn't seem like the type to make a move in-conference, no matter where he grew up. He's an Iowa kind of guy--understated, honest, and loyal. All admirable qualities, to be sure, but do they make a perfect coach? Much tougher question. That's part of what's made him unsuccessful recently-- the offense is not much differently stylistically from any other that Iowa's ran (the exception, of course, being the 2004 iteration, where the team suffered so many injuries at tailback that I was taking a few snaps back there, on account of having an old Ladell Betts jersey in my closet), and defensive coordinators know it. That's fine with a Robert Gallery and an Eric Steinbach on your line, but with a front five full of unheralded freshmen? Not so much. So it'll be important to see if Ferentz decides that the best way forward is without some of his closest allies, or how he decides to right the ship.
As for what he does best, he's a standup guy who runs a clean program--even if the players themselves can't keep themselves out of trouble. He rebuilt a program in shambles after Hayden's last few years, and did it by developing players from no-names and walkons to All-Americans (Sanders, Gallery, Clark, etc). With his improved recruiting then, ironically, has come this stunning lack of improvement and development. So it's a bit short-sighted to tell yourself that all Ferentz needs is a recruiting base like PA and the 11-win seasons will come flowing in. Would he be a good replacement for Paterno? Yeah, probably. Would he be a great representative of the university? You bet your ass. Would they be hoisting the crystal football in Happy Valley by January 2010? Doubt it.
Back when Iowa was winning Big Ten titles it seemed like Kirk Ferentz could have coached up Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis into first round offensive lineman draft picks. But in recent years the offensive line has struggled and this year the Hawkeyes are tenth in the conference in rushing yards and dead last in sacks allowed. Is Ferentz not who we thought he was or is there some other explanation? What is the cause of the struggles this year?
Frankly, sir, I am offended. How could you be so insensitive to the midget population when Brenden Perretta has been on your team for so long?
Here's the thing about those All-American linemen of yester-five-years-ago: when they were freshmen and sophomores, they were, ah, not so good. Robert Gallery was naught but an academic all-conference performer until his junior year. Same with Eric Steinbach. Bruce Nelson was only honorable mention in the Big 10 until his senior year. And during those first couple years while the guys were earning valuable experience (three words that universally inspire dread in the college football world), Iowa was going 1-10 and 3-9. So while the line doesn't look so hot right now, that's pretty much par for the course for young guys in Iowa's system.
Does that mean the cyclical nature of success for the Hawkeyes is more severe than in most programs? That's an optimistic way to look at it, especially in terms of 2009. There'll have to be another surge in work ethic, though, and as Kirk Ferentz has been chastising the Hawkeyes as "fat cats" since last season, it seems unlikely. They could use some serious leadership on the line right now.
What is that status of the Iowa passing game? You've had some injuries to the wide recievers that has forced you to play some young players. Jake Christensen has a pretty impressive stat line for a sophomore, but I get the impression you're not thrilled with him.
The stats were a shocker. But they're presented absent more pertinent stats like 3rd down conversion (25-80, or 31%) and sacks allowed (20). So it's nice that Jake can rack up 303 yards against Indiana's defense, but if he only converts 5 of 18 3rd downs and gets sacked 9 times, then his lack of picks thrown doesn't seem so impressive anymore.
A lot of it, though, does have to do with the young line and young receivers. Jake's having a lot of problems adjusting to constant pressure and kids who may or may not be running to where the playbook says they're supposed to be. Does that cast his ability as a quarterback into doubt? Maybe, but not as much as most people think it should. I do get the sense that he has a hard time making the adjustments to the game to put the team in position to win (checking down, keeping his receivers on the same page), so that's obviously a problem. Does it merit replacing him in the lineup? Of course not. Like you pointed out, statistically, he's not shabby; he just needs to be in more winnable positions, whether by his actions or those of his coaches.
According to the depth chart that Iowa released this week, linebacker Mike Klinkenborg and free safety Devan Moylan will not play. How big are their losses to the defense? And by the way, what kind of name is Klinkenborg? It sounds like a German Nazi robot or something. Joe used to fight them with his bare hands back in the Great War.
Iowa is going to miss Klinkenborg and his laser eyes (c'mon; Nazi robots HAVE to have laser eyes) on Saturday. He was the Iowa defensive MVP last year, and the Hawkeyes have given up 48 points in the five quarters that he's been out; conversely, they allowed only 25 in the 15 quarters in which he's played. So his presence is almost as big to Iowa's defensive success as making sure James Motherfucking Hardy is at least two states away.
Moylan is an interesting case. He's a walkon on his sixth year of eligibility, which is usually a red flag. But the guy's a solid tackler in space, which is critical at the safety spot. His replacement is Adam Shada, who had been rapidly improving as a cornerback. Shada's not great, but he's nowhere near the dropoff of Klinkenborg to 3rd string Bryon Gattas (the second-string MLB, true freshman Jacody Coleman, is slowed by a dinged up leg. Of course).
This should all be welcome news to Austin Scott, who can now look forward to advancing the ball past the Iowa 40 before coughing it up.
Scott always makes it past the 40. He usually fumbles on the 10. So maybe this week he makes it to the 5.
Since you brought up Indiana, what happened there? The Hawkeye defense was shutting down everyone and all the sudden Kellen Lewis looks like a Heisman winner. Was that due to all the injuries, or was that a function of Indiana's spread offense?
Terry Hoeppner gliding down from football heaven and deflecting the fumble into Kellen's hands for that 70-yard touchdown did not help either.