2010 Iowa Preview
Iowa S Tyler Sash
Iowa has the defense, the skill players, the coaches, and the schedule to get to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1990, but there can't be so many close calls. Can Tyler Sash and the Hawkeyes start finding ways to come up with easier wins? Check out the 2010 CFN Iowa Preview.
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Iowa has come achingly close to really, really big things, while also flirting with complete and utter disaster time and again, but it's time to tweak the plan. It's time to recalibrate just a wee bit, and it's time to adjust just enough to take some of the flake factor out of the mix.
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz
12th year: 81-55
15th year overall: 93-76
Off. 22, Def. 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Iowa Players
1. DE Adrian Clayborn, Sr.
2. SS Tyler Sash, Jr.
3. WR/KR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Sr.
4. QB Ricky Stanzi, Sr.
5. DE Broderick Binns, Jr.
6. DT Karl Klug, Sr.
7. WR Marvin McNutt, Jr.
8. P Ryan Donohue, Sr.
9. FS Brett Greenwood, Sr.
10. LB Jeremiha Hunter, Jr.
Sept. 4 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 11 Iowa State
Sept. 18 at Arizona
Sept. 25 Ball State
Oct. 2 Penn State
Oct. 9 OPEN DATE
Oct. 16 at Michigan
Oct. 23 Wisconsin
Oct. 30 Michigan State
Nov. 6 at Indiana
Nov. 13 at Northwestern
Nov. 20 Ohio State
Nov. 27 at Minnesota
The wins have started coming again in Iowa City with 20 in the last two seasons highlighted by two straight excellent bowl victories, but there hasn't been much of a margin for error. This year's team has the potential to be great again and to potentially do even more in the Big Ten chase, but the close calls have to stop or they're going to start swinging more the other way. There's not that much of a difference between last year's stellar 11-2 campaign and having to fight for a bowl game.
The 2009 Hawkeyes seemed bent on finding new and different ways to come up with crazy-close wins. There were the two blocked kicks to prevent the embarrassment of a loss to Northern Iowa. There was the way-too-tight home win over a bad Arkansas State team. There was the win over Michigan when the defense held on against a backup quarterback who couldn't throw; the frenzied final drive in the final seconds to beat Michigan State; and the piece de résistance, the improbably bizarre 42-24 point win over Indiana with 28 fourth quarter points overcoming five Ricky Stanzi interceptions. Iowa and its fans were searching for respect all throughout the first two months of the season on the way to a 9-0 record, but it was hard to jump on board the bandwagon with so many nailbiters to go along with ugly, but extremely effective, wins over Penn State and Wisconsin.
And then came the blip. Stanzi got hurt against Northwestern, and the Hawkeyes couldn't overcome the adversity. Backup James Vandenberg was solid in the showdown the week after against Ohio State, but without Stanzi the Hawkeyes couldn't get the close win they made a habit of pulling out several weeks before. Those two games could've easily have gone the other way and Iowa would've been unbeaten (although, the losses turned out to be a blessing in disguise considering Hawkeye fans would've beaten their heads against the wall over not being able to play in the BCS Championship), but several of the wins could've gone the other way, too.
It's one thing for Ohio State to play it close to the sweatervest and rely on great defense, excellent special teams, and a brutally effective offense to win in a less-than-scintillating type of Tressel Ball scheme, but it doesn't always work for the teams without a second team full of five-star recruits. Ohio State playing conservatively is like Brad Pitt going with the James Hetfield look; it still sort of works. Iowa can't quite pull it off in the same way, but it might not be a bad idea to try.
Yeah, the Kirk Ferentz plan does work, the last two seasons have proved that, and now it's time to start playing tighter and better on a week-in-and-week-out basis so miracles aren't needed. The dominant performance (and it was dominant) in the Orange Bowl against Georgia Tech showed just how good the team can really be. The defensive masterpieces against Penn State and Wisconsin proved how good Ferentz is at getting his team to play at the highest of levels, and the loss to Ohio State showed why the program needs to be considered among the big boys.
And now it's time to start blowing teams away.
Iowa wasn't afraid to take big shots down the field, and for the most part the plan succeeded, but now the program has to take a page out of the Tressel Ball book and put a premium on ball security. It has to assume the great defense with eight returning starters will keep just about everyone under wraps, and it has to rely on the special teams that could be the best in the Big Ten. Iowa has to out-Ohio State, Ohio State. The talent and the coaching are in place to do it and finally get back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1990, but can the Hawkeyes come up with all the same breaks in close games again? This team might be good enough to not have to play with fire on a weekly basis.
What to watch for on offense: The reloading on the line. Even with some tremendous all-stars, most notably Bryan Bulaga, the Hawkeye line gave up way too many sacks and was way too inconsistent for the ground game. Kirk Ferentz gets praised up and down for always putting together great lines, and he does, but last year's front five was a bit overrated. This year's line might be a bit underrated with some nice players (but no Bulaga types) ready to step up and produce, and it needs to be tight from the start. The skill players are experienced and excellent, and if they get more time to work the mistakes should diminish and the consistency should follow.
What to watch for on defense: The shoulders of Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood. The defense that was so good last year, finishing tenth in the nation, and should be even better even with the loss of three superstars in LB Pat Angerer, OLB A.J. Edds, and CB Amari Spievey. However, health will be an issue with all eyes on the shoulders of Sash and Greenwood after the two star safeties missed time this offseason getting healthy. These two will be the tone-setters for the back seven and should make the secondary great, but they can't knock themselves out with too many big shots.
The team will be far better if … the placekicking situation is settled. It hasn't been that bad over the last few years with two veterans, Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker, each proving able to get the job done. However, the difference between a great season and a decent one could come down to which one hits all the gimmes. Murray missed a few too many makeable kicks (but finished a strong 19-of-26 on field goals), and considering Iowa played in five games in 2009 and nine over the last two years decided by three points or fewer, there can't be any easy misses.
The schedule: Considering the Hawkeyes miss two Big Ten teams that didn't go to bowl games last year, Illinois and Purdue, the schedule isn't all that bad. Last year Iowa had to go to Penn State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, and now it's payoff time with the Nittany Lions, Buckeyes, and Badgers all having to come to Iowa City. Michigan, Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota forms about as light a conference road schedule as anyone could ask for. Going to Arizona won't be easy, and the Iowa State game is always tough, but the non-conference slate isn't anything to get in a twist over if the team is as good as many think it'll be.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Stanzi is the star of the attack and needs to be phenomenal, but the speedy and dangerous Johnson-Koulianos is the gamebreaker. Not only did he lead the team with 45 catches for 750 yards and two scores, but he was special on kickoff returns averaging 31.5 yards per try. Marvin McNutt is a playmaker on the other side who'll take safety help away more and more, and Johnson-Koulianos needs to take advantage.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Adrian Clayborn. Who needs millions of dollars in the bank and a kick-started pro career? Clayborn might go into April of 2011 as the No. 1 prospect on several draft boards with a perfect blend of size and ability to play either an end in a 3-4 or a 4-3. The 6-4, 285-pound pass rusher has made 15.5 career sacks and became dominant as last year went on. He'll be a marked man and he'll have to show he can handle being beaten on week after week.
Key player to a successful season: Senior LB Jeff Tarpinian. Pat Angerer made 145 tackles and five tackles for loss as he was in on play after play after play. Now it'll likely be up to Tarpinian to step up in the middle and be the same sort of playmaker. He's athletic enough to get a look on the weakside, but he has the 6-3, 238-pound size to be a statistical star in the middle. Everything else is in place on defense, so if he's great, the defense will be a brick wall.
The season will be a success if … Iowa wins the Big Ten title. With 16 starters back and the only real question mark the offensive line (which is good enough under this coaching staff to reload in a hurry), the talent is in place to produce at a BCS game type of level. With the biggest conference games at home and the toughest road game likely to be at a still-rebuilding Michigan, the schedule won't be an excuse. Outside of a slew of injuries, there's no reason to not shoot for Pasadena.
Key game: Nov. 20 vs. Ohio State. Penn State isn't quite good enough to go unscathed and might not win the conference title even if it comes out of Iowa City with a win, so the key game for the Hawkeyes will likely be against the winner of the Ohio State – Wisconsin showdown. The game against the Badgers is in the middle of the year, but the battle with the Buckeyes is the final home date of the year and could turn out to be for the Rose. After losing 11 of the last 12 in the series, Iowa is overdue to pull out a W.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Iowa 2nd Quarter Scoring: 48 – Iowa 4th Quarter Scoring: 121
- Penalties: Opponents 72 for 619 yards – Iowa 57 for 447 yards
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 8-of-16 (50%) – Iowa 2-of-12 (17%)
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