August 30, 2008

TES - 2008 Hawkeye Football Game Notes Week 1

Iowa’s Record: 0-0, 0-0 Big Ten
Iowa’s Rankings
USA Today:
ESPN Power 16:
ESPNU Allstate:

2008 Iowa Football Schedule
August 30th Iowa v. Maine 12:05 PM, BTN
September 6th Iowa v. Florida International 12:05 PM, BTN
September 13th Iowa v. Iowa State 12:05 PM, BTN
September 20th Iowa @ Pittsburg TBD
September 27th Iowa v. Northwestern 12:05 PM, TBD
October 4th Iowa @ Michigan State 12:05 PM, TBD
October 11th Iowa @ Indiana TBD
October 18th Iowa v. Wisconsin TBD
October 25th Bye Week
November 1st Iowa @ Illinois TBD
November 8th Iowa v. Penn State TBD
November 15th Iowa v. Purdue TBD
November 22nd Iowa @ Minnesota 7:05 PM, BTN BTN
Ok my friends, Here We Go…

Hello again, New York City Hawkeyes!  And greetings to Hawkeye friends in Iowa City, the Second City, the Twin Cities, and anywhere else on the information superhighway your inbox is parked.  Welcome to the 2008 edition of the ‘Gotham Hawkeyes Game Notes’ (new year, new title).  My occasionally wandering, often inaccurate (lately), but always optimistic look at Iowa Football.  Come the cooler months, Hawkeye Hoops as well.  A weekly visit to your desktop that we hope will not end until very, very late in March.

Waiting from New Year’s Day to Labor Day for football to start is bad enough.  Tack on the extra 6 plus weeks due to last year’s flame out, and the wait is been nearly unbearable.  I even found myself sitting patiently through synchronized diving while waiting for Phelps to continue his quest for Olympic immortality. And did you know the top badminton players can hit the shuttlecock at nearly 200 mph?  Mercifully, the sports wanderlust has come to an end.  By the time you read this, there will be football in just hours.  That is, Thursday night.  Friday night (cheer for Army, I will be there). A full slate of games on Saturday, from noon to 10 pm eastern. Games on Sunday, and games on Labor Day.  If you do things right, you should be able to watch at least 11 college football games in 5 days!
 Of course, your attention must be squarely on the Big Ten Network at noon on Saturday.  Yup, it’s not on Time Warner, Comcast (out here), or Cablevision, but it is on DirecTV and the bar has it.  At least half of the games are slated to be on the BTN this year, so get used to getting to Blondies by noon to stake out your space.

It has certainly been an up and down sports cycle for the Hawkeyes since the football season ended. A rough year for men’s hoops, but the women tied for a Big Ten title.  The field hockey team has returned to a place of power, and wrestling restored our faith in humanity with team title #21.  Again, much of the football focus was off the field, but it seems now the big ugly seniors on the offensive and defensive lines have restored order, and I don’t think we’ll have the same kind of problems that have plagued the program over the past 18 months.

Coming out of spring ball, all the focus was on the assault charges, and when there was talk of actual Hawkeye football, it was not very positive.  Slowly though, over the summer, things began to turn around. Now some are calling us a dark horse to sneak up on the top rungs of the Big Ten ladder, and with good reason. You remember all those freshmen who played last year. Now they are quasi-veterans, and many of them are going to play critical roles for the Hawks all season.  Put that game time together with some of the older guys (we are still a young team), and things could get interesting in a hurry.

Once again, no Buckeyes, no Wolverines, and the Clones, Badgers, and Lions must all visit Kinnick.  The Spartans have still not turned the corner, the Illini lost a lot of their offense to the NFL, and that Hardy guy has also moved onto Sundays.  Yup, I know I am drinking the Kool-Aid, but @ Pitt seems to be the greatest unknown at this point.  With a bowl win (we will be back in one), I think we could be back in double digit territory.

Just don’t get an impression of how good we might be this week or next.  Ferentz has never been one to run up a score on anybody, and with the back-to-back ISU-Pitt games looming, the Hawks won’t want to give away any new wrinkles playing the likes of Maine or FIU.  But there will be some things we can look for, and if the Hawks execute them efficiently, we’ll be on our way.

August 30th, 2008: Iowa Hawkeyes v. Maine Black Bears 0-0, 0-0 CAA
Prior Games: 0
Last Game:

Current Line: Iowa -22

Current Turnover Margin: 0

Depth Chart for this week:

Game Watch: ‘The Best Game Watch Outside Of Kinnick.’
BLONDIES SPORTS 212 West 79th, (Broadway/Amsterdam).
1 train to 79th street, half a block east.  Several parking garages are nearby.
NOTE: If sitting on bar stools/standing for 3 hours is not ideal for you, we will be reserving a couple tables on the restaurant side of Blondies.  We will not always have Hawkeye audio on the restaurant side.

Last Week:
Not a game that you or I wish to remember.  I trust the Hawks will not take any wins for granted this year.

This Week: Maine
Why Maine, you ask?  It’s one of those football family reunion games.  Recall, Kirk’s first head job was with the Black Bears, leading them from the 90-92 seasons.  His OC was Jack Cosgrove.  When Ferentz moved onto the Browns, Jack was elevated to head coach, and there he remains.  His DC, Robb Smith, was a grad assistant at Iowa during the first three Ferentz seasons.  So it’s the Six Degrees of Kirk game.  Oh, and former Hawk Anthony Herron will be doing the color on the Big Ten Network broadcast.

Maine is not a Division 1 team, and they finished 3-5, 4-7 in the weaker Northern division of the CAA in 2007.  App State in the Big House, this is not (App gets LSU to open this year).  It’s the kind of game the Hawks must win easily, and we hope that all the Hawkeyes and all the Bears will get through this with no injuries.

Who those Hawkeyes will be has been the big question on the Iowa message boards as training camp, then practice, has gone on.  There was a lot of angst over the past couple weeks as Ferentz indicated many starting jobs were open – many thinking that the players were not working hard enough, others thinking that just meant there was intense competition for those top spots on the two-deep.  With the Ferentz press conference this afternoon (Tuesday), most of those positions have been nailed down.  But, a few of them will go right down to Saturday, and in others, it will take game action to determine who will be number 1 in the weeks ahead.

First, of course, is the QB.  The word from camp was that sophomore Ricky Stanzi was getting a fair number of the first team snaps.  Today, coach confirmed that Jake will start, but that Ricky will almost certainly see action.  Ferentz did indicate that Jake has been making progress, without going into much detail.  We all know what he has to improve on, and also know where he is going to need help to get there.

That starts with the guys up front.  We never got to the Iowa line we know and love last year, but based on having 7 or 8 guys fighting for the 5 jobs, and most of them able to play multiple positions, maybe we will this year.  From the left to the right, Bryan Bulaga, Andy Kuempel (or Eubanks), Rob Bruggeman at center, Seth Olson and Kyle Calloway.  Moeaki will miss the first game or two with a bad foot (hope his bad luck has ended here), but he should be ready for Iowa State.  Senior Meyers will start, and he progressed nicely after Tony went down last year, so look for him to make some big plays.  

Those guys will be opening up holes for, welcome back, Shonn Greene.  Just in time, as our top returning rusher was - DJK, for 19 yards.  Sophomore Paki O’Meara has been turning heads in practice and he will be the backup. Beyond him, there could be two, perhaps three, freshmen who get some carries to see what they can do.  Our new fullback will be Brett Morse, a sophomore.  At 230, he is 5 pounds lighter than the running back (Greene) he will be leading through the hole.  This is not a glamour position under our offensive system, but very critical to both the running game and pass blocking.  Love the fullback.

Then, we have the wideouts.  You know from my previous emails that I am almost giddy at the prospects of what these kids can do, if the QBs can hit them on the run. Stross is out for a bit with a bad hammy, but with Brodell and Chaney Jr. on one side, and DJK and Sandeman on the other, we have speed, hands, and explosiveness all over the field.

Signor has transferred, so the kicking now falls to Murray, and a freshman, Trent Mossbrucker.  It’s looking like Daniel will handle the kickoffs, but the scoring plays, hard to say today.

Sophomore Ryan Donahue returns as punter, and we all saw him grow out his freshman jitters and launch some seriously deep kicks as the year went on.  Look for him to be All Big Ten, and maybe more, once, maybe twice, over the next three seasons. Over the past couple seasons the Hawks have been one of the best punt coverage teams in the nation, a bright spot in our otherwise not-stellar special teams.  With Ryan booming those kicks down field, it will be up to the coverage guys to continue that trend.

The defense lost 6 starters.  Both ends, two linebackers, and both corners. But, many of those freshmen who played last year were on this side of the ball.  How quickly these new starters can gel, no one knows. But I have a suspicion that in time, we are going to see one mean, speedy, Hawkeye defense - creating havoc and leaving bodies in their wake from sideline to sideline.

The defensive pressure also starts with the guys up front.  Yup, part of the problem we had last year was our inability to get consistent pressure, especially on 3rd downs.  Seniors Kroul and King again anchor the middle, with sophomores Adrian Clayborn on one side, and Christian Ballard on the other.  Both came off the bench last year, had some big moments, and showed great potential.  With three years to start, I think they are going to end up being up there with our revered ends of recent past.  And those two senior tackles will go out with a bang as well.

Junior A.J. Edds returns at linebacker; look for him to be top 5 in Big Ten tackles this year.  Sophomores Jacody Coleman and Jeremiah Hunter (prowling for running backs, great name) are the other two listed starters, but they are getting good competition from at least three other guys for those spots.  We have had a very good run of linebackers over the past several years; it’s time to see if we can still produce those playmakers.  All will learn from Edds on the field, and they can’t wrong doing that.

Filling in for the departed corners will be sophomore Amari Spievey (welcome back) on the right side, and senior Bradley Fletcher on the left.  Don’t forget sophomore Jordan Bernstine – slowed by an injury in camp, he is coming around now and could find himself starting before too long.  At strong safety, senior Harold Dalton returns, as does free safety, sophomore Brett Greenwood.  All the guys fighting for playing time behind them are freshmen or sophs. We will see if this crew can do a better job at preventing long 3rd down conversions.  That will be easier if the defensive line is in the backfield with regularity.

3rd downs were a problem on both sides of the ball in 2007.  A good running game means more 3rd and 2, but too often we had 3rd and 8. With a stronger line comes more running yards, and more time to throw the ball.  With our bevy of talented receivers, the Hawks might come out with a spread-ish 4 wideout set and go deep on 1st down. It would be nice to see us attack the defense a bit more, Ken, and you have the weapons to do it, so let’s not play the uber-conservative style this year.  Then again, let’s save most of those plays for Iowa State.

Looking for signs of real progress will be difficult, but I would call it a success (if we cover) if the Hawks execute at least three, 70 yards or longer, drives for scores.  Touchdowns, I mean.  We should be at least +3 on the turnover battle.  We lead the Big Ten in turnover margin last year, and no Hawkeye team has ever had fewer turnovers than the 2007 squad (13). That was one of the brightest spots. Let’s see if we can break that record two years in a row.  I would like to see the Hawk defense keep Maine under 200 total yards.  Get at least 4 sacks.  And yes, at least one penalty for decapitating a fair catch returner before the ball arrives. Jordan, that means you, son.

There are several rule changes this year.  Of note, we now use the NFL 40 second play clock. Good, cause Ken has some trouble getting the plays in on time, and that did not help Jake with his confidence last year.  There is no longer a 5 yard facemask penalty, it’s 15 or nothin (special exemption should we play Florida in a bowl game).  There is even one concerning fair catches…blah blah blah.  We will break it.  Expect a thorough rundown on the changes during the game broadcast.

So friends, the wait has ended, the countdown clock can now be measured in hours, and soon we will find ourselves together again.  The best part about these Saturdays is spending the time with all the great Hawkeye friends like you.  I look forward to seeing you all again, and if you are one of the new Hawkeyes who has joined this list in the past days and weeks, please find your way to the bar, find me, say hello, and begin this 13 week journey with us.  One that we hope puts Iowa football back at the top of the Big Ten, back in the polls, and back into January bowl games against SEC teams.  Right where we belong!

Why You Should Watch The Iowa Games At Blondies Sports

  1. A room full of Iowans, and Quasi-Iowans.
  2. Iowa games in glorious audio – we control the bar side stereo.  That means you hear the game.  And the fight song.  ON IOWA.  The Beer Song.  Maybe a little Hawkeye radio audio from past dramatic games.
  3. A bar decked out in Hawkeye banners, flags, signs, etc.  
  4. It is a bar – meaning that once the game kicks off, you don’t have to drink Coke.  That is, unless you want to.  
  5. Speaking of audio…actual Hawkeye Marching Band alumni have been known to break out the brass and start jamming.
  6. Prizes.  From time to time, there will be raffles of cool Hawkeye gear.  
  7. Should the Hawks lose, you don’t have to drown your sorrows by yourself.  Pain is a drink best shared with friends.
  8. The best chicken wings in the City.  Extra napkins – required. FYI.
  9. It’s economical – the more fun you have at the bar, the less you can have on Saturday night.  Thus you save money on Saturday nights.
  10. Have cable?  No Big Ten Network for you, yet. The bar has DirecTV.



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