January 5, 2010

TES - 2009 Hawkeye Football Game Notes - Orange Bowl Special Edition

Iowa’s Record:  10-2, 6-2 Big Ten
Iowa’s Rankings
AP: #10 (925 votes)
USA Today: #11 (918 votes)
HARRIS: #10 (1711 votes)
BCS: #10 Avg .6180

2009 Iowa Football Schedule

September 5th Iowa v. Northern Iowa Panthers WIN 17-16
September 12th Iowa @ Iowa State Cyclones WIN 35-3
September 19th Iowa v. Arizona Wildcats WIN 27-17
September 26th Iowa @ Penn State Nittany Lions WIN 21-10
October 3rd Iowa v. Arkansas State Red Wolves WIN 24-21
October 10th Iowa v. Michigan Wolverines WIN 30-28
October 17th Iowa @ Wisconsin Badgers WIN 20-10
October 24th Iowa @ Michigan State WIN 15-13
October 31st Iowa v. Indiana Hoosiers WIN 42-24
November 7th Iowa v. Northwestern Wildcats Loss 17-10
November 14th Iowa @ Ohio State Buckeyes Loss 27-24 OT
November 21st Iowa v. Minnesota Golden Gophers WIN 12-0

FedEx Orange Bowl 1/5/10, 8:00 PM, FOX

January 5th, 2010: Iowa Hawkeyes @ #9 AP-#9 BCS Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 11-2, 7-1 ACC
Prior Games: First Meeting
Last Game:

Hawkeye Stat Pack:

Turnover Margin: +3
.25, Big Ten #5, NCAA #47

Current Line: Iowa +4

Scoring Defense 15.5, Pass Def 164.7, Rush Def 122.0, Interceptions 20, Total Defense 286.7
Big Ten                 #3                       #1                          #5                             #2                    #3
NCAA                  #10                     #8                          #32                            #5 tie               #11

Scoring Offense 23.1, Pass Offense 221.3, Rush Offense 109.4, Total Offense 330.7
Big Ten                #10                            #6                                 #10                               #10
NCAA                  #86                           #56                               #103                              #93
Depth Chart for this week:
Game Watch: ‘The Best Game Watch Outside Of Kinnick.’
Opal Bar & Restaurant, 251 East 52nd St. Corner of 52nd and 2nd, 212 593-4321

Getting There:
6/E (no V on weekends) trains to 51st/Lexington Ave. Walk 2 blocks east, 1 block north to the bar.
M15 Bus – downtown on 2nd Ave, uptown on 1st Ave.
M50 Bus from the west side.
Several parking garages are in the area, but we strongly encourage you to take cabs or mass transit to our game watches!

2010 Orange Bowl

Hello again my Hawkeye friends!  It sure has been a long time since we rocked and rolled, but the wait is almost over now.  Should we be planning on another multi-year run of January bowl games (and we are), we will never have to wait this long again.  Starting in 2010, the Big Ten has added a bye week into the schedule, so we will finish on Thanksgiving weekend (possibly some Friday games).  And then, as you have no doubt heard, in 2012, maybe 2013, there will be 12 teams, 2 divisions, and then a title game on that same weekend that the ACC, Big 12, and SEC all decide their conference champions.  You know from previous writings that I am not in favor of this, but it is about the money, so there is no stopping it.

We must point out the good side to the long layoff.  All our dinged up offensive weapons should be good to go on Tuesday night.  Let us not forget the last 30 minutes this group had together – 4th quarter of Indiana, 1st quarter of Northwestern.  38 points.  Maybe the Hawkeye offense was just getting around that corner when Stanzi went down.  Now that everyone is back, it might be time to fully get there.

So there we were, with a semi-satisfying, though hardly inspiring, win over the Rodents, with a 10-2 record, and feeling good for our chances to move up a bit in the BCS as the final games were played.  We did, so we were very confident that Arizona was our destination, Hawkeyes everywhere, picking up Fiesta bowl tickets, booking flights, hotels.  But then as that BCS selection weekend approached, word spread that the Fiesta bowl wanted the undefeated teams matchup, and they got it.  The Orange bowl remembered the swarms of Hawkeyes that invaded for the 2003 game, and noted all the Black and Gold in the subsequent Outback and Capital One bowls, so they grabbed us with their one at large bid.  Georgia Tech topped Clemson in the ACC title game to claim the automatic bid, and the matchup was set.

While the national talking heads might not consider this one of the more exciting BCS matchups, it does set up to be an intriguing football game, between two schools that have never met on the gridiron, and sport two very different types of offenses.

You might be surprised to learn the Yellow Jackets will make this 13 straight bowl games, of which they have lost the last 4.  This Orange being the biggest bowl for them since the 1991 Citrus Bowl, when they beat Nebraska and shared the national title with Colorado (G Tech, coaches poll, Colorado, AP poll).

Here is a look at the Yellow Jackets 2009 season:

Week 1 Win: Jackson State, 37-17 (finished 8-3)
Week 2 Win: Clemson, 30-27 (9-5)
Week 3 Loss: @ #20 Miami, 33-17 (9-4)
Week 4 Win: #22 North Carolina, 24-7 (8-5)
Week 5 Win: @ Mississippi State, 42-31 (5-7)
Week 6 Win: @ Florida State, 49-44 (7-6)
Week 7 Win: #4 Virginia Tech, 28-23 (10-3)
Week 8 Win: @ Virginia, 34-9 (3-9)
Week 9 Win: @ Vanderbilt, 56-31 (2-10)
Week 10 Win: Wake Forest, 30-27 OT (5-7)
Week 11 Win: @ Duke, 49-10 (5-7)
Week 12 Loss: Georgia, 30-24 (8-5)

ACC Title Game Win: Clemson, 39-34

Scouting the Yellow Jackets - Offense

Here is what makes this matchup so interesting.  The Yellow Jackets 11th ranked total offense up against the Hawkeyes 11th ranked total defense.  Something has got to give.

By now you have heard that Tech runs the ‘flexbone’ triple option offense.  It’s related to the old wishbone, to the current read-option that the likes of Florida and Oregon run, to the wildcat that you see popping up in the NFL and college games alike.  What it does in the hands of the Yellow Jacket players is rack up 307.2 yards of rushing per game.  That is good for #2 in the NCAA.

The base formation of this attack is to have your 5 offensive linemen, two wideouts split on either side, then the QB, a ‘B’ back (fullback like, but a runner more than a blocker) behind the QB, and then 2 ‘A’ backs (tailbacks) lined up right behind each offensive tackle’s outside shoulder.

The three options are – 1, hand the ball off to the B back, and he generally takes it straight into the line.  2nd, the QB can keep it himself, and 3rd, he can pitch it to one of the two A backs. Generally as Tech does it, one of those backs will go in motion before the snap, looping back behind the QB, then as they both move down the line, the option to pitch it back to the A back is made depending on where the defense is.

Now, that is just the base offense, they can also motion one of the tailbacks back behind the fullback for a more classic pro-style formation, or the QB could be in the shotgun with both A backs on either side of him at the snap.  Basically, they can execute almost any kind of play out of this offense, but they stay true to the run, to the clip of about 80% of their snaps.

It is those 20% of the passes that you have to look out for.  Here is one of the more interesting stats. Tech is dead last in the ACC, and 115th (out of 120) in the NCAA in total passing – at just 135 yards per game.  But at 11.1 yards per completion, with just 5 interceptions, and 11 touchdowns, their pass efficiency ranking has them all they up to #8.  That is the challenge.  Focus on the constant running attack, and you can fall asleep while the wideouts get behind you.  To that end, their top receiver, #8 Thomas, has 46 catches for 1154 yards – 25.1 per snag.  The next 4 pass catchers all average over 22 yards a catch, though with not many chances – QB Nesbitt completed just 73 passes all season, less than 6 per game.

So this will be the 1st phase of the offense to attack and neutralize.  Spievey should draw Thomas on every snap, and we have to count on Prater and Lowe to man up on the other side.  With that final shutout of the Gophers, our own pass efficiency defense ended the regular season ranked #4 nationally.  We need the corners to play up to that level, so that the safeties can focus on the other main responsibility.

That is, run support.  Starting with Nesbitt, he racked up 991 rushing yards, at 3.8 per carry, with 18 touchdowns.  Their top rusher, (the B back) #21 Dwyer, 1,346 yards, at 6.1 per touch, with 14 tds.  #18 Allen, 597 yards, at 9.8 per touch, 5 tds.  Add up all the ball carriers, and it’s 3,993 rushing yards, at 5.3 yards a carry, with a long of 82 yards, and 46 rushing touchdowns.

With numbers like it, it might seem like it’s impossible to stop.  It can be done, the Hurricanes held Tech to 95 yards net, and Georgia allowed 204 yards in their victory over the Yellow Jackets – a lot, but over 100 yards below the Tech average, in a one score game. 

So how does one stop this lethal running attack?  Well, the very definition of an option play is to see what the defense is going to commit to, and then work away from it.  So it’s a fine line - the Hawkeye defense cannot overrun the play before the ball carrier is certain (which is not always easy to discern in this offense), everyone must be disciplined to prevent cut backs, and when the QB is rolling toward the sideline with the tailback in pitch position behind him, the Hawkeyes must use speed to cut off that angle of attack.  And is the case with all successful rushing teams, the defense must wrap up, surge to the ball, gang tackle, and go for the strip when the opportunity presents itself – Tech loses a fumble per game, on average.  As long as the corners can hold up in man coverage on the outside, the Hawkeye should be able to put 9 men in the box, and we’ll see if the Jackets can move it against that front.

When the Hawkeyes Have The Ball

It will be very critical for the Iowa offense to sustain drives.  Not only to keep the dangerous Tech offense on the sidelines, but also to give the Iowa defense time to rest, chasing this kind of offense around is gassing.  In fact, the Hawks are going to have to give the Jackets a taste of their own medicine.  With all that running, Georgia Tech leads the nation in time of possession – at 34:18 per game.  The Hawks are 34th at 30:52.  But on the flipside, the Yellow Jacket defense was exposed in their last two games, and the healthy Iowa offense must be prepared to attack it.

For the season, Tech gave up an average of 150.1 yards rushing.  Good for #67 in the nation, middle of the pack.  But they did not finish strong.  In their loss to the Bulldogs, the Tech defense allowed 339 yards rushing.  Georgia averaged 157 for the year, so they doubled that on the Yellow Jackets.  In the ACC title game, Clemson ran for 323 yards (Spiller for 233 and 4 tds); the Tigers, a team that had averaged 169 per game on the season.

Sure, the Iowa rushing attack never quite exploded this year, but you probably didn’t realize that despite missing two entire games, Adam Robinson set the Iowa freshman record with his 775 rushing yards.  Wegher clocked in with 528 and he missed the OSU game.  After watching the film of the last two Yellow Jacket games, the young Iowa tailbacks have to be licking their chops.

Late word from Miami seems to indicate the Hawkeyes might be tinkering with their offensive line a bit.  Tech has a 6’7, 353 pound defensive tackle names Barnes - #90.  It seems the Hawks are going to switch Dace (he seems good to go) to left guard, then Calloway inside to right guard, and Reiff outside to right tackle.  Bulaga at left tackle, of course, and Eubanks still at center.  Is this in regards to that big Tech tackle, or maybe something the Iowa coaches saw in the game tapes?  It could just be it’s just the way the guys have progressed since the season ended, and this is our best combination.  Whatever the thinking, Kirk has had all this time to prepare, so I think the guys up front are going to give us one hell of a game.

And if the Hawks can run, then the passing game will be there for the taking.  The Yellow Jackets rank #47 in pass defense, at 207 yards per game.  But when you factor in the other things that make up pass efficiency defense, their ranking drops all the way down to 84th.  As the season went on, Stanzi was having more success going over the top. We also have a size advantage over their corners and safeties, none of which are over 6’1, where McNutt and Stross are both 6’4, with Davis at 6’3 and DJK at 6’1, not that they can cover him, anyway.

They also don’t start any linebackers within 2 inches of Moeaki.  If you think the tailbacks are ready to close out this season in a big way, just imagine how Tony feels.  I know Stanzi is going to work him into the game from the get go, and look for #81 to finish his Iowa career in style. Georgia Tech does not use a tight end, and they have not seen one like him all year.

Special Teams

A lot of bowl games have come down to these guys this year, and some teams have had their hearts ripped out by the poor performance of the special teams (see – East Carolina).

Looking first at kickoff returns – as there could be a lot of kickoffs in this game.  The Hawks average 23.1 yards per return, #37 nationally.  The Yellow Jackets average 22.4, which ranks them #47.  That would appear to be a push, but keep in mind the Iowa return team improved when DJK was put back there (witness his 99 yard td effort against the Buckeyes), so the Hawks could have a slight advantage here.

Punting, Donahue booted to a 37.4 net average, ranked 27th, and the Hawkeyes gave up an average of 5.8 yards per punt that was actually returned (not fair caught, or a touchback).  With their high scoring offense, Tech just punted 30 times on the season, for a net average 36.6 yards, with an actual return average against of 6.9 yards.  So not a lot of difference in the kicking part, but the Yellow Jackets do have a more dangerous return team, one that averaged 14.3 yards a return (good for 8th in the NCAA), compared to the Hawkeyes 7.3 (82nd).  The Iowa coverage team must watch out for Tech DB Jerrard Tarrant, #37, who took a punt back for a td in each of the first two games this season.  

If it comes down to field goals, both teams have the right to be nervous.  Murray, 18 for 25 this season, 72%.  Tech’s kicker, Blair, 14 out of 19, 73.6%.  But against a scoring offense that averages 35 points a game, the Hawkeyes will be shooting themselves in the foot if they have to bring out the field goal team once inside the red zone.  We must take advantage of our size and height to stuff the ball into the end zone.

The Bottom Line

While this would be Georgia Tech’s biggest bowl win since 1991, you are going to have to go a bit farther back for the Hawkeyes.  Let’s face it; we are chasing the ghosts of 1959, the 2nd of Evy’s Rose Bowl victories.  That is what is on the line here.  It’s common for bowl games to start off kind of slowly, as the players have to adjust to the game speed after 6 weeks off.  We know what the Yellow Jackets are going to do from the start, and I would expect KOK to explore early the prospects for a Hawkeye 200 yard rushing day.  But Stanzi knows we have to score early and often, and if he is finding DJK or McNutt in single coverage, or a linebacker lining up against Moeaki, he will go down the field.  The Iowa offense has been hearing all month about the Yellow Jacket’s offensive excellence, I think they are ready to give us a glimpse of what we can expect of the Iowa offense in 2010.  That is, explosiveness.

And then, there is the Iowa defense, tasked with slowing down one of the best rushing and scoring attacks in the nation.  This I know, the Yellow Jackets lost to Miami, whose total defense ranked #46.  Georgia Tech also lost to Georgia, and their defense is ranked #39.  Our defense, in a different league altogether.  The Badgers topped the Big Ten with a 32.8 scoring average.  We gave them 10.  Penn State was 2nd at 29.7 points per game.  We gave them 10.  The Spartans, 29.6 points.  We, a bit more generous, 13 allowed.  So, we routinely take good offenses and make them look bad.  Georgia Tech has a different kind of offense, but the ball must still cross the goal line.  And that is where our defense will make the difference.

It’s all about the running game, and Norm has had a month – not to mention he has been coaching since these offenses were more common 30 years ago.  He will have the guys ready, and in a slight twist of irony, it’s going to be the Iowa rushing attack the dooms the Yellow Jackets.  Their defense faltered down the stretch, and the Iowa offensive line is going to exploit their weakness, wearing them down, opening holes for Adam and Brandon, and protecting Stanzi as he makes his downfield reads.  Someone is going to get to 35, but it’s not the Yellow Jackets.  Due to the novelty of their attack I’ll toss in one more td than the Hawkeye defense normally gives up.  Hawks get rushing tds from both tailbacks (Wegher, over the top), and McNutt, Moeaki, and DJK all catch td passes.  Add it all up, and the Hawkeyes announce to the college football world that we are back, and we are gunning for Big Ten titles – and more – in 2010. 

Hawkeyes 38, Yellow Jackets 21

All right my friends, the long, long wait is almost over.  I hope you Florida bound Hawkeyes have a safe trip, enjoy the sunshine, and you all lose your voices screaming in Land Shark stadium.  I’ll see everyone else at Opal, where we will enjoy the return of Iowa Football to the elite, and begin to daydream about what that can do for us in the seasons ahead.




Dave Sedgwick           
Vice President
New York Metro Iowa Club
Class of ‘95

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