Monday, September 25, 2006

Hawkeyes in the briar patch? 

The gloom hanging over the Iowa Hawkeye football team is palpable, and has been growing every week since the season opener. The 13th ranked Hawkeyes are undefeated after four games, having beaten their in-state rival and won two games on the road, including their Big Ten opener against Illinois which they won 24-7 on Saturday. Apparently, despite the team's recent a history of September stumbles, Iowa fans expected not just victory, but domination.

A cruise by any of the Hawkeye internet message boards is a depressing foray into fan angst. The running game is in disarray, and Albert Young has yet to notch a 100 yard day. The defense looked soft against Illinois, a team they should have dominated (never mind the great second half performance last week against Iowa State, or the already forgotten goal-line stand for the ages two weeks ago at Syracuse).

And it's not just the message boards; Des Moines Regiser columnist Nancy Keeler all but writes off the Hawkeyes' season in a column that begins as follows:

What if this is as good as it gets?

Iowa is a third of the way through its season and it's still playing flat-footed football.

Skip the worries about being embarrassed by Ohio State or Michigan. Worry about being embarrassed by Purdue or Indiana or Northwestern.

The Hawkeye football team, while hardly dominant so far this season, does not deserve this scorn. It has, after all, held up its part of the bargain, winning its first four games of the season, and setting up a significant game next Saturday against the #1 ranked team in the country, Ohio State. ESPN Gameday will broadcast from Iowa City, and the game itself will be played in primetime on national TV.

Maybe it is a fear of being embarrassed on such a stage that has Hawkeye fans in such a state. Yet someone must think they have a chance: tickets for the matchup are going for $1000, which would be hardly rational if the Hawkeyes stood no chance at all.

Iowa coach Captain Kirk Ferentz is nobody's fool. He's a fundamental football man, and he never shows his cards unless he needs to. Ohio State is a better team, with incredible depth and two of the best athletes in all of college football in quarterback Troy Smith and wideout Ted Ginn.

For Iowa to win the game, the Hawkeyes will need to play exceptionally well, and they will need to find ways to get an edge. One way to gain an advantage is to surprise your opponent, and it is difficult to do this if you have revealed your strategy for the film room in your prior games. College football games are also highly susceptible to emotional factors, not the least of which can be overconfidence. You will not see Ferentz out there this week saying Nancy Keeler has it all wrong. He'll probably be voicing some concerns while remaining optimistic, and quietly preparing his team.

Can Iowa beat Ohio State? They usually cannot (although two years ago the Buckeyes left Kinnick Stadium on the wrong side of a 33-7 score). It is true that if Iowa plays the same kind of football it has shown in recent weeks, it will be a tough game to win, but the Buckeyes looked vulnerable in their win at home over Penn State Saturday. Maybe, just maybe, the gloom hanging over Iowa City, the inevitability of a Hawkeye defeat, is the perfect prelude for a big big game.


By Blogger Counter Trey, at Mon Sep 25, 02:43:00 PM:

I think there is some kind of national pessimism running through all fans of sports teams for the past few years. E.g. the Skins went 10 - 6 last year, made the playoffs, and upgraded their on- and off-field talent this year, but the fans predicted disaster even before the season started.  

By Blogger Wolfen, at Mon Sep 25, 07:57:00 PM:

For an Iowa fan like me, this is going to be no fun at all. Hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so. Las Vegas reportedly has Ohio State a 7-point favorite as of today. I say 'reportedly' because that spread is ridiculous; I don't believe it.

DEFENSE: Forget it. Our pass defense and pass rush are not even close to being good enough to contain Ohio State's passing attack. (Troy Smith's passing stats this year are better than Tate's in every department, and against vastly better competition.) That will open things up for the OSU running game, which is bruising to begin with. (Last year, Ohio State won 31-6, and in that game they gained 323 more yards on the ground than we did.)

OFFENSE: Forget it. This year's Iowa running game has been unimpressive, with little demonstrated ability by our OL to open holes. I can't imagine that we will be able to open holes in a DL of the caliber of Ohio State's. The Iowa running game will feature little besides Tate running for his life. Six sacks and two INTs, minimum. Home crowd adrenalin may keep us in the game for a while, but the second half is going to be ugly. (On the other hand, Iowa's weak schedule may really come home to roost; we haven't seen anything remotely like Ohio State: big, fast, skilled, confident, and deep. A 28-0 first-quarter blowout is possible.)

I was leaning toward OSU 31-10, but the more I look at these two teams, the more I think that is too optimistic. This Ohio State team is extremely solid, and they will show no mercy about running up the score. Maybe Iowa has a better FG kicker, but otherwise I can find no area of the game where we match up with Ohio State, none. Iowa is seriously over-rated, and this is going to be an ass-kicking.

OSU 45-17.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Sep 27, 04:11:00 PM:

These predictions are way off base. First of all Tate is doing better this season than he has in his entire career. Second the OL is not that great but good enough to get a hole open when they need one. The Iowa DL is good as well, granted not as good as in the past, but better than it could be given the circumstance. OSU is going to have to completely demoralize the team, the stadium, the fans, and the entire city if the expect to blow out Iowa this weekend. All Iowa has to do is keep the Buckeyes back from the goal line and the offense will do the rest.  

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