‘Know Your Enemy' rages on, and we're talking Iowa Hawkeyes football. Iowa is one of the programs I've come to respect the most in the Big Ten, as it seems head coach Kirk Ferentz has the Hawkeyes in contention for a conference title most years, and at worst, has an above average team that always seems to be a tough out for the Buckeyes.
By the time we get to the Hawkeyes, Ohio State will have played six games, two conference games (Wisconsin and Northwestern), and will be coming off a bye. With an opening conference slate as tough as it is, depending on how the Buckeyes fare we could be setting up for a classic ‘trap game' here.
Ohio State should be undefeated by this point, and will, if all things go to plan, still be ranked in the top two or three in the country. They (hopefully) had two big conference wins over teams that are on the short list for the Big Ten Championship game, including their biggest threat in the soon to be extinct Leaders division. They'll be coming off a bye week, and they'll be at home facing a team that by all accounts isn't supposed to be any good.
So, let's get to it.
Iowa-Ohio State Kickoff time, TV schedule:
Oct. 19th, 2013, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH.
ABC/ESPN2, WSYX 6/Ch 32 (302HD) on Time Warner Cable Columbus, Ch 209 on DirecTV
Q. So who's going to replace outgoing senior QB James Vandenberg?
A. Probably Jake Rudock, but Cody Sokol could be the starter by the time this game rolls around. Neither have a lot of experience, but then again, James Vandenberg really regressed from his near upset of OSU at the 'Shoe in 2009 as a freshman to his abysmal senior year. Currently, Vandenberg is trying to make the Minnesota Vikings roster as an undrafted free agent.
And when I say neither Rudock or Sokol have a lot of experience, I mean...wow. Neither of them has taken a regular season snap at the FBS level, but Sokol transferred from Scottsdale Community College and put up some impressive numbers. Rudock, the presumed starter, is a redshirt sophomore and Sokol is a junior.
Q. That means Iowa's offense is going to be even worse this year, right? Is that possible?
A. At face value, the easy answer would be yes. 2012 was the first season for offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who Ferentz brought in from Texas. When Texas fans rejoiced, Iowa fans should've been worried. Iowa ran the fewest plays in the Big Ten in 2012, and Vandenberg, who was a borderline all conference QB before 2012, had his worst season. In 2012, Iowa was 11th in total offense, last in rushing, 7th in passing, 11th in yards per play, and 11th in yards per game. In short, their 2012 offensive rallying cry could have easily been ‘thank you Illinois!'
And their quarterback and top receiver from last year have graduated.
But to Iowa's credit, they're trying to reverse last year's abysmal performance. No, they didn't fire Greg Davis, which is what about 99.3% of the Iowa fanbase wanted, but in 2013 the Hawkeyes are installing an up tempo, no-huddle offense that they expect to run about 80-90% of the time.
For Ohio State, the bad news is that a no-huddle can be extremely tough to defend as a defense. The quick tempo prevents a lot of substitutions on defense, and that usually favors the offense and creates a lot of mismatches for them. The good news is that Ohio State will have at least six weeks to prepare, so there will be a lot of their offense and tendencies on tape, plus they'll have an extra week of preparation coming out of the bye week as well.
Q: What is this AIRBHG I keep hearing about? Should I be scared?
A. Only if you are a Hawkeye running back, or want to be. At some point in their not too distant past, the University of Iowa deeply offended the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG), and he has loosed great torment and anguish on all those who aspire to tote the rock at the University of Iowa. Although Iowa fans have tried everything in their power to appease AIRBHG, nothing seems to work. Seriously, this is hardcore, Old Testament, locust plaguing the land stuff.
And now that it has been recognized by Phil Steele himself, it cannot be denied.
AIRBHG is real. And AIRBHG is perpetually pissed off.
Last year, after AIRBHG cast his annual curse and struck down starter Jordan Canzeri. Mark Weisman, a former fullback, was pressed in to duty as their main running back and put up solid numbers, rushing for over 800 yards and 8 scores in 10 games. But Weisman got most of his yards in only four games, and he had to deal with an ankle injury that limited him for most of the second half of the season. With Weisman limited or not playing (he missed two games), the Hawkeye ground game struggled mightily. Although they ran the ball almost 200 times after Weisman's injury at Michigan State (197, to be exact), they only gained 548 yards on the ground, an anemic 2.7 yards per carry.
This year, with Weisman healthy and Canzeri returning, Iowa's running game looks to be much, much improved. With Canzeri's speed on the perimeter and Weisman's power between the tackles, combined with the up tempo of the no huddle, the Hawkeyes have the makings of a very effective running game.
But AIRBHG is real, and I fully expect both Canzeri and Weisman will have to deal with some sort of tribulation from him this year. By the time this game rolls around in October, Iowa will more than likely have a guy running the ball that was either an equipment manager or tuba player as late as July.
Q: So is Iowa going to be any good in 2013, and is Kirk Ferentz on the hot seat?
A. Short answer is I don't think so, and BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Iowa usually has three or four guys on each unit that you can look to and think that there is a nucleus of talent they can build around. This year, I don't see that. Of course, every time you think the Hawkeyes aren't going to be very good, they rally for a 9 win season and are in the conference title hunt until the last week of the season, so who knows. As to Ferentz' recent struggles and said struggles possibly costing him his job--ain't happening. That's because either Kirk ferentz has the best agent ever, Iowa GM Gary Barta got played, or maybe both. See, when Ferentz signed his most recent extension (10 years, signed after their Orange Bowl win in 2010), the buyout happened to be the total coast of the remaining money of the contract.
Ferentz, the dean of Big Ten coaches, makes over $3,000,000 a year, AND gets a 'longevity' bonus that's over 300 large every spring. All that is owed to him through 2020 if he gets fired.
Kirk Ferentz ain't going anywhere for awhile, kids.
Q. Have Kirk Ferentz and Urban Meyer crossed paths before?
A. Yes, they have one head to head meeting. It was 2005, and Meyer was in his first season as the Florida coach. Iowa met the Gators in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, 2006, and Meyer's Florida team beat Ferentz' Hawkeyes 31-24. It was considered a mild upset at the time, as the Hawkeyes were one point favorites, Ferentz had continued the winning ways Hayden Fry started, and it was generally thought the Big Ten was the best conference in football at the time. Also, Meyer was trying to undo the damage of the Ron Zook years, and was still a fairly unknown quantity, as he his only other head coaching gigs besides his inaugural Florida campaign was at Bowling Green and Utah.
However, the one guy that has the most experience with Kirk Ferentz coached teams is offensive coordinator Tom Herman. As the OC at Iowa State from 2009-2011, Herman faced the Hawkeyes three times, winning once, in 2011. To be fair, Iowa was favored in all three games, and in that 2011 win Herman's Cyclone offense hung 44 on a good Iowa defense, the most points they gave up that season.
Q. So tell me some cool things about the University of Iowa.
A. Kinnick Stadium is a great place to watch a college football game. I have two brothers who are Iowa season ticket holders, and it's just a fantastic gameday experience. If you ever get a chance to see the Buckeyes play in Iowa City, I highly recommend it. The fans are knowledgeable, Midwestern politeness is the rule, and the stadium itself doesn't have a bad seat in the house. It's named for a bona fide hero, Iowa alum Nile Kinnick. Kinnick was a naval aviator who was killed in a training accident in WWII, and is Iowa's only Heisman trophy winner.
His speech to the Downtown Athletic Club in 1939, as the world was plunging into darkness, is something everyone should listen to at least once in their life and is considered by many the best Heisman trophy acceptance speech ever:
Other than Iowa State, Iowa's other main rival is the University of Minnesota. They play for the Floyd of Rosedale, a traveling bronze pig trophy. Although the series dates back to 1891, the trophy came about during the Great Depression. When it first started in 1935, Floyd was a real pig, a prize winner from the Minnesota State Fair and a bet born between governors that had one part overt racism on the part of Minnesota's players to Iowa running back Ozzie Simmons, one part overt threat of a crowd riot by Iowa fans if Minnesota replicated their thuggery in Iowa City the from the previous season, and one part political subterfuge and the threat of calling out the National Guard to keep order.
Seriously, there is no hate like Big Ten hate, amirite?
Anyhoo, the morning of the game, the Minnesota governor sent a telegram (DEPRESSION ERA TWITTER, YO) to the Iowa governor, which was part olive branch and part smack talk. It broke the tension, calmer heads prevailed and Iowa won the initial REAL LIVE PIG.
The Iowa governor had an arrest warrant issued against him by some Iowa busybody because – get this – the bet violated Iowa's no gambling law. (No, this seriously happened). Again, calmer heads prevailed, the warrant was withdrawn, a statue was commissioned by the Minnesota governor, and the Floyd of Rosedale has been played for every year since. Minnesota leads both the all time series and the trophy series, but Iowa has been the more dominant team in recent seasons.
If you're into college wrestling, you're intimately familiar with the Hawkeye wrestling program, one of the most storied in NCAA history. They were coached by living legend Dan Gable for many years, and any school that wants to get their wrestling program to a respectable or competitive level usually has an Iowa alum or former assistant coach as their head coach. Current OSU coach Tom Ryan has taken OSU to national prominence, and he was an Iowa wrestler and All-American in 1992 and 1993. Iowa has 23 national championships in the sport, the second most all time, and has far and away the most Big Ten titles, with 32.
Some notable alums from the University of Iowa that make you go 'cool' are playwright Tennessee Williams, broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw, and musician Al Jarreau. Some notable alums that will make you want to hate Iowa like a Minnesotan are Tom Arnold and Bret Bielema, the ultimate bro's bro.
Q: What are going to be the keys to an Ohio State win, more than likely?
A. Iowa's running attack will have to be stopped, if AIRBHG hasn't already taken care of that, and the Buckeyes should have the horses to do it. Weisman is a powerful runner, and neutralizing him will be the lynchpin, I think. OSU's defensive front is going to have to be disruptive and eat up blockers, freeing up the linebackers to fill the gaps and make the tackles. When Iowa wants to pass, Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence will need to pressure and rattle whoever the young, inexperienced quarterback will be. Get him on his heels, force him into a couple mistakes, and dictate the tempo. As we saw in 2009, if you let an inexperienced quarterback hang around, make some plays, and gain confidence, an upset is possible.
I don't see Urban Meyer letting that happen, not with everything the Buckeyes are playing for in 2013.
Q: So what you're telling me is that OSU should win this?
A. Let me answer that in the form of a GIF for you:
Thank you, Mr. Scissorhands. Go Bucks, beat Iowa.