6 Questions with the HN Staff

Each week, the HawkeyeNation staff answers six questions about this upcoming came. Read what Jon Miller, Rob Howe and Brian Finley had to say about Saturday's matchup with Wisconsin.

Will Iowa play a "clean" game, why or why not?

Rob: I guess this is a matter of how clean for me. I just can't see that vast improvement in a weeks' time with a host of questionable areas. Will the kickers play flawless? Will the Iowa offensive front succeed on most of its assignments? Will the receivers take care of their business both in blitz pickup and catching the ball? I think this week will be cleaner but some dirt still will show through.

Jon: They played a clean game in the penalty and turnover department last week against Iowa State. It's still hard to believe they did that and lost. They need to get a lot cleaner in the punting game, if they are going to make any sort of noise in the Big Ten this year. They need to clean that game up if they are going to go .500 in the Big Ten this year. You cannot continue to put so much pressure on the Iowa defense; they will give up a touchdown at some point. The offense needs to be ‘cleaner' on first and second down, to stay out of the third and long situation on the road against a very good team.

Brian: I don't think Iowa will be able to cure all of last week's ills so quickly, but I think we will see a team that is much crisper than last week. I don't expect to see the struggles in the kicking game to the extent that we did last week. I feel like there was, at times, some confusion on the offensive side of the ball, particularly in audible situations. If Iowa can come out a bit sharper on offense this week, it bodes well for their chances.

Which side of the ball is more important for the Hawks' chances this week, the offense or defense?

Rob: I'll go with defense. Wisconsin boasts some strong weapons and you can't let P.J. Hill get off because the Badgers will just wear you down. The Citadel showed it could score in Madison last week, so I expect Iowa to have some success on offense. But as has been the case to this point and will continue to be the case as it was in '04, the defense must play well enough to give the offense a chance. Iowa is not built for comebacks with the youth on offense.

Jon: Since I think the defense will be solid, it's on the offense. Iowa will need to do some things differently this week to give itself a chance to win on the road. Back in 2003, Iowa came into Madison and they used a reverse to Ramon Ochoa early to help stem the momentum that Wisconsin had built up against a great Hawkeye defense. Iowa's offense is going to have to get outside of the box that it was in last week.

Brian: I'll go with the defense, especially considering the size mismatch up front. If Iowa can negate that huge size advantage and keep P.J. Hill in check, it will take the crowd out of the game, making it easier for the offense to do its job.

In the Ferentz years, why has Iowa struggled with Iowa State, then come back to play ranked opponents much better?

Rob: If I could answer this question I think there's a chance at world peace. Oh well, I'll take a shot. Iowa State is more motivated to beat Iowa than vice versa and the Cyclones have executed the better game plan. It took me until this year to buy into that, but I do now. Iowa also does better in the role of underdog. I also think losing to ISU serves as a wakeup call. If it means going 8-0 in the Big Ten like 2002, I'm all for it.

Jon: When you figure that out, let me know. This might ruffle some of our ISU friend's feathers, but I really don't think the Hawkeye players look at this game the same way that Iowa State's players look at the game. And that is a bad thing. It's the only answer I have, and it's the one that some Iowa players seemingly gave afterwards on Saturday. Iowa State's players seem to get the importance of this game to their fanbase, and to their program. Iowa needs to match that mentality, and realize that this game is pretty damned important to an enormous section of their fanbase. Every Iowa fan wants Iowa to win this game, because its on their schedule. Folks living in the golden circle, who have to work with Iowa State fans year round, who have them for neighbors, it's a pretty darn important game. Because it means you either get to run smack, or get it run on you, for the other 51 weeks of the year. I think that explains some of the lingering reaction on the message boards and my talk radio show this week.

Brian: Teams play better when they have an 'us against the world' mentality. Iowa State has that against Iowa, and more often than not, Iowa has that against whomever they play following Iowa State. This year is no different. I doubt anyone outside of Iowa City (and very few in Iowa City) believe that Iowa has a shot on Saturday. The team knows this, and should show up in an emotional way, something they were lacking last Saturday.

Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday that he must not be a good communicator, since his message wasn't getting through so he had to enact a seven day a week curfew.  Is this a good move, should it set of warnings signals that the team isn't listening to him, or are we talking about isolated incidents?

Jon: I think it's a good move. Kirk said a few times on Tuesday that he must not be a good communicator. To me, that was Kirkspeak for ‘it's time to move things to DEFCON 4.' They are going to get the message now, or they are going to be gone. Lance Tillison's two week suspension from the football program is more than twice as severe for any other Iowa player that has gotten a DUI in the past, or at least, if it was their first ‘strike'. Bradley Fletcher missed a game with his arrest early in the summer. The price of poker is going up, and it needs to.

Brian: I think it's a good move. I think they are mostly isolated incidents, but it's still too many. The mass punishment is a great way to let the other players on the team know that they have a role in this too. Police your teammates. Their decisions affect your team, help them make the right ones.

Rob: I do think these things are sometimes cyclical. Iowa experienced this stuff in 2001 and Ferentz finally got through. It seems like, for the most part, these things are happening to first- and second-year players, so to me that doesn't send up as much of a red flag. It definitely bears monitoring, however. One of the strengths of the Ferentz staff is its ability to reach players and project a good program to the public. I think the curfew is a good idea. He needed to throw down the hammer.

What is the formula for an Iowa win in Madison and is it realistic?

Jon: Play the brand of defense that you saw last week in Ames, against Syracuse and against Northern Illinois, while expecting Wisconsin to get between 14-20 points. This is a solid football team, with an elite running back and an elite tight end. They have a quarterback that can beat you with his arm if you give him time, and he showed Iowa last year that he can hurt you with his feet. The offense really has to form an imagination, and the line needs to give Jake Christensen better protection than it did last week, and the receivers have to do a better job of getting open than they did last week. Oh by the way, Iowa needs to punt a lot better than it did last week. If they do all of those things, they should have a chance to win. Clearly, for a work in progress team right now, as Kirk Ferentz defined Iowa this week, that is not going to be easy.

Brian: Eliminate mistakes. Whether that's penalties, shanked punts, missed hot reads, etc, Iowa just needs to eliminate mistakes. A little variation in the play calling wouldn't hurt either, but if Iowa can eliminate mistakes, even the most basic offense should be effective against a less-than-dominating Wisconsin defense. That's very realistic.

Rob: I do think it's realistic to think Iowa can win in Madtown. As I've said since the preseason, I think the Badgers are a bit overrated and primed for being upset. They have the nation's longest current winning streak but haven't played the toughest schedule and haven't been overly impressive in doing it. It might sound crazy, but Iowa matches up better with Wisconsin than it does with Iowa State. The Badgers employ a more traditional attack that mirrors Iowa. As a result, the formula for a Hawkeye win will be limiting the turnovers, strong play on special teams and strong fundamental football. Iowa can't miss tackles against P.J. Hill and they must contain Tyler Donovan and pressure him.

Who is your Iowa pick to click?

Jon: Mitch King. He returns to a site where he experienced some glory in 2005 as a true freshmen, when Iowa needed to win its last two games of the season to make it to a bowl game. I think he can do it, and Wisconsin will give Iowa more opportunities for sacks than ISU did, because I don't expect to see the Badgers run a spread offense.

Brian: I'll break the mold and go with an offensive player, Andy Brodell. I think this week Andy, as the eldest of the receivers, will be Jake's go-to guy. Clean routes will get Brodell open over the middle, and he'll get loose at least once for a long run-after-catch.

Rob: I'm going to stick with the defensive side of the ball until the offense shows me more against strong competition. I'll take Mitch King. The Iowa defensive line might have enjoyed its best game ever last time the team traveled to Camp Randall. King is the straw that stirs that drink.


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