6 Questions with the HN Staff: MSU

Each week, we sit down and go over some questions regarding the world of Hawkeye Football. Read what Jon Miller, Rob Howe, and Brian Finley had to say about Ken O'Keefe, a possible bowl game, the quarterback situation, and more in this free preview feature.

If the offense struggles in the first half and Christensen isn't playing well, do you make a switch, even just for a series?

Rob: This has been a hot topic for weeks. I'm not one to pile in the quarterback, but I wouldn't mind seeing Stanzi or Nelson for a series if nothing else but to see how the younger guys react, that is if the offense is as pitiful as it was in State College or West Lafayette. To this point, the coaches haven't felt comfortable with making a switch and/or been presented with the right opportunity. I've been OK with that, and if they still feel Jake gives them the best chance to succeed, I can live with that.

Jon: Only if Stanzi or Nelson had practiced well enough during the week, and I don't know that they received very many reps in practice. I don't know that it's fair to anyone to just throw someone in there that didn't get much practice. Kirk Ferentz told the media to read between the lines with regards to why there isn't anyone pushing Jake right now. Stanzi and Nelson have been in Iowa City for 16 months, they are not cagy veterans. They still need grooming. If this is a direction the coaches want to go down, I would think that next week at Northwestern would be a better spot. It's a road game, and you don't risk the Iowa-Michigan 2001 halftime reaction on the road. But Kirk Ferentz came out in strong support of Jake during this week's press conference, so I just don't see it happening.

Brian: I think Kirk might be a bit gunshy this time around, after the performance of back-up quarterbacks last year. We saw backups get meaningful snaps in the Syracuse, Northern Illinios, Minnesota and Texas games. Only one of those games (NIU) turned out positively for that backup. I can't imagine a situation, outside of injury or a blowout, that would be a "good" time for these guys to come in. Close game in the third? Nope. I can't see Nelson or Stanzi getting any time at QB, especially if Iowa's anywhere near MSU, score-wise.

Will Iowa use the run to set up the pass or vice versa?

Rob: Iowa came out throwing in West Lafayette and really seemed to rely on the running game before it was too late. Iowa needs to impose its will at home, much like it did against Illinois. Michigan State comes after the quarterback, and if you allow the Spartans some early success in that area, it could deflate this already fragile offense and snowball. The Hawkeyes might find the sledding tough initially, but it's at the point of the season where these offensive linemen need to get down and get this running game going. Maybe some swing passes to Young and Sims also could freeze this aggressive defense, but these two guys need to be heavily involved in this offense from here on out.

Jon: Iowa has to run the ball to win, period. That is how it is this year. It's not like that every year, but it's like that this year. And I am not saying they have to run for 200 yards, either. But they have to have some success against the run to slow down Michigan State's blitz packages that will be coming this week. MSU is a very aggressive team…#4 in the nation in sacks. Iowa is 4th from the bottom in sacks allowed. Yikes. But Iowa will throw it, and hopefully they have come up with some protection packages to counter MSU's aggressiveness…because when you are as aggressive as MSU is, you leave yourself open somewhere.

Brian: I'll go with a wishy-washy answer. I think we'll see some runs and passes, but a lot of passes to the backs early. If you can keep MSU's DEs honest about their play, you've got a chance. Swing passes force them to keep contain, the same way screens and counters do. I expect more running than we saw last week, but I also expect to see plenty of quick passes to the edge to make the DEs think for a split second before teeing off against Iowa's young OL.

Who is your pick to click?

Rob: Michigan State is going to try to establish the run and have a couple of good backs. I see the Hawkeye linebackers being in on a lot of plays. I'll go with Mike Klinkenborg to have a dozen tackles as he amps things up for the last few games of his college career.

Jon: Klinkenborg is a good call…so good that I will go with that for the exact reasons Rob mentions.

Brian: Even though the smart money is on Klink, I can't, in good conscience, go with the herd on this one. I'll go out on a limb and say Jake Christensen. Drew Tate has his first career 300-yard game against Michigan State in 2004, why not Jake? (Note to self: set up spam filter to recognize word "kool-aid.")

What would you estimate Iowa's chances are of becoming bowl eligible, which means a 3-1 finish?

Jon: Honestly, I think you have to favor Iowa's opponents in these next two games. Michigan State is about a field goal favorite in Iowa City this weekend, and I actually feel better about Iowa's chances to win this game than I do next week in Evanston, due to the styles of play. I would put their chances of qualifying for a bowl at 30 to percent right now. If they win on Saturday, I would move that number to 65 to 70 percent, because even this year, Iowa just cannot lose to Minnesota and Western Michigan to close out the game. If this team could somehow rally to go 4-0 down the stretch, that would take away a lot of the negative vibes in Hawkeye Nation.

Rob: I think the Hawks become bowl eligible. I'm not sure what the percentages would be, but I like their chances. I like the match-up against Michigan State, although the Spartans' aggressive defense does throw a little fear into me. I like Iowa's chances because I think they will win this week. I worry more about the Northwestern game. I think the Hawks take care of business the last two weeks. Similar to Illinois, this is a classic sandwich game for Michigan State, which is coming off a hard-fought loss at Ohio State and gets rival Michigan next week.

Brian: Honestly, I have no idea. You see the team that played against Illinois, and you feel like there's hope. They executed in almost every phase of the game, and you believe you may be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Then you see what the team looked like on Saturday against Purdue, and you're baffled. If Iowa can find consistency, somewhere between Illinois and Purdue, they'll have a very good chance, but every other game isn't good enough at this point. I think Iowa will find that consistency, that opportunism, taking advantage of the short fields this defense has been giving them all year, and put some points on the board.

What is your opinion on Offensive Coordinator Ken O'Keefe not coming out to speak to the media during a year where the offense is struggling, while members of the offense have to face the music each week?

Jon: While I have been critical of Iowa's offensive philosophy a time or two through the years, I like Ken O'Keefe the person quite a bit. No, I am not friends with him, as I just am not around him enough to have a relationship, nor should I be. He is engaging to talk to, and I think everyone in the media would agree on that. I really think he should come out at least a few times when things are tough like they are. The media would be fair with him, I think. I don't think anyone has it out for him. He would get a chance to talk about his offensive philosophy, and how trying this season is and the challenges it presents. I think he should talk if for nothing else than to take a little bit of the spotlight off of some of his players. I think that is what leaders should do, but that's just my $.02. Kirk Ferentz correctly pointed out on Tuesday that O'Keefe never spoke with the media during the good times, either. That at least needs to be recognized.

Rob: Ferentz made a good point when he said that O'Keefe has stayed consistent. He didn't want to talk to the press when things were going well. I'll buy that to an extent, but it would be nice for Ken to make a cameo every so often, not just on media day and at the bowls. It would be different if he was a buffoon with reporters, but he's actually well spoken and passes along good information. It's nice for Kirk to say he'll answer for Ken, which he did on Tuesday, but it would be nice to hear from O'Keefe a couple of times during the season.

Brian: I think the week after Kirk expressed his displeasure with the way some media handled players, putting his most controversial assistant out there might seem like a big jump. I think players know what they sign up for, and that includes speaking with the media. Coaches know what they sign up for, and for O'Keefe, part of that is not speaking with the media. I would certainly love to hear what he has to say, but I don't think it's a huge injustice that he's not speaking with the media.

Iowa has been able to stop all types of running backs. Big guys, small guys, quick guys, shifty guys. Michigan State has one of each. Will Iowa be able to contain both Ringer and Caulcrick?

Jon: I think they can, because I think they faced a similar tandem against Wisconsin, and Iowa held them in check until late in the game. The key is for the Iowa offense to convert at least 40% of their third down attempts. That is not a top-ten like conversion percentage, but for this team, it would be great for point production, as well as keeping the defense off of the field and helping with their conditioning. Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois is not the banger that Caulcrick is, but he was neutralized as much by a fresh defense as anything else.

Rob: Yes. I think this will be the key to victory this week. Iowa will be able to make MSU one dimensional by taking away the run and will be able to rush against the visitors. As you said, Iowa has done well against the run, it's the spread that gives them fits, especially when the defense is gassed from being on the field too much. That's probably Iowa's only chance to pull off the upset. If the Spartans get the running game going and are able to set up play action, it could be a long day for the black and gold.

Brian: Yes, I believe they can, but only if there's more substitution. With Caulcrick being the big bruiser, you have to worry about late game situations when Iowa needs a defensive stop. It's even more of a concern with Kenny Iwebema's status up in the air at this point. Christian Ballard, Chad Geary, and Adrian Clayborn, I hope you ate your wheaties this week, you're going to need them.

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