As the Iowa Hawkeyes head into the off season, with little hope for a bowl bid, there are a lot of questions being asked by fans and the media alike.
In his Sunday column, HawkeyeNation.com Senior Writer
Rob raised a question that will receive a lot of mileage over the course of the next nine and a half months; is the program in better shape now than it was after the Alamo Bowl loss to
And after an off-season where Kirk Ferentz said that he was going to evaluate every aspect of his program and go back to doing things the way he had in the early portion of this decade, after a year where the term ‘fat cats' was thrown out by the head Hawk to describe his program, are things any better than they were? Or has the program taken another step backwards?
Here is an attempt to take an inventory of the program from where I see it. I am not a coach, nor have I ever coached at any level, but there are some aspects that seem out of kilter to most observers of
That's a huge question. Kirk Ferentz has been called an offensive line guru, among many other glowing adjectives. There is no doubt that the man knows that position quite well. So this has to be troubling and confounding to him. This year's line had a lot of young players in the mix, or players that hadn't seen a lot of action. So a certain level of inconsistency was to be expected. But when your most veteran offensive lineman struggled more in the last two games of the season than he had at any other point in the season, that is a concern.
Kyle Calloway, Bryan Bulaga, Travis Meade, Julian Vandervelde and
Those factors have to be included in the overall evaluation of the play of the line this year. But the
Every offensive linemen returns for next year, and every single position on the line is open for competition. The lack of seniors or upper class contributors on this year's line raises a question that falls into the recruiting/evaluation category, too. That cannot be overlooked or ignored.
If players stay healthy, Rafael Eubanks is likely your starting center, even if Bruggeman is even or better at the position, because Bruggeman is a better guard candidate than Eubanks. One would think that Seth Olsen will earn the right tackle position, and Bruggeman, Bulaga, Doering, Calloway and Andy Kuempal will push for the three remaining positions.
There are a lot of areas to improve upon this offseason, with offensive line being front and center. After all, the old axiom goes that ‘everything starts up front'. More questions; are the messages the coaching staff is sending getting through? Are the players
Question: In my opinion, the biggest position of recruiting deficiency in the Kirk Ferentz era has been wide receiver. Why is this? Why does
Clinton Solomon, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Paul Chaney played quarterback in high school. Andy Brodell was a running back for
We all loved Ramon Ochoa in 2003, and
Dominique Douglas let the program down this year with poor off field decisions, and Brodell suffered a season ending injury in game four, leaving
With the exception of DJK,
Again, this was a position that was hammered by adversity this year, but is it really a good idea to throw fade routes to a 5-foot-9, 165 pound quarterback turned receiver, even if that is the only option you have at the position?
I would suspect that
That being said, this is still an area that has to improve.
Another question that has to be asked is as follows; even though they were young collectively this year, how can you explain the players still missing hot reads in their 12th game?
WMU brings the blitz, Jake Christensen looks to his right at DJK, who happened to be the wide out on that side on that play, the side where the blitz is coming from. A receiver's first read has to be the blitzers. In this instance, DJK never looked at the middle of the field; he immediately took an outside release to run his route the play called for. The result of the play was a sack, and
This isn't a rant on DJK, who is
All of these factors fall into the coaching department, whether it's development, evaluation, or teaching. I have tended to be a coaching advocate in my time with the website or on the radio. If the proper things are being taught and the messages are not being received and executed, then that's on the players, but it's also on the coaches in the recruiting evaluation department, or putting 5-9 inch receivers that are not even a buck-seventy out in fade routes that require physical attributes that most 5-9, 165-pound receivers can't pull off. That's a coach's decision to put them there, while at the same time acknowledging that there were times this year that
Still, this personnel group has not been an area of strength for
Question: While the play of the quarterback is most certainly affected by the first two categories we have discussed, when he does have time, you expect him to make the throws. There wasn't enough of that year from Jake Christensen. There were times where some folks, and some commentators, wondered if taking a series off might not have done him some good. But from all accounts, including those of Kirk Ferentz, the drop off between Jake and the #2 was significant, too significant for the #2 to get any meaningful reps this year. Why is that? Why was Jake erratic at times, when he did have the time to make the throws?
Jake Christensen faced a lot of challenging situations this year, on the field and in the interview room. He stated numerous times that he knew he had to get better in some areas, and that is the truth. On Saturday, there were instances where he had good protection, and yet missed his intended targets. Sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. That game was a snapshot of the 2007 season.
While it's not hard to understand being a bit gun shy or scattershot in a pocket where you have been hit more times than any other non-option quarterback in America, there were enough instances where the protection was there and Jake either missed his receivers, didn't see them, didn't tuck it and run or didn't throw the ball away. A good portion of that is on Jake's shoulders.
A question as to why there is such a gap between the 1 and the 2, and why there was no junior or senior QB in the program is something else that comes into the coaching column in the way of evaluation and recruitment. Eric McCollom would have been in the system, but he was moved to WR early in his career, burning his redshirt, because of injuries at that position. He later transferred. It was probably tough to recruit a QB after Tate's sophomore year and with a US Army All American in the bullpen. But what about the development of Arvell Nelson and Rick Stanzi? I know they are redshirt freshmen, and that has to be acknowledged. But to be that far behind Jake, to not even have the confidence of the coaching staff to play one series in a game, what can we attribute that to?
Not all redshirt freshman are alike, but Christensen led
Jake has areas to improve in. He has to be more consistent, because he can make a perfect throw followed by a ball over the head or behind an intended receiver with adequate to decent protection. Was he playing a bit shell shocked this year? At times, that was probably the case. But over a 12 game season, there were enough examples of areas he has to get more consistent in.
Every position on the team, every single position, will be open for playing time, for a starting role. I don't know that I can ever remember that being the case. Some players have a better chance or earning jobs than others, but they will have to earn them, all across the board.
Christensen seems most comfortable in a no-huddle environment. A significant percentage of
But when you are recruiting players to play receiver that didn't play the position in high school, when you recruit a quarterback who didn't flourish under play action and I-Formation environments, yet that is the style of play you want him to play in college, are those areas of concern? Do those areas need to be evaluated along with everything else?
One final point here:
1999: 97th (1 win)
2000: 102nd (3 wins)
2001: 45th (7 wins)
2002: 13th (11 wins)
2003: 92nd (10 wins)
2004: 101st (10 wins)
2005: 22nd (7 wins)
2006: 27tth (6 wins)
2007: 109th (6 wins)
This puts an amazing amount of pressure on the defense and special teams to have zero mistakes, to execute at a near perfect rate, for
One could say this with a straight face;
The truth of the matter is that the majority of the Kirk Ferentz/Ken O'Keefe years have seen
We are in a different era of college football. It's an area where teams are scoring more points, even against the best defenses. You are going to have to put up 28 points per game on the average to contend for titles, and even then you are going to need a very good defense and consistent play from special teams. 28 points per game is not a lot anymore; it's actually below average.
Lloyd Carr said as much in his retirement press conference on Monday; times have changed, and he just didn't want to change with them, even at
That's almost four touchdowns a game, and that was good enough to be ranked 70th in the nation, 10 slots below just being average. They were ninth in the Big Ten in scoring offense, and 10th in the Big Ten in total offense.
If there is another team in the Big Ten that
Times are changing, but
Albert Young not getting 25 to 30 carries against
So against a team with a shaky run defense, at home, and with a passing game that has been erratic all season long for a lot of reasons,
I need to admit off hand, that I am not an expert in the finer points of what defenses were doing in those games, what things the
But goodness, there were times this year where it looked as though
One final thought here.
Drew Tate attempted 375 passes that year, one of the highest single season attempt numbers in
This year, when the strength of the team was its two senior running backs, Jake Christensen attempted 370 passes. Running backs carried the ball 324 times this year, just 24 more than in 2004. That just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Question: Why has
We spoke above at how
That being said, I don't think it takes a degree in pigskin to know that this has been an area of weakness for
These are just a few football related questions that come to mind. One for the defense might be how we hear so many opposing coaches and players talk about how
Another question might be ‘why did it take a butt chewing at halftime on several occasions for this team to play with fire and intensity in all phases?' This isn't a sign of a team that is mentally prepared to take the field on Saturday's. And why has
Now let's turn our attention to more troubling issues, the off the field incidents of this year, in addition to some on-field incidents.
Question: Why were there so many off the field incidents this year? Character used to show up in the win column for
I don't know the answer to that one. On one hand, coaches cannot be nannies. There are too many kids on a football team, and coaches cannot hold their hands 24-7. But the coaches are the ones that bring the kids to campus.
If the coaches would have suspected even the slightest possibility that Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman would have done what they are accused of doing, they wouldn't have brought them to
That being said, those things, and others, either have happened, have been alleged to have happened, or may be alleged to have happened, this calendar year.
In pro football, coaches don't always get to decide on who is on their team. In college, they do. In college, nearly everything, good or bad, goes to coaching. Whether or not that is fair, it's the reality of the situation.
I greatly admire and respect Kirk Ferentz. I think he is the perfect embodiment of what
And there are some issues in some of those areas. The off the field issues are included in that snap shot.
So are the on field anomalies we have seen this year, such as Trey Stross' spiking of a football and the sideline run in between he and tight ends coach
Over the last two seasons, there have been four different games where people have wondered afterwards if they were not the worst loss of the Ferentz era; 2006 Indiana, 2006 Northwestern, 2007 Indiana and 2007 Western Michigan. That's not a good trend.
Kirk Ferentz will meet with the media in the next 10 days or so, whether or not it's for a bowl game or just an end of the year address.
He does this each November, and it's sort of a ‘state of the program' address. Last year, he told us how
It will be interesting to see what he has to say this year, because some of those elements appear to still be in the mix.
Perhaps what he said last year was not a one-year fix; perhaps some of the problems were going to take a few years to work through.
That is possible. It's also likely that every aspect of a program gets overanalyzed by folks like me, and the fans, when things are not going great.
At the end of last year, and just before this year began, I wrote that the 2007 season was going to be a crossroads year for the program. That we needed to see a return to a certain brand of
There were times this year when we saw that, certainly on the defensive side. But rare was the time when we saw a consistent offensive attack. Rare was the time when we saw consistent special teams play. Rare was the time when we saw an overall team effort like that of Hawkeye glory years gone by.
The offense was made up of a lot of young parts, so some level of inconsistency is to be expected. But should we have expected the team to look so out of kilter in game 12 as it did in game one? Is that something that should have been expected? I don't think so.
The defense was torched by a low level MAC team that had just three wins coming into the game; is that something we should have seen coming? I just don't think so.
All but three members of the offensive two deep return for next year. Both kicking specialists return.
The schedule doesn't including
This is going to be an incredibly long off season for the
There are a lot of questions, and I don't have the answers. I hope that Kirk Ferentz does.