Miller: All Is Not Lost for 2008 Season

HN Publisher Jon Miller has presided over a few postmortems this weekend, on the radio and on the message boards. After taking it all in, he has a few thoughts of his own related to the 2008 Iowa football season....

The ‘State of the Hawkeye Nation' is a bit shaky right now, with fans wondering just want type of season 2008 will produce.  That's only a part of the picture, as there are some people openly wondering about the direction of the program.


Back to back losses by a total of six points will do that; this year's team is an eyelash away from being 5-0, and the mood of the fanbase would be altogether different than it is right now. 


Alas, the reality is the Hawks are 3-2, 0-1 in the Big Ten and some folks are in panic mode.


I am not going to sit here and tell you that everything is wine and roses, but I don't subscribe to the theories that all is lost and the program is circling the drain, either.


Here are a few thoughts that are running through my head right now.  If you are a pessimist at the present time, I am sure you will want to shoot holes in all of this; I guess that's what the message boards are for.


Class of 2005 Circumstances


The Class of 2005, the highest rated class of the Kirk Ferentz era, isn't pulling their weight four years into their time on campus. 


That class began with 24 players.  Marshal Yanda was a member of that class, and he is in the NFL right now, having come in as a junior college player.   He was a success, to be sure.


So that left 23 players that had four or five year careers ahead of them.  13 of those players are unable to play for Iowa, either due to leaving of their own accord, having been removed from the program, or having suffered career ending injuries.


That takes the number down to 10 fourth year players to help this year's team win football games, which is a very low number.  Very low, when you consider that Iowa's current senior class is the 6th smallest in college football with 13 seniors.


But the situation is even more challenging when were just three ‘full time' starters based off of this year's play and Saturday's roster; Shonn Greene, Kyle Calloway and Pat Angerer.   Tony Moeaki is working his way back into playing shape, but he is not yet pain free.  Rafael Eubanks is splitting time at left guard with Julian Vandervelde.  Trey Stross is back on the field, but not for 60+ plays per game.  Jake Christensen has lost his starting job to Rick Stanzi.


Three out of 23 full time starters, four seasons into a recruiting class, is…well, it's a lot of things, and none of them are good.


2001 Redux?


After watching the game on Saturday, two things flashed into my head….one of them was ‘2001 all over again'?  


For those that have forgotten, Iowa started the 2001 season 3-0., with home wins against Kent State, Miami of Ohio and Penn State.  Two of those teams finished with six or fewer wins, and Miami was 7-5.  Then the Hawks went on the road and lost back to back games at Purdue and Michigan State.  In fact, after the 3-0 start, Iowa would lose four of its next five games and had a record of 4-4 with three regular season games to play.  Iowa won the two Big Ten game and lost as Iowa State to finish the regular season 6-5.  They would beat Texas Tech to finish 7-5, and that was the start of something special.   Four of Iowa's five losses that year came by six points or less, with the other loss being a 23-14 game at Purdue.  It was a season of ‘so close, yet so far'.  But, that season was considered a positive, because the program had been 7-25 in the previous three years.


Iowa started this year 3-0 and has lost two games in a row by a total of six points.  As mentioned before, this team could be, and possibly should be, 5-0 right now, one win away from bowl eligibility, and two wins away from bowl certainty.  But it's not, and 7-5 looks pretty good right now, considering where things and are and the remainder of the schedule.


Another reason this year is reminding me of 2001 is that this year's team has played much better than last year's 6-6 team.  I felt that Iowa's offensive line on Saturday looked as good as they have since at least the 2006 season, and maybe even dating back to 2005.


The offense was facing seven and eight man fronts all day, Northwestern was run blitzing quite often, yet Iowa was still able to run the ball with their zone blocking scheme.  What that does is set up the other part of the offensive scheme they choose to employ, which is the play action passing game.  You saw that work in the form of the 49 yard touchdown strike to Andy Brodell.  He had four steps on his man, because his man bit on the play fake.


In my opinion, Iowa's offense on Saturday has been as close as to what Iowa loves to do as I have seen in since 2005, because Drew Tate was injured during the entire 2006 season.


Turnovers killed Iowa on Saturday, as you know.  Iowa has already committed 11 turnovers this year, which is just two fewer than all of last season.  Here is another parallel to 2001; the Hawks forced 18 turnovers that year, and committed 21 of their own, so they were minus three on the season.


Things like that are not a coincidence, they are hard core football logic. 


Iowa had the ball 1st and 10 at the Northwestern 22 yard line on its first possession of the game.  Shonn Greene had 23 yards on three carries, and Stanzi was 3 for 3 for 31 yards.  Then came the fumbled snap, and Northwestern recovered.  That's points off the board.


Northwestern shouldn't have scored their first touchdown of the game at the end of the first half, that came after an Andy Brodell fumble at Iowa's 33 yard line on a punt.  There is seven points that shouldn't have been there.  Northwestern scored another touchdown after starting a drive at Iowa's 19 due to a fumble on a kickoff return.  That's another seven that shouldn't have been there, or shouldn't have been that easy.   Northwestern scored exactly one touchdown in this game that wasn't gift wrapped for them.


But when you are -4 in turnovers, you lose 90 percent of the time or more.  That too is college football logic.  The fact Iowa was even in the position to win the game at the end is remarkable considering that statistic, though it does not hold much consolation at this point in time.


The key now is what Iowa does at Michigan State and at Indiana the next two weeks….the second thing that ran through my mind shortly after the game was Iowa vs Indiana 2006, when the Hawks had the Hoosiers down 21-7 midway through the second quarter and they had forced a three and out.  Indiana punted on that drive, and Iowa was flagged for roughing the kicker.  That continued Indiana's drive, the Hoosiers scored a touchdown and Iowa wound up losing 31-28.


I know that coaches say one play doesn't beat you, and usually they are right.  But since that one play Iowa is 10-14 overall, and just 4-10 in conference play.


I hope that Iowa's fumble on the punt return just before the half against Northwestern isn't a similar play that turns this season into a carbon copy of recent Hawkeye past.


We will find out, of course as the year goes along.


After watching the Michigan State-Indiana game late Saturday night on the DVR, I came away feeling better about Iowa's chances against both teams.


I honestly believe that the Northwestern offense will be the most precise that Iowa faces for the rest of the season.  Perhaps not the most explosive, but the most precise with regards to being able to take what Iowa's defense is comfortable with allowing.  And even then, 13 of Northwestern's 22 points came gift wrapped three months prior to Christmas.


No one is as profiecient running the spread offense in this league as is Northwestern, and Michigan State and Wisconsin want to play power football, which I believe is a good matchup for the Hawks. 


Illinois doesn't yet know if it wants to be a running team or a passing team, and I am not convinced they can be the latter, Juice Williams performance against Missouri withstanding.


Kellen Lewis is nicked up for Indiana, and even if he plays, James Hardy is playing for the Buffalo Bills.  Purdue is not a strong football team on either side of the ball.  Minnesota still doesn't have a great defense, Penn State isn't a dominating physical program right now…though their offense does look pretty darn good, I must admit. 


If I look at things totally in and of themselves related to this football season, and I don't allow the trends of recent years to cloud my view, I see several reasons to still be optimistic about this football team.


The conference has never been this close, team 1-11, in my lifetime.  That could be a good thing, or not so good, depending on what mood you are in.


Every one of Iowa's remaining seven games is a winnable football game, but Iowa could lose each and every one of them, too.


I would hope that Hawkeye fans don't abandon the ship; there are some winnable games on the schedule. 


Afterall, the 2004 team began the season 2-2, right?

One final thought. My friend and fellow HN writer Rob Howe brought up some numbers Saturday related to Iowa football and close games over the past few years. His numbers of course are correct.

I looked up some numbers going back further into Iowa football past...

Between 2002-2004, Iowa was involved in ten games that were decided by a touchdown or less. That can mean one play. Iowa won nine of those ten games, which is a very high number for programs not named Michigan, Ohio State, USC, etc.

Between 2005 to the present, Iowa has been involved in 14 such games, and they are 4-10. That is probably beneath the norm.

All told, Iowa is 13-11 in games decided by a touchdown or less since 2002, roughly 54-percent.

If you are being honest with yourself, you will probably come to the reality that that's about what you can expect.

But that won't do much for the torch and pitchfork sales this week.

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