The Hawkeye Football season heads into the homestretch and Iowa needs to pick up two wins in their final three games to reach a bowl game. Will they do it? That's one of the questions this week for the Hawkeye Roundtable. We also dive back into last week's fourth and inches decision by Kirk Ferentz, plus we give our predictions and picks to click for this weekend.
1. The biggest controversy coming out of the loss to Indiana was the 4th quarter decision to punt rather than go for it on 4th and less than a yard. Hindsight is always 20/20, but where did you come down on the decision when it took place?
MIKE ZIERATH: I certainly understand the rationale behind his decision, but............the defense hadn't stopped anyone all day long. Why in the heck did he think they were going to miraculously stop Indiana and give the offense the ball back with plenty of time to do anything. Give your offense the opportunity to be successful. Don't take the opportunity away from them! Had they given anyone a reason to think they might make it against the worst defense in the Big Ten? Nope, but the outcome should have been in their hands, and not in the hands of the defense.
TOM KAKERT: I'm on the record as saying that it was the wrong call at that time in the game. I just don't think it was a sound decision, especially based on what Kirk Ferentz said after the game about getting a stop and getting the ball back with time on the clock. Given that Iowa was struggling to get a three and out, which is what they needed at the time, it's probably better to roll with the offense and see if you can get less than a yard. If you don't make it, at least you tried to make it.
JON LAZAR: The one thing that I thought about was that you are a 4-5 team and would that 4th and less than 1 possibly make us a 5-4 team if converted? I, personally would have gone for it as it does a few things. 1. It shows that the coach has confidence in you to get it. 2. It may have given us the chance for a win if converted and, being a 4-5 team, why not? What is the risk? It would have only brought good things if converted ... if not, it would have been much of the same we have experienced all year.
LYLE HAMMES: We don't have the horses right now on defense to trust they'll hold an offense in that situation. That's not intended to be a slight, but simply an observation of Iowa and Indiana nine games into the season. So, that means the coaches have to get out of their comfort zone and take some chances. It won't always pay off, but in that situation you have to go for it. As close as that was to a first down, they probably would have made it about 80% of the time. Indiana won't risk passing and (another pick-six) at that point in the game, so your chance of scoring if you don't get the ball back on offense are basically nil.
2. What's your view of the rest of the season with Iowa sitting at 4-5 overall? What are your odds that this Hawkeye team earns a bowl bid this season?
MIKE ZIERATH: Once again, because it bears repeating, I have been very consistent since this summer in stating that this team has been my most difficult read in the Kirk Ferentz era. That hasn't changed! I went on record and said they could win 4 games or 10 games......and I had no idea which it would be. Much of my indecision was due to having two brand new coordinators. Early on, they gave me a little hope that they could win more than they lost. Then the C. Michigan game happened and I was pretty sure they were showing their true colors at that point. I hate to say it, but the odds aren't good for a bowl. It happens. Fans will have to deal with a "down" season from this very young Hawkeye squad.
TOM KAKERT: I think it's fair to say the odds are not in Iowa's favor when it comes to getting to a bowl game this year. Basically, they have to beat either Michigan (in Ann Arbor) or Nebraska the day after Thanksgiving. Oh, and you have to win this weekend too because sweeping the last two games of the year are even less likely. Not impossible, but you get where I am going. I think we all knew, at least those of us who are realistic, that this team would a work in progress and potentially a .500ish team. I thought given the favorable home schedule that they could get up to eight wins. This is where I bring up once again the horrific loss to Central Michigan.
JON LAZAR: Well, I have tried to think about this team as a bowl team, and in my opinion, they are not . They have not brought anything good to the table other than the win at MSU, and the first half against Minnesota... That is not worthy of a bowl appearance, but there is the FAN FACTOR in play that any bowl committee would considering and that in that IOWA travels extremely well... I feel it is sad that we would be considered for that, and not that fact that Iowa is a good team getting that consideration.. Hey, I'm all for it as a former player and fan ... but Iowa has not played to the team's potential or even how a normal Iowa team would to be considered playing the game. There have been many mistakes all year.... the one thing I would have never thought to be an issue for Iowa has been the time management, and the coaches figuring out what players to put on the field on certain situations.. I have said it time and time again... It has been a Chinese fire drill out there many times.
LYLE HAMMES: I'd give Iowa probably a one-in-five chance of making a bowl at this point. I think they'll win one more game, but two will be extremely tough. Most people knew the Central Michigan game would come back to haunt us. It has.
3. One notable position change this past week, Nico Law moves into the starting lineup. How did he do in his first start?
MIKE ZIERATH: Reminded me a lot of Bob Sanders and his first start. Sanders bit on a lot of play action early in his career, which created some difficulty. It was hard for many people to be too upset at him very long because of the aggressive nature he had on the field. Nico seems to have that same aggressive behavior with a solid run support mentality, but he also has some coverage skills. It will be interesting to see how he plays the rest of the season. He definitely appears to bring more athleticism to the field of play.
TOM KAKERT: I liked what I saw from Law in his first start. Played with good energy and didn't make any big mistakes. I think it was the right move to get him into the lineup at this point in the year. Ferentz has said he was right there as an equal option at strong safety and thus, time to get the young man some experience and playing time on the field.
JON LAZAR: I am sure that he has been awaiting this opportunity for a long time. When any player of this caliber gets an opportunity, a light goes off... In his mind he is saying,"This is my chance." We all know that there is another player that is as good as us in the wings ready to take our position. With Nico coming into the line-up, maybe the coach has seen something with him while in coverage. Maybe they saw he will cover the person in his ZONE. I have seen the Defense get into good coverage all year, but it seemed as if we get into coverage, then, we feel that our job was done. We were caught standing in our coverage many times this year without getting on the player in our zone. You have to man up on those coverage's, and not think the other guy is covering him. Maybe Nico is hungry enough to cover, and to make a play ... with that, he will be successful. I hope the move is a good one!
LYLE HAMMES: I think he did well. Nico Law is extremely athletic. He's the kind of player that energizes his teammates with big plays. He's not Bob Sanders, but he plays with that type of energy. I suspect the coaching staff also sees him as a player who is not quite as consistent in pass coverage as Donatell, and that is why Law has been second string. If Law can prove reliable in pass coverage, he'll be one of your starting safeties the rest of his career.
4. Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday that the problems on offense come down to execution, not the overall offensive philosophy. What's your view on his statement?
MIKE ZIERATH: Execution has always been the focal point of Iowa coaches, sometimes to a fault. I can agree that if you are capable of "executing" without thought, the game slows down and all things become easier for the player. I've kind of given up on this squad "getting it", however; they believe they are very close to having a breakout. Hope so, but I doubt it. It just takes time.
TOM KAKERT: I know fans hate hearing this answer and I know why they do. There is a belief out there that if you run some flashy offense that it automatically works. That offense also comes down to execution. Whatever offense you run comes down to execution. Could or should Ferentz add more diversity to his offense? Sure, I can buy into that notion, but it still comes down to execution.
JON LAZAR: I agree. We have seen many times where the overall play calling has not been that bad. There have many breakdowns of players just not making the plays. ALL that could have gone wrong for this team has gone wrong this year. With that said, that never stops a coach from coaching and / or teaching each position to try to be better and fundamentally sound. That is what Iowa is known for ... and that is why the teaching and improvement effort never stops... I think his statement is pretty accurate. But then, that does fall back on the teaching of the players... they do have to make good decisions though, and that is left up to them when in coverage, running the ball or running the correct pattern.
LYLE HAMMES: For the most part I think he's right, but there are clearly more contributing factors here. I think there's been a drain on offensive talent the last couple years, and losing Scherff didn't help. Execution and talent many times go hand-in-hand. Regarding philosophy, one thing I've really noticed this year in their play selection is how often, on third down, they'll pass it short of the first down marker. This has been driving Ed Podolak nuts also, so it's not just me. On third and nine, they'll run a six yard out and be stopped a couple yards short. It doesn't appear to simply be a case where Vandenberg checks down to a secondary receiver. Many times, this is the only receiver he looks at, so it's presumably his primary receiver on that particular play. There has to be a reason for this, but I'm not sure what it is.
5. Purdue comes to town this weekend they are struggling. What are the keys for Iowa to pick up a win and get back to .500?
MIKE ZIERATH: Again, control the clock, limit the mistakes. It's really a very simple, simple concept. This week, we need to add a small twist....The defense is going to have to step up their play and get a few more three and outs. The 3rd down conversion rate will need to be better than it has been the last couple weeks. Should be a pretty good game.
TOM KAKERT: Two struggling teams and the good news for one of them is they get out of here with a win. Someone will finally be happy. I think the key for Iowa this weekend is creating some turnovers and getting the ground game going. I also think getting out early and building a lead is critical. Since the last second loss to Ohio State, the Boilers seem to have had the life sucked out of their program and it looks like Danny Hope is running out of hope. Get up early and I think Purdue goes away quickly.
JON LAZAR: I have seen Purdue play a few times this year... The have a very good QB, which is historic with any Purdue team. They have played some good teams very well, but I know that their excitement and positive attitude has faded some. I still think they are potent enough to make a statement. I know they are looking at the IOWA game as a win in their heads, so maybe IOWA has some fire left in our engines to go after them a bit. To be honest, being at home, and feeling the Iowa fans, I think the Iowa team will rally, and play much like they played against Minnesota as I believe this match-up on paper is much like the Minnesota game. I think they will win the game against Purdue this week, and will go for any 4th and less than 1 any chance they get........ That conversion will rally the troops and fans!!!
LYLE HAMMES: Offensive line play is a key once again. Purdue has some big hogs up front on defense, including Kawaan Short who was named pre-season All-American by some publications. We struggled with Indiana's defensive tackles, and Purdue's are better. They have had a few injuries there, but that's what stands out to me about Purdue.
One thing we need to do as fans is to continue supporting these players and coaches. Everyone is frustrated this year, but it is what it is. They are what their record says, and they need every bit of support they can get if they're going to get back to .500 for the year.
6. Prediction time. Final score of Purdue/Iowa and your pick to click.
MIKE ZIERATH: I'm taking the Hawks, 31-24. My pick to click this week will once again be Damon Bullock.
TOM KAKERT: I'm going unconventional this week. I think Iowa's going to go against the norm and score some points. I think they will make some plays on defense to set up the offense. Iowa will jump out early and build a lead and put it on cruise control in the second half. Iowa 30 Purdue 20. My pick to click this week
James Vandenberg with 250 in the air and 2 TD's.
JON LAZAR: IOWA 28 Purdue 17. I think this game will be filled with turnovers... fumbles, tipped balls for interceptions, etc.
LYLE HAMMES: In his second-to-last home game, I think Keenan Davis will come up big Saturday. He'll need to if we are going to win.
This is a tough one to call. Home field advantage has been far from a savior this year, but it still counts for something. On the road, Purdue would be an easy pick for me. Both of these teams have been pushed around the last month and need a win badly. The urgency is there in each case. Both teams have been knocked down, and only one team will get up off the canvas Saturday. Iowa 28 - Purdue 27.
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