Know thy Opponent 2008: Iowa Hawkeyes

Since starting this blog I have been majorly wrong about a one team each season. As mentioned in the Michigan State preview, I was drastically wrong about last season’s edition of the Spartans. Today, we go back to the first season I did this blog: the 2006 season. That year, I was all about Drew Tate and the Iowa Hawkeyes. I thought they had a dynamite team that was certainly bound for Pasadena. Even after what now seems its annual shocking loss to Iowa State I was still sold on the Hawkeyes, specifically Tate. They annihilated Purdue, dominating every aspect of the game along the way. Since then, Iowa has done exactly diddle squat, starting with a shocking loss to Indiana the following week.

So what can Purdue fans expect this year? Sadly, the Boilers have not won in Iowa City since 1992. The only two conference opponents that have longer home streaks against us are Michigan and Ohio State. On paper, this looks like it could be the year. Still, for whatever reason, Purdue finds new ways to lose in Iowa City, especially under Tiller.

Last season for the Hawkeyes

Iowa has finished at 6-6 for both of the last two regular seasons, following a trend that Purdue started immediately after its Rose Bowl appearance. Considering that Iowa was a regular in new Year’s Day bowl games before that, it is clear they have dropped off somewhat. A large number of off the field incidents leading to the dismissal of several players has made matters worse. Things appeared to come to a head last season when Iowa started 3-5 before a three game winning streak had them in bowl contention on Senior Day. A shocking loss to Western Michigan at home kept Iowa home for the holidays for the first time since 2000, and likely was the reason we went bowling at all.

The Hawkeyes were one of the worst offensive teams in the conference. This was especially evident on the road, where the Hawkeyes went 1-4. In the four losses Iowa scored just 13, 13, 7, and 6 points. The Hawkeyes showed some bite by upsetting Illinois 10-6, but was pretty toothless against Iowa State, Western Michigan, and Purdue.

Iowa has to be better in 2008 to avoid the fourth straight year of what I have dubbed the BGCONOSOM (Black and Gold Curse Of No Ohio State Or Michigan). Should Iowa falter, it will be the fourth straight year that a team in the Big Ten wearing Black and Gold has been gifted with no Michigan or Ohio State on its schedule, only to struggle instead of thrive. Iowa’s non-conference schedule is fairly easy with Maine, Florida International, and Iowa State coming to Iowa City while the Hawkeyes go to Pittsburgh. Iowa hosts Northwestern, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Purdue while going to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Outside of Indiana, it may be the easiest schedule in the conference.

Iowa offense

The Hawkeye offense a year ago was probably the worst in the Big Ten. As mentioned above, they struggled to score points on the road, but weren’t much better at home. Facing one of the worst defenses in the country in Minnesota, the Hawkeyes managed just 21 points in a too-close-for-comfort 21-16 win. Their best offensive day was a 35-0 win over Syracuse. The line was not as dominant as it once was, and suspensions and injuries absolutely decimated the receivers.

Quarterback Jake Christensen was thrown into the fire last season with almost nothing to work with receiver-wise. As a result, he finished the year as the conference’s lowest rated passer. He wasn’t awful when it came to yards and touchdowns. He finished the year with 2,269 yards and 17 scores, but many Iowa fans, especially my colleagues over at Black Heart Gold Pants, are fed up with his inaccuracy and looking for change. Personally, I don’t see where he was terribly inaccurate. He threw only 6 interceptions. His completion percentage was also above 50%, so he wasn’t horrible.

One small bit of inside information comes from the recruiting wire, as I used to work with the sister of incoming freshman John Wienke. Wienke originally verballed to Michigan, but switched after Lloyd Carr retired. He seemed to think some immediate playing time might be in his future, so Christensen has far from secured the position.

The running back position appears to be even more of a mess, as just one scholarship back returns. Two years ago Albert Young and Damian Sims ran for what seemed to be 4,000 yards against Purdue, while a season ago the defense did a much better job of stopping them in Ross-Ade. Both are gone, leaving Shonn Greene as the likely starter. Paki O’Meara is currently at the top of the depth chart before Greene officially returns, but he has yet to net a carry. The same is true for current backup Nate Guillroy, who is a JuCo transfer. Even senior fullback Jordan McLaughlin has yet to touch the ball. Greene spent a season in JuCo exile to improve his grades, but is a big back at 227 lbs.

The story is roughly the same for the receivers, as Dominique Douglas, James Cleveland, and Anthony Bowman are gone due to legal issues. Cleveland was the one target that had a good day against us last year, and like many receivers we faced, it was his best of the season for the tight end. Tony Moeaki may be the best pass-catcher of the bunch as the tight end returns from a season-ending arm injury suffered in last year’s Wisconsin game. Somewhat in the mold of Dallas Clark, Moeacki will need a big year and hope others develop around him. He had 14 catches for 170 yards and three scores before his injury. The top returning receiver, Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, is currently listed as a backup with 38 catches for 482 yards and two scores. Trey Stross (16-272-4) and Andy Brodell (13-96-0) are the current starters, but those numbers must obviously improve.

Two years ago Iowa’s offensive line dominated us in a show of physical power that Purdue has rarely seen. That allowed the Iowa offense to do what it wanted, when it wanted in a huge road loss. Last year’s meeting in West Lafayette was different, but the Hawkeyes return all five starters. Iowa gave up a league-high 46 sacks, which was one of the worst totals in the nation. This was a large reason that the Hawkeyes managed only a meager pair of field goals against us, as Purdue had one of its best defensive days in ages. Center Rob Bruggeman and guard Seth Olsen are both seniors in the interior available to provide leadership. Kyle Calloway and Bryan Bulaga are manning the tackle positions, but these could easily change by the 11th game of the season. Overall, the line does not have the overwhelming size of past Iowa units.\

Iowa defense

Iowa’s defense wasn’t bad last year, but lost a pair of solid linebackers in Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal as well as pass-rusher Bryan Mattison. As a whole, the unit surrendered less than 19 points per game. Unfortunately, the offense was often not up to the task as it scored three fewer points than the defense gave up. Both starting corners from last season are also gone, meaning Iowa will likely struggle against both the run and the pass. Linebacker A.J. Edds could be one that got away for Purdue fans. Edds, from Center Grove High in Greenwood, had 80 tackles last season and will likely be the centerpiece on a rebuilt back seven.

Iowa has had a series of good linebackers recently, but this could be the year where that unit takes a step back. In addition to Edds, A pair of sophomores appear to be in line for the other two starting assignments. Jeff Tarpinian and Jacody Coleman both have seen reserve duty in their freshman seasons, but starting in the Big Ten is a whole different ballgame. Former four star recruit Jeremiha Hunter should also play a role after playing in 9 games a year ago.

On the defensive line tackle Mitch King is a solid piece to build around. King was a 1st team All-Big Ten pick last season with 14.5 tackles for loss. This will be his fourth season starting in Iowa City, and he will continue to be asked to get into the backfield as well as play against the run. He is paired in the middle with fellow senior Matt Kroul, fourth on the team with 74 stops last season. Mattison’s nine sacks will need to be replaced on the end, where sophomores Adrian Clayborn (2 sacks) and Christian Ballard (2.5) showed some promise in reserve duty. The defensive line will likely be the strength of the defense, but was fairly strong in giving up little more than 1,400 yards on the ground.

Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada are gone from both corner positions, meaning the Hawkeyes must replace half their secondary. Safeties Harold Dalton and Brett Greenwood both return with 49 and 45 stops between them. Greenwood also had a pair of interceptions. Another former four-star recruit in Jordan Bernstine looks to be in line for one of the cornerback positions, while the other belongs to Bradley Fletcher at the moment. Fletcher played in 11 games last season and actually had 53 tackles, so he is not without experience. Godfrey had five interceptions as a shutdown corner, so he will be difficult to replace.

Iowa special teams

A couple years ago Nate Kaeding was one of the best kickers in the country. He was the rare kicker that got drafted and took one of the 32 starting jobs in the NFL with the Chargers. Kaeding is just a distant memory now as the Hawkeyes have struggled in the kicking game. The Hawkeye hit just 10 of 16 field goals as a team and missed 4 extra points a year ago. Duties were split between Austin Signor (3 of 6, long of 41) and Daniel Murray (7 of 10, long of 47) without a ton of success. Each missed a pair of extra points, while Murray hit both field goals against us. Freshman Trent Mossbrucker from Mooresville, Indiana will likely compete with both for the starting job.

Ryan Donohue returns as the punter after having a 41 yard average on 81 kicks last season. That’s quite impressive considering the large number of attempts due to the poor quality of Iowa’s offense. Neither coverage unit gave up a touchdown last season. Johnson-Koulianos will be back to return kicks with a 23 yard average carried over. Brodell handled punted return duties with an impressive 14.4 average.

Intangibles

If you take away our recent history in Iowa City, this should be our easiest road game of the season. It is certainly the best chance we have had in a long time to get a win at Kinnick Stadium. By this time in the season Iowa will know if it still has a shot at the postseason or not. Sadly, even though they don’t have Michigan or Ohio State on the schedule it is looking more and more like they will miss the postseason instead of make it. Depending on how we do, it could be a bowl elimination game a lot like our Michigan State game in 2002.

Iowa has had 14 players either arrested or charged with crimes in the last two years. Even by Bengals standards, that’s a lot. Many of those troublemakers are gone, but they have left a void that has yet to be filled by recruiting. Ferentz’ recruiting classes have also dropped off. While Kirk Ferentz was on a high as recently as three years ago, he is now in deep trouble if he has another bad season. Things could be getting really ugly in Iowa City by the time we come to town.

Iowa has the look at the moment of being the worst team in the Big Ten this year. Almost everyone else got better, while Iowa probably got worse. They don’t have a proven playmaker on offense, and the defense needs to be rebuilt at key positions. The Big Ten is not that great this year, but these factors already severely hamper Iowa in what may amount to a fight amongst cripples for the seventh bowl slot.

Game Outlook

Much like the Minnesota and Indiana games, this game takes on the must-win moniker. We simply cannot afford to pass up out best chance at a road win even if it has been 16 years since we won in said venue. If we can’t win in Iowa City this year who knows when we will win again. Iowa is going to struggle to move the ball again, and we already proved we can stop their offense. I think it will be highly disappointing if we cannot do so again.

Against their defense, we also didn’t have much trouble. Painter threw for more than 300 yards and had three touchdown passes. He has a pair of new corners to throw against as well, making matters much more difficult for the Hawkeyes. 167 yards and two TD"s went to Dorien Bryant, but I am confident we can replace him. Sheets and Taylor also had nearly identical games, and both were productive. I really like our chances in this one if we play to our abilities, but it is Iowa City. We have a habit of playing poorly there.

Prediction

In my opinion, we won’t have a very good season if we don’t win this game. I feel like we will already have bowl eligibility clinched or we will get it here. This is our best chance at getting a road win, and I feel we’ll go get it. Purdue 31, Iowa 17

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