The forever hot-blooded rivalry between us and our
friends mortal enemies over at Black heart Gold Pants is Purdue's homecoming this year, and it is also the second year in a row we have to welcome Iowa to West Lafayette. RossWB from BHGP was kind enough to forget about his blinding hatred of all things Purdue and answer some questions about the game:
T-Mill: Is AIRBHG dead? With Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock, and Jordan Canzeri back things look pretty good.
Ross: After the years of torment that AIRBHG unleashed upon Iowa running backs, I don't think any of us are willing to think that AIRBHG has truly abandoned Iowa. There's always the possibility of a plague of ACL injuries during fall practice or some ill-timed encounters with the Iowa City police. But for now Iowa does appear to have a shocking amount of depth at running backs, which is certainly a brave new world for Iowa fans to try and cope with. We've gone from, "Oh god, do we have someone who can run the ball?!" to "Hmm, how are we going to divvy up carries between these running backs?"
The smart money is on Weisman again leading Iowa in carries -- he's a big, reliable presence at tailback who does a lot of the things Ferentz wants to see out of his backs. The bigger question is how many carries Canzeri and Bullock get (as well as sophomore LeShun Daniels, another beefy rusher in the mold of Weisman or Marcus Coker). Canzeri offers much more speed and shiftiness than Weisman, while Bullock is probably best-suited to being a third-down running back. But ultimately it's just nice to have options and the ability to try different things, rather than being forced to hand the ball off to an untested freshman just because he's the only healthy back on the depth chart.
T-Mill: This looks like an old school Ferentz team that wins ugly. Is that the case?
Ross: Well, that describes pretty much every Ferentz team since he arrived, except maybe 2002, the Brad Banks-led team that had an unusually high-powered offense for a Ferentz team. But the M.O. for Ferentz's Iowa teams is pretty clear: they win with a strong defense that's firm against the run and limits scoring and with just enough offense to get by, with production coming from a roughly even split between the pass and the run. I don't expect this year's Iowa team to break from that tradition in any significant way, but it might tweak the formula slightly.
The offense appears to be ahead of the defense this year -- at the very least, the offense has fewer holes to fill than the defense (which has question marks at linebacker, defensive end, and in the secondary), so there might be a bit more reliance on the offense (especially in the early going) than we've typically seen. In the past, that hasn't been a recipe for success for Ferentz's Iowa teams. Either way, if Iowa wins this year, the wins will probably be mainly of the "ugly" variety -- that's just the way it is.
T-Mill: When Iowa is good it is often because of the linebackers. Talk about the three newbies and their expectations.
Ross: Replacing James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens, a trio of multi-year starters at LB isn't going to be easy. We might as well get that out of the way up front. All three guys were multi-year starters who won all-conference honors and last year especially they were absolutely tremendous and a key part in Iowa's turnaround from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-4 in 2013. I don't think any Iowa fans are expecting the new LBs to step in and perform at the same level as their predecessors; that's just not a realistic expectation at all. But there are some interesting prospects in line to see the field at LB. Quinton Alston is a senior and he sat patiently behind James Morris at MLB for three years, seeing spot duty when Morris was injured or in special packages or mop-up duty. He's a good tackler and steeped in the Iowa system, so there's reason to believe that he can have a good senior campaign now that he gets a chance in the spotlight.
Reggie Spearman had limited appearances last year, but he flashed some serious skills when he did see the field; what he lacks in experience or size (although he's currently listed at 230 lbs, so he appears to have bulked up from a year ago), he makes up for with tremendous athleticism and good instincts. He's going to make some mistakes now that he has a full-time gig, but he also has the potential to make a lot of impressive plays, too. He also figures to be Iowa's best pass-rusher from the LB position. The final starting LB appears to be Travis Perry, a former walk-on who's worked his way up the depth chart over the past three years. Perry doesn't have freakish athleticism, but his positional awareness and understanding of the Iowa defense should be strong enough to compensate; that's the hope anyway. Again, no one expects Alston-Spearman-Perry to equal Morris-Kirksey-Hitchens; the main job for them is just to make sure that the decline from last year to this year isn't too severe. I think that level of production is possible from them.
T-Mill: Is this still the most hated rivalry in all of sports even though we're Division rivals?
Ross: Of course. You'll notice that when the Big Ten realigned the divisions and figured out where to put Purdue and Indiana, they put Purdue in the Big Ten West -- with Iowa. They knew they had to do that, lest the outcry from Iowa and Purdue fans be too tear the conference asunder. If we aren't able to settle our differences annually on the football field, who knows what terror we might unleash? It's far safer to just let us channel our aggression and hatred for one another through a football game. May our rivalry never end.
T-Mill: What is the ceiling for this Iowa team? Can they play in Indy in the first weekend in December?
Ross: Yes? I think that's a plausible outcome for this team, particularly given the fairly lightweight schedule they have, but it probably comes down to whether or not they can beat Wisconsin and Nebraska to end the season in November and avoid any slip-ups against the likes of Minnesota, Maryland, or Northwestern. Their ability to do all that will come down to how well they can avoid injuries on offense (particularly along the offensive line) and if the offense takes an expected (or maybe just hoped for) step forward in Year Three under Greg Davis (with several returning players from a year ago) and the defense is able to avoid too much regression in the absence of Morris, Kirksey, and Hitchens at the LB spots. If they do that, then they can book a trip to Indianapolis in early December.