Not even painting your body pink for breast cancer awareness can appease the wrath of AIRBHG.... (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images).
WHO HATES IOWA?
Apparently one pissed-off deity with omnipotence when it comes to deciding the fate of Hawkeye running backs.
In this week's Potluck, we seek answers on Iowa from a higher power.....the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God (AIRBHG).....and the OTE writers, with special guest RossWB from Black Heart Gold Pants (who will surely have his knee blown out in spectacular fashion by AIRBHG for daring to blaspheme AIRBHG's judgments on the questions below by offering differing opinions).
So jump below to discuss an off-season of change (REALLY! WE SWEAR!) in Iowa City, who's left to bust a McNutt for the Iowa offense, swapping a Parker for a Parker on defense, and curses throughout the B1G....
Without Ken O'Keefe Around, Who Will Iowa Fans Blame Their Failures On?
1. Appetizer: The big offseason news out of Iowa City.....is that there actually IS news out of Iowa City. Norm Parker is retired. Ken O'Keefe is gone. Hawkeyes fans....rejoice? This is certainly the biggest offseason change in Iowa City since Kirk Ferentz replaced Hayden Fry. Of course, the season after Fry was replaced, Iowa went 1-10. So how do you see new OC Greg Davis and new DC Phil Parker fitting in at Iowa? What exactly do they bring that's "new" to the table? What problem at Iowa do they address? Or is this change to Ferentz's carefully maintained equilibrium going to destablize the Hawkeyes in 2012 as they go through an adjustment phase?
AIRBHG: Unfortunately, my omnipotence is confined to players who run with the ball -- otherwise, I'd be sure to snap a few arms, dislocate some collarbones, and afflict all of Iowa's cornerbacks with turf toe to punish Phil Parker for the blasphemy of coming to coach in Iowa City. I'm an incredibly angry deity with a blackened hatred of Iowa....but I don't reach beyond my bounds.
That being said, I am preparing plagues of locusts, rain of fire, and pus-filled boils to shower upon anyone Greg Davis dares to line up at RB in his "offense" this season in Iowa City. Think you can run a flare pattern to nowhere with your running back, Greg? That will be hard to do if HIS LEGS ARE AFFLICTED WITH PALSY!
(As a side note, I really hated Texas, too, but decided to focus my attention on Iowa. Does that mean that AIRBHG is a closeted Cornhusker fan? I'll let you decide for yourself...)
KennardHusker: There are two ways to look at this question. On one hand, the defense is being taken over by a guy who knows Kirk Ferentz about as well as one person can and who has been an integral part of this team for as long as a person can imagine. Sure, Phil Parker might be saying all the right things about making this his own defense and everything that goes along with that, but it seems to me that this will be a base 4-3 defense with a Cover 2 DB scheme and a shade of simple stunts to put pressure on the QB. I did see someone mention it (maybe even Ross over at BHGP), but Parker likes to talk about maybe inserting some sort of Press Coverage, but if that's about the extent of the change, I don't see it being a big deal. On the other hand, the offense... I'll be the first to say that I don't think Greg Davis is ever the answer, but change is good every once in a while, right? Look, at Texas, Davis played with toys you don't get in Iowa (no offense, but Vince Young > Brad Banks and Colt McCoy >>>> The Americanzi) and he got away with dink passes that eventually worked. Can he do some stuff with all-world TEs in Iowa? Sure, why not... Actually, check that. I just don't see it happening. Marrying a conservative head coach with a conservative OC who likes to spread the ball around should be fun to watch from afar, but I wouldn't be that excited... yet. Of course, this might be perfect timing. You lose all-world WR McNutt, so maybe it's that 'rebuilding' phrase you hear coaches throw around. Who knows.
RossWB: Another 1-10 season is in the offing! It's written in the stars! What, we play 12 games now? And have one of the easiest schedules in the Big Ten? Well, hell.
In terms of fit, the transition from Parker, Norm to Parker, Phil (no relation) at defensive coordinator should be as easy as sliding on a favorite pair of socks in the morning. Phil Parker has been a part of Kirk Ferentz's staff since day one and while his responsibilities are changing, the defense itself will be getting tweaked, not overhauled. I expect to see more press coverage from the cornerbacks and more blitzing (from all angles), but fundamentally the defense will be the same thing it's always been: FOUR. THREE. COVER. TWO. Phil Parker isn't going to reinvent the wheel here -- we aren't going to see the 3-4 or a bunch of "bandits" and "rovers" or anything like that.
The shift from Ken O'Keefe to Greg Davis at offensive coordinator is far more interesting -- and far less predictable. O'Keefe was Ferentz's longtime friend (and one of Ferentz's first bosses, actually) and there was never agreement among Iowa fans about how much of the offense was O'Keefe and how much of it was Ferentz. Ferentz has some clear offensive philosophies (balance is paramount, run the ball a lot, mix in play-action and downfield passing to keep the defense honest) and those probably won't change too much with Davis calling the plays now -- I don't expect Iowa to become a zone-read heavy, four-wide team overnight. But Davis certainly brings new ideas to the mix -- Ferentz and O'Keefe had been joined at the hip for twelve years and the Iowa offense was starting to smell like milk that's gone past its expiration date -- and I think that's part of the plan. I don't think Ferentz hired Greg Davis expecting the same ol', same ol' -- he wanted something a little bit different (but not, like, Mike Leach different -- he is still Kirk Ferentz, after all). There will probably be some rocky moments this year as the players and coaches attempt to get on the same page and figure out what works best, but long-term this change should be a net positive. (Fingers crossed...)
Ted Glover: I am, either by age or circumstance, a 'change is bad' guy. I don't think a lot of people outside of Iowa City realize just how good of a defensive coordinator he was, and how tough it will be to replace him. As for Ken O'Keefe, I think it was time for a change. I don't know how much of the offense was dictated to him by Kirk Ferentz, but for all the talent they've had on that side of the ball, their offense has been too bland and predictable for about four years. As big as a deal it is in changing both coordinator positions, Ferentz is still steering the ship, so that's good. The only thing that they must address is the constant anger they incur from AIRBHG. I would suggest some voodoo curse relief.
Adios, "Busting a McNutt" jokes....
2. Potato: Marvin McNutt was one of the most explosive and dangerous offensive players in the B1G last year -- 82 receptions, 1315 yards receiving, and 12 TDs. And now? Iowa's offensive hopes seem to rest on whatever RB can sacrifice enough burnt offerings to appease AIRBHG from destroying him, and legitimate studs WR Keenan Davis and TE C.J. Fiedorowicz. James Vandenberg is a very good quarterback (arguably one of the best arms in the conference)...but does he have enough weapons/targets? I'm truly concerned that Iowa's offense is going to stagnate without some players stepping up capable of explosion-type plays. Who will be making plays for the Hawkeyes offense? Or will no one show up, and Iowa be stuck in neutral all season?
AIRBHG: You think burnt offerings could appease me? NEVER! My hatred of Iowa and hunger for the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of Iowa running backs is a bottomless chasm, an abyss of darkness that can never be satiated. And if Greg Davis even thinks about running a reverse or end-around play -- thereby making a wide receiver a running back, even for one play -- I will reach down from the heavens above and afflict that wide receiver with a cripplingly painful case of shingles. NO ONE ESCAPES THE WRATH OF AIRBHG ON A TECHNICALITY!
Graham Filler: The Iowa offense really isn't, or hasn't been, built on tremendously explosive players. That needs to be recognized - it wasn't the skill position players, it was the top notch blocking and the solid scheme of play-action and 1-cut off tackle runs. That's why AIRBHG can be so effective, even while the Iowa offense also keeps it's effectiveness.
RossWB: There aren't a lot of proven commodities, that's for sure. Iowa's gone back to the drawing board at running back (maybe they should just adopt the Bielema-approved strategy of poaching the best free agent running back on the market each spring...), so it's pretty unclear what to expect from that position this year. Iowa should have a platoon featuring several true and redshirt freshmen -- there's talent there, but virtually no experience. As a result, the offense is likely going to rely on Vandenberg and his golden gun to carry it this year. Losing McNutt, his safety blanket and a tremendous receiver, is undoubtedly going to hurt, but there are some interesting weapons left for him to work with.
First and foremost is C.J. Fiedorowicz, the tight end Iowa fans lovingly refer to as "The Polish Hat." Fiedorowciz has the sort of physical skills that make NFL scouts drool -- 6-7, 265 with soft hands, impressive speed, and great leaping ability -- but he struggled to adjust to having to block at Iowa (he was basically a really big receiver in high school). He finally got that down by the end of last season and started to show signs of living up to his recruiting hype and prodigious talent -- he had 12 catches and 3 touchdown grabs in his last four games. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, so if he and Vandenberg can develop a good rapport, Fiedorowicz has the chance to put up boffo numbers this year. Keenan Davis figures to be the main man at receiver, and while he was overshadowed by McNutt's monstrous stats a year ago, his own stats weren't too bad -- 50 receptions, 713 yards, 4 TD. He'll have to adjust to being the number-one option (and the corresponding defensive attention that will bring) and get more consistent in general (he ran hot and cold last year and had a few too many drops), but the talent is certainly there. Behind him, Kevonte Martin-Manley looks like the best weapon Iowa has had out of the slot in several years -- as a redshirt freshman he had 323 yards and 3 touchdowns on 30 receptions last year and he should improve those numbers this year.
Ted Glover: I don't know. Iowa's always had a good/great receiver on the team, be it Clint Solomon, Ed Hinkle, Dallas Clark, DJK, McNutt...whoever. I don't know that they have that this year, and their RB situation in terms of injuries.... even Purdue feels bad for them. (Well, if they weren't bitter, bitter rivals they would.) That said, there always seems to be a running back and wide receiver that steps out from the shadows and has a good year, much like Albert Young, Shonn Greene, Adam Robinson and Marcus Coker have in the past. It's funny, but every year you look at Iowa's roster, and you see, on paper, a bunch of 'meh'. And that 'meh' usually produces a great QB, a go to running back, and a sure handed receiver or two. I can't tell you who those people will be right now, but they'll have them at the end. They almost always do.
3. Main Dish: Iowa's defense has been one of the steadier units in the B1G over the past 5 seasons or so. You know what you're going to get -- a 4-3, Cover 2, with generally excellent play from the D-line and secondary, but a maddening susceptibility to being beaten by spread/up-tempo offenses that control the ball (see: Northwestern 2008-2010). The linebacker corps (James Morris and Christian Kirksey) is skilled....but there are questions in the secondary (Iowa is replacing 3/4 of its secondary; CB Micah Hyde is a talented returning player, though) and especially on the D-line. Will Ferentz and Phil Parker once again display their innate talent for developing players and shore up the defense? What wrinkles will Phil Parker bring to disguise the D-line and secondary inexperience/weakness? And will playing against a shotgun/spread-esque offense in practice (thanks to Greg Davis's system) help prepare the Iowa defense for the spread attacks they are sure to face more often now?
AIRBHG: It will be difficult for the defense to really "practice" against Iowa's new, up-tempo offense when all of Iowa's running backs are on the sidelines suffering the fiery heat of severe urinary tract infections, courtesy of myself. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO RUN WITH THE FOOTBALL IN A SPREAD/SHOT-GUN OFFENSE IF ALL YOU CAN THINK ABOUT IS THE BURNING FEELING THAT WILL ARRIVE EVERY TIME YOU TRY TO URINATE, HAWKEYE RUNNING BACKS!
That being said, I believe Micah Hyde will allow Iowa to control/shutdown one side of the field of opposing passing games, and Morris and Kirksey are two linebackers that effectively flow to the ball, helping to shore up Iowa's run defense. I would also not bet against Ferentz and Parker in "coaching up" the defensive line to create adequate pressure on opposing quarterbacks and sufficient push at the line of scrimmage to disrupt opposing running games.
See? Even a deity with furious hatred of everything Iowa (and unlimited power to engage in sabotage against Hawkeye running backs) is capable of dispassionate analysis.
KennardHusker: First off, practicing against an uptempo offense does not equate to being more prepared (See Nebraska: Always). It only means you know going into Saturday that you're about to get beat. Still, I am wondering if the other assistants will get the Hawks ready. I'm not super with it on Woods and B.Ferentz, but they seem to be guys who want to push the staff to think differently. That's not a bad thing, and hopefully it will create some synergy for the new defense. Sure, it looks the same on paper (as mentioned earlier), but an extra blitz package and a batch of recognition drills might be what the doctor ordered. I do believe Hyde is going to be a beast this season if for no other reason than he has to be. From what I've read, it's kind of downhill back there beyond him.
RossWB: Iowa's actually replacing only half of the secondary -- FS Tanner Miller is back and will likely start again next year. The secondary is actually one of the more promising areas of Iowa's defense, in fact -- Hyde is the anchor, but Miller improved steadily throughout the year and the two newcomers -- B.J. Lowery at cornerback and Nico Law at strong safety -- come in with a fair amount of buzz and some strong performances in cameo roles last year (Lowery at nickel corner, Law on special teams).
The defensive line, on the other hand, looks terrifyingly weak. Only one starter from 2011 projects to return -- and that's only if Dominic Alvis is fully recovered from his torn ACL by September. Beyond Alvis, Iowa is looking at suiting up a motley crew of fifth-year seniors who have seen little playing time to this point and redshirt freshmen who haven't even gotten their feet wet yet. There's talent among the second group (DT Darian Cooper is particularly intriguing), but this year's results figure to be pretty rough unless guys develop in a hurry. We're a long way from the salad days of 2008-2010 on the Iowa defensive line.
Phil Parker has talked openly about blitzing more and not leaving the defensive linemen on their own when it comes to pressuring the quarterback and disrupting opposing offenses, which is encouraging. Norm Parker was a rigid believer in getting pressure solely from the front-four and Iowa defenses often struggled mightily when they didn't have a lights-out front-four capable of wreaking havoc. It's refreshing to see Phil Parker acknowledge that shortcoming and (hopefully) address it by way of more blitzing and tweaked schemes. The point about practicing against Greg Davis' offense is an interesting one, but I'm not sure how much effect it will have -- even with Davis in charge, I don't expect the offense to be an extreme makeover from the one Iowa has been running for years. He has talked a lot about increasing the pace and making more use of the no-huddle (something Iowa dabbled with a year ago, to sometimes great effect) and seeing the no-huddle more often in practice can only help the defense when other teams try to run it in games.
Even AIRBHG is terrified of the Tebowsaur....
4. Dessert: By now, we're all very familiary with AIRBHG, and his omnipotence in regards to forcing Iowa running backs into legal trouble, injury, or to transfer to another program. Does your favorite B1G football team have any similar curses/gods/supernatural powers aligned against them? What's your favorite B1G-related "curse" and why?
AIRBHG: Oh, there are many B1G angry deities who I'm very close with. In fact, we frequently get together at each others' homes for potlucks!
Angry Purdue Hating ACL Snapping God (APHACLG) is a social drunk (blame all the Boilermakers) and has a very sharp wit (the "sharpness" helps slice through ACLs).
Angry Sparty Hating BCS-Denying God (ASHBCSDG) is VERY old (almost as old as Angry Northwestern Hating Bowl Loss God - ANHBLG, who's been around since the Truman administration!), but wily and devious -- last year, he let Sparty get to the B1G championship and almost win, only to see them lose a BCS spot to Michigan! That, my friends, is some quality wrath....
I'd rather not talk about the Angry Penn State Hating God....too soon.
And it's hard to keep up conversation with someone as dim-witted as Angry Nebraska Hating AAU-Revoking God (ANHAAURG).
The scariest Angry Big Ten Hating Deity? Easy.....the Angry Illinois Hating Construction Equipment Buried Under Memorial Stadium That Will Deny The Illini Nice Things God (AIHCEBUMSTWDTINTG). Ron Zook? Totally his idea.
As for the other Angry Big Ten University Hating Deities? I can assure you that RichRod, Edward Rife/Terrelle Pryor/Jim Cooper, Tim Brewster, Bret Bielema's clock/end-of-game management, and everyone ever associated with Indiana football are pleasant company, up here on Mt. Hatemore.
KennardHusker: Salt Creek and Stadium brought up the curse of Lil Red in the comments yesterday, so I'm going to go with that. Petersen brought in that abomination and it has brought down this once proud team... I'm on team #BURNLILRED and kindly ask all Husker fans to join in. I think we also have the stink of KevinCosgroveBall which is a pretty universal curse in the conference, so there's that. As far as my favorite curse? That's a pretty morbid question. I used to think Purdue's ACL Hating God was funny, but that just got out of hand to the point where I'm afraid to ever travel to Purdue. I'm going to play this one safe and say AIRBHG if for anything to appease the deity across the river in hopes of keeping it at bay.
BabaOReally: I'm not sure if you guys have heard about this one, but a lot of Purdue athletes have recently had some issues with torn ACLs. I don't think that this is really a curse, but I am appreciative of whatever it is that causes Indiana to consistently have the worst football program in the conference.
Graham Filler: Uh, Michigan couldn't beat Ohio State for 9 years and it became clear that there was a mental edge in Columbus. But I'm not sure if that's a curse.
If you google "Michigan recruits under Rich Rodriguez", you're going to learn about the tremendous dropout/transfer/bust rate during the 3 years. So that wasn't great; but I don't think any Wolverine fans were putting a hex on Rich. Well, I can't say that for sure, but I'm not sure they have the capability to hex.
Bret Bielema will inevitably screw up an end-game scenario against Michigan State, but again, maybe that's not supernatural...
Ted Glover: Hmmmm, I don't know that it was a curse as much as bad coaching, but John Cooper's 2-10-1 record against Michigan will probably stick in my neck until the day I die. Cooper was a very good coach, and turned OSU into a national brand on the recruiting stage. He put a ton of players on both sides of the ball into the NFL, and many of them have had great careers. Had he not choked against Michigan time and time again, he was in position to win at least two national championships (1995, 1996), and had he not choked against MSU in 1998, he would've been in a position to win a third.
If Coop wins just those three games and one other bowl to win the national title, he's now 5-7-1 against Michigan and a national championship. Does that record get him fired after the 2000 season? Does Jim Tressel still get the job if he is? Is Coop around in 2002 when Tressel took Coop's players to a national title, and would he have done the same thing? Interesting questions to ponder if you're a Buckeye fan.
RossWB: My favorite B1G team is Iowa, so I'm well-acquainted with curses, vengeful deities, and whatever other supernatural hooey is causing Iowa's running backs to go down like extras in Game of Thrones.
My favorite all-time B1G curse is the one where Northwestern hasn't won a bowl game in 63 years (and counting!) -- that one's pretty sublime, I have to say.