Oh, Iowa Week.
Look, it’s probably better if we don’t have to squint too hard at the 2021 Iowa Hawkeyes, because all the signs point to 8-4 and it’s irritating and they just want to spend the whole week shitting on Iowa State anyway.
And that’s fine!
But at some point, someday, someone will crack the code of Iowa so I can finally stop worrying about previewing them as July turns to August.
The Football: A good, meaty defense
Honestly, how do they keep doing it?
The Hawkeyes, according to Football Outsiders, have been a Top 20 overall defense in their FEI metric every year after the fraudulent 2015 squad rode turnover luck to a Big Ten West title and a Rose Bowl that is the gift that keeps on giving.
In more seriousness: We can’t overstate just how high-level the Hawkeyes’ defense has been. For two straight years, by FO’s calculations, Iowa has been a top-ten defense in every metric—Available Yards Allowed, Points Per Drive, Touchdown Rate, etc.—except two: Busted Drive Rate (drives with 0 or negative yards) and Turnover Rate. That streak goes back three years if stretched out to top-15.
That’s been thanks to DC Phil Parker.
The former Michigan State DB joined as an original member of the Ferentz staff in 1999 and hasn’t looked back, ascending to the role after Norm Parker—ol’ Frosted Steaks himself, may he rest in peace—retired following the 2011 season.
That’s it. Two defensive coordinators in 23 years.
Now, Parker’s been rewarded by becoming the first $1 million assistant coach in the history of the state of Iowa.
It’s hard to say that’s not deserved.
Now, though, Parker’s got a new challenge, particularly when we look to the meat of the Iowa defense: its defensive line.
Iowa's latest depth chart has two true freshmen in Keagan Johnson and Connor Colby. One RS freshman (Yahya Black) is a starter. pic.twitter.com/eV5pdn2Alf— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) July 22, 2021
The Hawks might be counting on redshirt frosh Yahya Black on the line’s interior alongside junior Noah Shannon as they try to replace the size and production of Daviyon Nixon and Jack Heflin. Ben Ross at BHGP called it “a position of worry”, and while there’s the proven production of Zach Van Valkenburg at RDE, the DEs—along with a set of linebackers with a tougher task in the modern spread era—are asked to carry the water in what was traditionally the Iowa 4-3, Cover 2 system.
And Iowa continued to thrive, even after a mid-season 2018 switch to a 4-2-5 base defense.
Now, with linebacker Nick Neimann gone in the NFL Draft, they bring back two disciplined, big, and mobile LBs in MLB Seth Benson and WLB Jack Campbell—plus an intriguing pair at the Cash/Leo hybrid spot, with the 6’1”, 205# Dane Belton currently nosing out the 6’4”, 236# monster that is Jestin Jacobs at that slot. It’s a fearsome pairing plus a pair of options at that hybrid-5 role that allows Iowa, once again, to counter most anything that Big Ten West teams can throw at them. That includes a pair of experienced corners in Riley Moss and Matt Hankins, plus FS stalwart Jack Koerner and SS Kaevon Merriweather.
Oh, and Tory Taylor is the best punter in the Big Ten. Forgot about that.
So this Iowa team pins you deep, bends but rarely breaks, and has been doing it for-ev-er.
Tell me, writers:
- Should there be cause for concern with the questions in Iowa’s front four, or has Phil Parker earned the right to plug-and-play by now?
- How does YOUR team go about handling the Iowa defense? Are they ever successful?
- Is Tory Taylor the best punter in the Big Ten in 2021? Reminisce on the best punter in recent history for your school.
- Even in down years for the DL the defense still works pretty damn well. And the experience and talent in the back 7 should really help with the front 4. Even then, though, I have some cautious hope for the DL. I think Waggoner, Shannon, and Black could all be really good.
- Iowa’s offense would get absolutely smothered by Iowa’s defense. It would be fairly comical.
- Best damn punter in whole nation. But he ain’t Reggie Roby, arguably the best punter in the history of college football.
MNW: They’ve earned that right. I mean, Northwestern still beats Iowa over 50% of the time, so they can basically do whatever they want and I don’t give a shit, but it really is astonishing how consistent the Hawkeyes have been and how many NFL players they’ve produced in that span.
Northwestern has dragged it down into the manball of old and ground out victories over the Hawks, with Fitz and Kirk agreeing to play the shittiest, ugliest football imaginable. Back when, though, Northwestern used the death-by-a-thousand-papercuts to beat the Hawks, with slants and underneath routes while Dan Persa ran around doing Dan Persa things.
That article on Iowa’s switch to the 4-2-5, though, was really instructive—it’s Ferentz and Parker following the newer trend of having a named LB/S hyrbid, but with a disciplined linebacking corps that has continued to stop the run so well.
I think strategically, it’s certainly Taylor—he thrives in the Iowa system, where punting has a very goddamn specific purpose. Basic skill and fake punt ability, though, I’ll take Blake Hayes of Illinois.
Kind of...: (1) Concern? Probably not. Iowa will still be good, but I don’t think this will “merely” be a very good Iowa defenese. Opening with Indiana and then Iowa State won’t do them any favors. Could totally see this be a season where Iowa is 5-3 or even 4-4 and then the defense gels and they rampage through November, which only pisses of Iowa fans more, and yet another round of Ferentz takes are unleashed...sorry where am I?
(2) Wisconsin handles Iowa by being better than them at what both teams want to do. Jonathan Taylor went over 100 all three times, including 150+ twice, with a high of 250. Usually it starts with the defense constricting Iowa and forcing their defense on the field longer than they’re used to. Last year didn’t go well (Covid), but neither team does much that’s surprising and UW had just been better of late.
(3) Kevin Stemke was a key part of UW’s back-to-back B1G championships in ‘98-’99. What separated those two from very good UW teams was mainly 1) Elite CB play (Fletcher and Echols) and 2) Elite Special teams. And it was mutually reinforcing. Stemke pins you deep, and you know you have to drive the field methodically since UW isn’t going to give up a big play.
WSR: 1) He’ll get the benefit of the doubt from the media, but whenever there’s that much turnover you need to be worried.
2) We change our gameplan, and it fails. It’s just wonderful.
3) The best person who’s a punter is Peter Mortell. Dude used to go out of his way to raise money for things like Toys for Tots, and he was a great punter too.
The Food: MEAT MEAT MEAT MEAT MEAT
Our friend and smokeboi Stewmonkey13—who’s been killing it with the tongue-in-cheek Iowa content all week...thanks, Stew!—is known in the OTE Slack as something of a meat sharer and meat snob.
We’re talking constant, unsolicited pics of his meat.
There you go, writers:
- Rank Stew’s meats—or tell me the order in which you would eat them.
- Any meat that you’re particularly good at or proud of?
- Weigh in on the Great Pork Tenderloin Debate: the thinness of Iowa or the thickness of Indiana? What are the proper condiments for a pork tenderloin? What’s the proper way to eat one?
MNW: I ordered the pictures in the order in which I’d eat them: Brisket, wings, ribs, ends. But I’ll eat any of those, and I have—if you ever get the chance to tailgate with Stew, do it. Goddamn.
I don’t have the means or patience to smoke good meat at the moment, so I stick to marinades—been really bangin’ a lemon garlic parsley chicken thigh marinade right now—and grilling in the summer.
IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING BREADED MEATS ON SANDWICHES: IF YOU BREAD THE MEAT, YOU DO NOT NEED TO RUIN IT WITH SHITTY WHITE BREAD. Chicken patty and pork patty sandwiches are so fucking stupid. Stop it. Goddamnit.
Kind of...: I will not rank Stew’s meats because they all look fabulous, and I would never think of saying no to any of these fantastic creations. As per (2), I grew up on a farm. My father was an excellent farmer and his pride and joy was the herd cattle. I won’t bore you with stories other than to say that the owner of the sale barn knew him and was happy to see him.
If you have a marinade, or a special process, more power to you. I’m not here to challenge or disagree with what works for anybody else. All I’ll say is that if you start with a great cut, it’s going to taste fantastic a number of different ways, so you’re only duty is not to fuck it up.
“It’s a hamburger, made out of meat, on a bun, with nothing. Add ketchup if you want, I couldn’t care less.”
WSR: 1) Eh, I’ll just have whatever Stew’s making.
2) Whatever I’m making in my smoker usually turns out well. I do a decent job with Brisket, ribs, red snapper, pork butt, chuck roast (as a quick, easy brisket substitute), and ham. In fact, I may need to make something for the kids on the smoker here this week now. Better hope the weather clears up, I guess.
3) Eh, they’re all good. A little bit of bbq sauce is all that’s needed.
Stew: Going off the board and saying the combo of pork belly I made last summer. I made half of it into pulled pork and half of it into burnt ends and then combined them into one of the most decedent sandwiches you can possibly imagine. I make the brisket about 2-3 times a year, but it’s really good, passes the pull test and everything. The pork ribs I make 4-5 times a year and I’m hardcore about the bark, which can all come off in a single piece. But the wings I’m currently making about 2-3 times a month because they’re so damn easy and take very little time or effort. Also, I gotta mention beef ribs because there’s something very viscerally appealing to holding a giant rib bone and tearing salty, juicy meat off it with your teeth.
As for tenderloins, either way is fine. Thin you gotta make sure the breading is well seasoned. Thick you gotta make sure it’s cooked well. Just no damn mayo. Fuck that noise.