Although it has only been a few weeks since my last entry, it seems like ages ago before Iowa fans expected the Hawkeyes to walk out of TCF Bank Stadium with a victory and a likely berth in the Outback Bowl. Instead, Iowa laid an absolute egg and has a date with a 10-2 Missouri Tigers squad in the Insight Bowl. Here are some of my thoughts on the recent developments relating to Iowa football and my predictions on the game.
Minnesota Game. There are few, if any, positive thoughts to take away from Iowa’s 27-24 loss to Minnesota. A team that had aspirations of playing in another BCS game has no business losing to a 2-9 Minnesota team last in the Big Ten in rush defense and rush offense with an interim head coach at the helm. Yet, the Hawkeyes came out and played uninspired football that was icing on the cake of the most disappointing Iowa football season since 1997. Adrian Clayborn’s comments after the game, while honest and true, drove the knife through the hearts of Iowa fans saying that he felt as though the team had lost its will to win—very discouraging comments coming from a leader of a team with so much promise at the beginning of the season. The worst loss of the Kirk Ferentz era in terms of unexpectedness since the Western Michigan senior day debacle in 2007 was the perfect conclusion of went wrong this season.
DJK. As added egg in the face of the Iowa football program and Iowa fans, Iowa’s all-time leading receiver was charged with several serious misdemeanors involving the possession of drugs. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ engaging personality and flair for the dramatic on the football field endeared him to Iowa fans during his four years in Iowa City, all of which came to a sudden halt upon hearing the news of the charges. At the beginning of the season it seemed as though Johnson-Koulianos had matured and was focused on playing up to his potential. Despite his likely NFL draft status as a third round or fourth round pick, Johnson-Koulianos has now not only tarnished his reputation in the hearts and minds of Iowa football fans but has also likely lost several hundred thousand dollars and will have to rely on being signed as an undrafted free agent. Given the types of narcotics that were found at his house, it is clear that Johnson-Koulianos has problems beyond just the obvious of using marijuana and cocaine. For his sake, I hope that he is able to receive the treatment and counseling necessary to help him. While I think many Iowa fans will be able to forgive his transgressions, they will have a difficult time looking at the cover of last year’s Sports Illustrated and his name in the record books without shaking their head of what could have been and without having a bitter taste in their mouth that his name at Iowa will forever be associated with his actions off the field and not his play on the field.
Rumor Mill. The rumor mill was running rampant leading up to the news on Tuesday, December 7 that Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested. While many of those rumors turned out to be true as they related to Johnson-Koulianos, the subsequent rumors that were given life in the Iowa message board community ranged from rumors that 25 players were getting kicked off the team to Kirk Ferentz retiring from coaching. Prior to a press conference at which Gary Barta and Kirk Ferentz were to speak, Iowa fans, having suffered a disappointing 7-5 season, the arrest of its all-time leading scorer, began to fear the worst of the rumors and listened with eagerness on their radios throughout the state when Barta and Ferentz merely stated that Iowa has a drug-testing program and wanted to make some changes to the already diligent testing program in an effort to prevent cheating. It was nothing more and nothing less, but Iowa fans, and certain Iowa media members, expected the apocalypse to descend upon the Hayden Fry Football Complex all because of rumors on message boards that were perpetuated further through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. After being an avid Iowa message board reader for the past ten years or so, I am proud to say that I have now been message board free for the past three weeks. Not only was I sick of the rumors flying around, but I was sick of reading comments of people who did not attend the University of Iowa, have only been Iowa fans since 2002, and who could not form intelligible sentences and thoughts. Instead, I have decided to only read stories written by journalists who have to answer to editors, a reading public, and the threat of liability for libel or slander. I implore all of you to do the same. Andrew Logue, Marc Morehouse, Mike Hlas, Jon Miller, Rob Howe, Tom Kakert, and the many other Iowa beat writers are all excellent journalists who write well and do not post stories on their blogs or in the newspaper without credible sources and without first researching the story. If you must have the latest news on Hawkeye athletics, follow any of those gentlemen on Twitter. Not only do you cut through the garbage of the message boards, but you also are able to read stories that have credibility.
Insight Bowl. When it became apparent that Iowa was likely headed to the Insight Bowl, Iowa fans collectively began to hold a glimmer of excitement with the possibility of facing future rival Nebraska. Instead, the Big 12 Conference stepped in and prevented an early start to what will be a great rivalry and the associated publicity for the two Big Ten schools. Iowa faces a very talented Missouri team that finished 10-2 on the season with an outstanding, gun-slinger quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. There is an unscientific line of thinking that the team that wants to be at the bowl game less has a greater likelihood of losing. Iowa had its sights set on great things this season as an encore to last year’s Orange Bowl win. Missouri on the other hand was passed over for the Insight Bowl last year in favor of a 6-6 Iowa State team that beat a porous Minnesota team. Reading all of the stories coming out of Tempe this week it sounds as though Missouri is loose and relaxed while the Hawkeyes have been focused and a little tense.
This matchup has scared me ever since it was announced due to the Tiger passing attack. While Gabbert will not be confused with Dan Persa or Kirk Cousins anytime soon, he has an excellent arm and gets rid of the ball in a hurry. Missouri’s offense is most similar to Northwestern, which is an unsettling thought to Iowa fans. My concern in this game is that Missouri will exploit the Iowa defensive scheme the same way that Northwestern has done for the past five years—slant routs over the middle and quick passes to the outside, both forcing Iowa’s linebackers to make plays in space. Although the return of Jeff Tarpinian will help considerably, Iowa’s defensive line will not have any time to pressure Gabbert given how quickly he gets rid of the ball. On defense, Missouri boasts a very stout defense ranking tenth in the nation in pass defense efficiency and sixth in the nation in scoring defense. Without Adam Robinson, Iowa will have to rely on senior Ricky Stanzi’s arm and decisionmaking to pick apart the Missouri secondary, something that may be easier said than done, as I expect Missouri to sit back and force Iowa to utilize true freshman Marcus Coker. Given the way this season has gone, I have no strong feeling one way or the other as to how this game will go. It is not too cliché to say that the 2011 season starts tomorrow.
The momentum heading into the offseason can be helped considerably with a win. Likewise, things on the recruiting scene look almost as good as the vaunted class of 2005, especially with the signing of running back Rodney Coe. A win tomorrow would do wonders not only for the players but also the psyche of the fanbase.
Regardless of the outcome, I would like to see Stanzi, Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug, Brett Greenwood, Julian Vandervelde, Paki O'Meara, Jeff Tarpinian, Paul Chaney, Jr., Brett Morse, Allen Reisner, Colin Sandeman, Daniel Murray and Ryan Donahue to have great games for all of the hard work and time that they have dedicated to the Iowa football program the last four and five years. More than anything else, win or lose, I want to see this team play the hard-nosed, discipline football that has defined the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz. Pressuring Gabbert and establishing a ground game will keep the Hawks in this game late into the fourth quarter. For the seniors’ sake, I hope it is enough.
Prediction: Iowa 24 Missouri 21
Pick to Click: Adrian Clayborn