Did you eat a lot last night? Get what you wanted late/early this morning? DID YOU REALLY NEED ANOTHER $20 CROCK POT GOOD LORD YOU GOT 5 LAST YEAR... oh, sorry. Memories coming back.
For that, we obviously hit up the folks at Black Heart Gold Pants, the Iowa SBNation community. RossWB from BHGP played along, and gave us the good. We thank him, and check him out on twitter during the game, as well as the BHGP twitter as well.
1) So, pretty middle of the road season for Iowa. Have played really well in the wins, but in the losses (2nd half to Iowa St, whole game of Maryland and Minny) it seemed to go south big time, especially on Defense. How’s the mood of the team & fanbase as you enter Black Friday?
ROSS: I can't really speak for the mood of the team, but I hope they're angry and focused. I hope that they're annoyed after putting together one of their best efforts of the season a week ago against Wisconsin and still coming up short. Iowa's lost all three trophy games so far this season and they need this win just to match last year's record of 8-4. I hope they're motivated to end that skid in trophy games. As for the mood of the fanbase... I think it's a mixture of anger, frustration, resignation, and a smidgen of hope. Seeing Iowa fail to make anything substantial out of this season has been enormously frustrating, especially given the talent Iowa brought back from a year ago and the friendly schedule they were handed. Losing three trophy games against rivals has also been galling, but I think there's also a definite recognition from Iowa fans that this team has some critical flaws and that's been a big part of the disappointing results. That said, I think the overall effort against Wisconsin -- and particularly the second-half offensive effort -- gives Iowa fans a bit of hope that just maybe the Hawkeyes can knock off Nebraska and end that drought in trophy games.
2) Seemed like there was a QB controversy there for a while between Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard. Is there such a thing anymore? Or is this Rudock’s offense finally?
ROSS: I think it's only sparingly "Rudock's offense" in the sense that it's an offense that truly plays to his strengths and puts him in a position to flourish... but it is definitely "Rudock's offense" in the sense that he is the primary signal-caller, yes. There was a time around the end of September, when he was struggling a bit and dealing with an injury, that the door appeared to be cracked open slightly for Beathard, but the door has been slammed shut pretty firmly since then. And even then the controversy was unquestionably a bigger deal in the minds of the fans than in the minds of the coaches; Ferentz has been fairly unwavering in his devotion to Rudock. Fans gravitated towards Beathard in part because Rudock's results at the time were a bit middling and in part because Beathard has a flashier set of physical tools -- he offers more of a run threat, he has a quicker release throwing the ball, and he has a stronger arm. But it would be hard to turn away from Rudock now; he's coming off one of the best games of his career (20/30, 311 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) against Wisconsin and was a key factor in Iowa's second half comeback in that game. I think Iowa fans are all dearly hoping that we'll see more performances like that from Rudock (and more playcalling like that from the staff) the rest of this season and into next year.
3) Mark Weisman has taken most of the load this year, but Jordan Canzieri has helped out well rushing the ball. What are the differences this year between the two?
ROSS: The main difference is just health. Weisman has managed to stay healthy this season, mostly avoiding the dings and scrapes that have slowed him down in past seasons. Iowa was fairly aggressive early in the season about limiting his carries and better managing his workload to avoid having him break down and, health-wise, it seems to have been a success. Canzeri, on the other hand, has been seemingly dealing with one injury after another since fall camp. His injuries haven't been the result of him being overworked; rather they're just a combination of bad luck and the fact that, frankly, he's a bit fragile. In terms of skill set, though, both men are also quite different. Weisman is a straight-ahead runner, at his best when he can hit a hole with a head of steam and punish defenders downfield. He's also a tremendous weapon in the red zone, as his 30 career rushing touchdowns can attest. Canzeri has more speed and quickness than Weisman and he's far more apt to try and make a defender miss than bowl him over. At their best, the two compliment each other very well and create an effective 1-2 punch running the ball. I would also expect to see Akrum Wadley get some carries in the running game on Friday; he's cut more from the Canzeri cloth than the Weisman cloth and he's plenty quick and shifty (he loves to use a spin move to elude tacklers), but he's also had some ball security issues that have limited his playing time.
4) Whoever throws the ball, it gets spread around. Four guys with over 30 catches are pretty good. Talk about the pass catchers and how you hope they do against a D that does pretty well against the pass.
ROSS: Iowa does spread the ball around, but there are essentially five main guys in the Iowa passing game. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the team leader in receptions (43), a title he's held the past two seasons, and he's a reliable option for Rudock: a good route-runner with a solid hands. He doesn't have great speed, so he's more of a possession guy, but he's effective all the same. Tevaun Smith leads the team in receiving yards (488) and he's probably Iowa's best overall receiver, in terms of route-running, catching ability, and speed. He can do a bit of everything and he's a key weapon for Iowa on the outside and down the field; Iowa fans have generally been frustrated all season that he hasn't been a bigger part of the offense. In terms of downfield threats, the other main name is Damond Powell, who has 17 catches for 318 yards and a team-high 3 TDs; he's the fastest guy in Iowa's receiving corps and he has the speed to blow the top off a defense or turn a short pass into a big play. Jake Duzey is Iowa's top receiving tight end this season (34 catches, 364 yards, 3 TD) and he's been especially good in recent weeks (3 catches, 110 yards versus Illinois; 4 catches, 72 yards, 1 TD versus Wisconsin). He can be a difficult matchup (he's too quick for most linebackers and too big/strong for most defensive backs) for opposing defenses. And the final passing game contributor is RB Damon Bullock; he's become Iowa's primary third-down back and while most of his receptions are dump-offs or simple screens, he's shown some aptitude for breaking them for big gains at times.
As far as how I think they'll fare against the Nebraska pass defense... I think they'll do OK. Outside of the debacle against Minnesota and portions of the Maryland game, Iowa's passing offense has been fairly effective in Big Ten play (and occasionally very effective). If the playcalling and performance mirror what we saw in the second half against Wisconsin -- when Iowa attacked through the air and really made an effort to throw the ball downfield and effectively use some of their playmakers -- then I think the passing offense could have a very good day. But we'll have to wait and see if they again wait to get down two scores before opening up the passing game; if they do that, things will probably end poorly (again) for Iowa.
5) The D is pretty good overall, but they have allowed 51 to Minnesota and 38 to Maryland. With the way that Nebraska has struggled in the passing game lately, how do you feel about the D heading into Friday?
ROSS: I'm nervous about the defense, although Nebraska's injury concerns and some stronger recent performances from the Iowa defense have me feeling a little more optimistic. It certainly helps that Ameer Abdullah doesn't appear to be 100% healthy yet and isn't the whirling dervish he was earlier this season, when he was actually keeping pace with Melvin Gordon (and even bettering him some weeks). And if Nebraska is without their starting center (Mark Pelini) and best wide receiver (Kenny Bell), well, that should make things a bit easier on the Iowa defense, which would be welcome.
That said... I certainly haven't forgotten about how badly the defense got mugged by Minnesota or Maryland or the fact that Melvin Gordon still racked up well over 200 total yards against them last week. They're still very vulnerable to runs on the edges and to the zone-read and I don't entirely trust them not to over-commit to the run and leave things a little too open in the passing game. So I'm cautiously optimistic that the defense will play well enough to give Iowa a chance to win, but I'm still very aware of their flaws and wary of Nebraska's ability to exploit them.
6) Heat still on Kirk Ferentz? Or is he getting safer with a 8-4 record this year?
ROSS: 7-5 would be a really bad look for Ferentz and this Iowa team, given the talent they brought back from a year ago (several starters on both sides of the ball, including a pair of likely high NFL draft picks in OT Brandon Scherff and DT Carl Davis) and the favorable schedule they were given by the Big Ten scheduling gurus. It would be a worse record than they had a season ago and that they lost every game against teams with a winning record, as well as every trophy game against a rival. That would get people plenty fired up, I think. That said, do I think it would be enough to oust him after this season? No, not particularly. I think he's back next season whether Iowa wins or loses on Friday, but the circumstances of that return could be somewhat different, depending on the outcome against Nebraska.
If he loses, I think he'll be under pressure to shake up his coaching staff and I think he'll definitely enter next season with a lot of pressure to turn things around and win 9-10 games. If he wins, I don't think that solves everything by any means -- 8-4 is still a frustrating outcome with this team and this schedule -- but it would ease some of the grousing and cool off at least some of the more ill-tempered rhetoric. That said, more and more Iowa fans are growing restless with his tenure every season and if he can't deliver a 9-10 win season next year (which won't be easy, given Iowa's looming NFL defections and a tougher schedule) and/or serious Big Ten contention (by which I mean either playing in the conference title game or at least entering the final game of the regular season with a chance to play in that game), his seat will get hotter and the tide might finally turn against him.
7) Folks will be coming from the West to Kinnick and Iowa City. Where do you recommend they go to hit the nightlife Thanksgiving night?
ROSS: I'd recommend grabbing a burger and a beer from Short's Burger and Shine, a bar in downtown Iowa City owned by former Iowa kicker (and fan-favorite) Nate Kaeding, or perhaps a pizza and a beer from The Airliner, which is a few doors down. After throwing back a few more beers the rest of the evening, I'd end the evening with a burrito from Panchero's. And if they get up early enough on Friday, I'd tell them to grab breakfast at Hamburg Inn No.2 -- it's just a short distance from downtown and it's an Iowa City institution and a great spot to get breakfast.
8) Who else do you think will make a difference that we haven’t mentioned above on Friday?
ROSS: I talked about Iowa's defense earlier, but I didn't discuss any particular players. Iowa's best defenders are pretty much all along the defensive line (DTs Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and DE Drew Ott) and I think they're going to need to have tremendous games for Iowa to win on Friday. The good news is that they're capable of doing just that. Davis and Trinca-Pasat have been one of the Big Ten's most effective combinations at defensive tackle, with Davis occupying blockers (and occasionally swallowing up running backs in the backfield) and allowing Trinca-Pasat to wreak havoc (11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks). Drew Ott has been a force for Iowa on the end (12 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries) and as a Nebraska native, I expect him to be playing with a little extra fire on Friday, too. If those three are able to help Iowa win the battle on the line of scrimmage, I think Iowa will have a good chance to win the game.
9) Prediction time. Who wins, and how do they do it?
ROSS: Nebraska has the better record and has generally been the better team this season, but they seem to be entering this game more banged up and in a worse state, mentally, off the heels of a blowout loss to Wisconsin and a late gut-punch loss to Minnesota when it looked like they were driving for the game-winning score. That loss took them out of contention for a Big Ten title and I'm just not sure where their heads are at after all that. They also have to go on the road with a short week of preparation, which isn't ideal. Iowa's also entering this game off a loss, but I think they can take a lot of positives out of their second half against Wisconsin and I think they'll have a little extra motivation to finally win a rivalry game this season. So I'm going with Iowa 31, Nebraska 21, with the Iowa defense forcing a few Nebraska turnovers in the second half and the offense turning those into points to give Iowa some breathing room in a close game.