The last Q&A of the season arrives with the Iowa game as usual and will be quickly followed with the results of a coaching search which is somewhat unusual-
Come to think of it, those are actually becoming pretty common as well every 3-5 years.
But first, the Hawkeyes who have taken the last seven of these in a row. Mike Riley introduced us to the joys of having our teeth kicked in as he pouted on the sidelines losing his final two matchups by a combined 96-24. Then came Scott Frost’s specialty of having our hopes crushed at the last possible moments losing the next four by a combined 19 points.
To fill us in on Iowa’s thoughts on the game and their season, Jonah Parker of Iowa’s Black Heart Gold Pants joins the Q&A for the fourth straight season. He always provides solid insight and this week shares his thoughts on our head coach search, what turned things around for Iowa this year after a tough start, and some honest talk about Brian Ferentz.
Many thanks to Jonah as always and away we go:
As we enter the last week of our season, you get to submit the final answer to THE question on Husker minds - who should be our new head coach? (Have as much fun as you want but keep in mind we’ve heard all the Brian Ferentz jokes.)
What? No Brian Ferentz fun to be had here? Fine, we’ll have to continue hoping he fails upwards once more and ends up back in the NFL. If we can’t pawn Brian off on you, I’m inclined to say Nebraska would be a good fit for Matt Campbell. I genuinely think he is building a program at Iowa State the way Nebraska should try to build – from the inside out (as in literally from the interior on the lines to the skill positions) and with a focus on culture, physicality and defense. It’s the opposite of what (from the outside) it has seemed Nebraska has done post-Pelini. But Campbell finally got the monkey off his back with the Hawkeyes this year (I won’t go into the fact it took a blown call that should have indisputably been overturned if officials had looked at the goal line angle) so the added benefit of having a Husker coach incapable of beating Iowa is out the window. I would also throw out Chris Klieman at Kansas State as someone I think could build that kind of culture in Lincoln. I understand he’s probably not the kind of name Husker fans are hoping for but again, I think the key to being successful in the West is building on the lines, focusing on defense and letting the recruiting advantages the Nebraska history has built fill in the rest.
After a 3-4 (1-3) start to the season and attitudes (at least which I could see online) in a very dark place, the Hawkeyes are now one victory away from a second straight trip to the Big 10 Championship Game. What in the blue hell happened?
I think a couple of things have happened since then. The most obvious is the schedule got meaningfully easier. Playing Michigan and at Ohio State is not a recipe for loading up on wins for most teams, but when you try to do it without an offense it’s impossible. Beyond the two big ones from the East, Iowa’s other two losses also came to top-10 defenses nationally. The Hawkeyes gave up just 19 combined points in those two losses but the offense scored only 13 points (again, I’m going to try to avoid pointing out that Monte Pottebaum was quite clearly over the goal line with possession of the ball to put Iowa up 14-3 over Iowa State but ultimately they opted to show fans that angle just once on TV and apparently never to the officials, but I’m totally not bitter about it).
Things have trended better when not facing off with high level defenses, but also the offensive line has started to come together. A lot of that, in my view, comes down to the decision to move Connor Colby back to guard, where he had spent his career up until this season, and insert veteran Jack Plumb at right tackle. The line is still an issue, but they’ve come a long way from where they were a month ago and it’s provided Iowa some semblance of a rushing attack and has limited the number of pressures Spencer Petras has faced. That’s resulted in much better performance from a not great QB and an offense that overall is at least serviceable.
The other thing worth calling out is the health of the WR room. Iowa started the season with seven scholarship receivers after losing Charlie Jones to Purdue after the transfer portal window closed. Six of those seven scholarship athletes started the season injured. Thus, Iowa played their first two games of the year with only Arland Bruce IV a healthy scholarship WR. Over the subsequent weeks, Iowa slowly returned Brody Brecht, Nico Ragaini and ultimately Diante Vines. It’s still not great as Jacob Bostick and most notably, Omaha native Keagan Johnson, have remained sidelined all season, but at least there are actual scholarship athletes to line up out wide and attempt a forward pass.
The over/under for Friday’s game is around 38. (Current weather around kickoff is mid-40’s with 30-40% chance of rain) I feel like if we explode for 10-14 points, it’s asking a lot for you guys to get to 24-28 the way our D has been playing lately. Is this the easiest money ever made or is there something up Whipple’s and Li’l Ferentz’ sleeve only the bookies know about?
The general rule of thumb for Iowa fans this year has been to bet the under. Always. I would do the same this week, despite knowing that Iowa hasn’t scored fewer than 26 points in this series in a decade. This offense is not good and the defense is truly great. I think the final total is closer to 28 than 38.
Freshman Kaleb Johnson has been a find for the Hawkeyes this year with his signature game being a 200 yard effort in a 24-3 upset of Purdue. Fill us in - where’s he from and what’s his story?
Johnson is the real deal. A Hamilton, Ohio native, he was a 4-star prospect according to Rivals but managed to largely slip under the radar. Rarely does a star back escape the state of Ohio without offers from the Big Ten East, but Johnson committed to Cal in the summer before his senior season and most schools seemed to back off. Iowa had prioritized him early and stayed on him. That heated up when he really blew up as a senior, averaging close to 150 yards and nearly 2 touchdowns a game. He visited Iowa City finally for the top-5 matchup with Penn State (it’s hard to believe Iowa was a top-5 team a year ago, but defensive scores buoyed the offense through half a season last year and propelled the Hawkeyes to a #2 ranking following that PSU win) when the Hawkeyes hosted a slew of high end prospects (including 5-star safety Xavier Nwankpa and 5-star tackle Kayden Proctor), virtually all of whom ultimately committed to Iowa.
Fast forward a year and Johnson is an absolute beast. He’s listed at 6’ and 212 pounds and came to Iowa City with a 4.4 40 time. He’s got a great combination of power and breakaway speed that few Hawkeyes have had in recent years. Occasionally he misses holes and we’ve seen him run square into the line instead of making a cutback, but he’s also shown power and balance to bounce off would-be tacklers in the backfield and avoid negative plays in a way that helps alleviate some of the issues up front. Once he hits the second level, he’s as fast a back as Iowa has had in a straight line in probably a decade. He splits time with both Leshon and Gavin Williams (no relation despite the other nepotism in the program) largely due to being a true freshman who is still learning to pass block and he hasn’t been relied upon to catch passes out of the backfield largely because Brian Ferentz hasn’t shown enough creativity to actually throw to a back outside of a screen on third and long. But he’s a guy that should blossom into a superstar over the next two seasons in Iowa City.
All joking aside, where do Iowa fans stand with Brian Ferentz? Earlier this year, it seemed as if the only thing saving his job was dad’s name on his birth certificate. Has the offense improved just enough for folks to tolerate him further or is Kirk going to feel heavy pressure to make a switch at OC this off-season?
The short answer is no. I don’t think anything has changed with fan sentiment. Everyone wants Brian gone. But there are differing opinions on just how much blame he should face. You don’t get to dead last nationally in total offense (it’s been better, but we were there a few short weeks ago) by just having a bad OC. Lots of things have gone wrong and there hasn’t been a ton for him to work with. And any OC at Iowa is operating under the philosophical shortcomings of Kirk Ferentz, which tends to prioritize limiting turnovers and playing field position over just about everything else.
Having said that, Brian has done almost nothing to limit the shortcomings of his offensive line, quarterback and WR group (which is clearly much better than a month ago). There has been no creativity with play calling, formation usage or pre-snap motion. Spencer Petras is still being asked to process way too much information at the line of scrimmage (something that won’t change under Kirk) and there’s been no use of anyone to help the OL give an immobile QB more time to make a throw. So the consensus remains that Brian needs to go. But expectations for change a year from now are not high.
After another season of banging heads off brick and drinking at lethal levels, there will still be Husker gluttons for punishment making the trip to Iowa City. Have a heart for these poor sick souls - name some locally owned joints you’d recommend for food and/or drink.
I’ll start by apologizing in advance for the drunken insults undoubtedly hurled at visiting Huskers by some portion of our fanbase. It’s going to happen and while I’m it happens to an extent everywhere, it still stinks and I apologize for it.
Now, having said that, where you grab food/drink is going to depend largely on how much time you’ve got. I’m a huge proponent of Big Grove Brewery as a place to hang out away from campus. The time of year is not ideal (it’s best in the summer with it’s huge patio, fire pits and room for kids to run and play), but it’s great local beer, good food and a place I would recommend checking out on say Saturday if fans are spending the night and want to watch the rest of the college football slate after Black Friday. On game day, I would recommend staying more centralized around downtown and then moving toward the stadium. Hamburg Inn and Bluebird Diner are both great breakfast places on the north end of downtown while Pullman is a newer place with a bit pricier and more upscale menu for brunch in the heart of downtown. For lunch, given it’s a 3pm kick, St. Burch is a great spot (buffalo chicken burritos are the way to go) and Airliner is an Iowa City staple with great pizza. If you’re already on the other side of the river, Stella has a great menu of burgers and is literally across the tracks from Kinnick, though it will be packed. For dinner, Basta is a good Italian spot, Pagliai’s has good thin crust pizza on the east side, Wig and Pen has deep dish on the west side and Iowa Athletic Club is a new place in the Coralville Landing that would make for a great night cap after the game.
I should caveat that I now have three kids so my eating and drinking habits have slowly evolved over time and I welcome any outside thoughts on places to eat and drink @JPinIC_BHGP.
Finally it’s prediction time. With the Hawkeyes currently a -10 ½ point favorite and no musical QB’s issue with the Huskers this weekend, what do you have for a final score and will people be able to stay awake for the whole thing without the assistance of highly illegal pharmaceuticals?
That is the question of Iowa’s season to this point! I suspect we get another low-scoring affair and a lot of frustrated fans on both sides. Iowa’s defense has been great and I expect them to go out on senior day by creating a couple turnovers. I could see one going for a score but at minimum, I think they set the offense up for a short field at least once. On the other side, I think Iowa getssomething going on the ground again and that alleviates some of the issues in the passing game. Granted, redzone scoring has been a nightmare all season so it likely ends in field goals. I’ll take Iowa 23, Nebraska 13.