Iowa Blogger Q/A: A Lesson in Respect

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Winfield shot over a gaggle of questions to a fellow sbn member and Hawkeye blogger, Hawkeye State of the infamous Black Heart Gold Pants. Hawkeye State responded to Winfield with a broadside so epic that Winfield's e-mail account has since been deleted. Thankfully, I was only CCed. Here is the exchange:

1. How has Iowa used this month to prepare for our offense?
Basically stuff like this.

Our defensive coordinator Norm Parker -- who is one of the few coaches left in college football to have coached in the heyday of the wishbone offense -- is clearly losing his mind. He's illustrating defensive concepts at press conferences with the help of water bottles and juice glasses and throwing "B-back" into everyday conversation with increasing regularity. With that said, there is no one I trust more to break down a unique offense and implement the best possible strategy. In the past, Parker has said defending the option is simply assignment football; there has surely been more talk of assignments and discipline than ever before. No team is harmed more by the bowl layoff than a "gimmick" offense (I don't use this as a derogatory term, but rather as the least-bad description of an offense that few other teams run). Given a week, the option would scare me; given a month, I'm not so concerned.

2. It seems like it is the defensive tackles of the opponent who have proven to thwart the running of our offense. Break down your defensive line.
The good news is that it's Iowa's best defensive line in at least 5 seasons. The bad news is that it's the best for all the wrong reasons.

The ends, Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns, have been stellar this season. Clayborn is the one player on the line who might be oversized (6'3", 285), and has had no trouble running down halfbacks in the backfield this season. He'll be a problem for Tech's offense, even when running the option to the opposite side of the field; teams have had to resort to blocking him on stretch plays (rather than the customary practice of leaving the off-side end unblocked), and GT will need to at least scrape him if they're to prevent him from wreaking havoc. Binns is a problem here, though. He's essentially the size of a large linebacker, and his particular strengths -- getting to the quarterback and batting down low-flying passes -- are not particularly needed here.

Defensive tackle is where you may see something interesting. Karl Klug and Christian Ballard are both undersized but excellent at maintaining gap discipline and getting through the line with speed. They are susceptible to huge offensive lines (like Ohio State), but have fared well against smallish lineups comparable to Tech. I say you may see something interesting because Iowa's two-deep is riddled with 290 lb. backup linemen, all of whom may be better at holding up against the run than Binns on the outside. Iowa's maintained a remarkably consistent defensive line since week one (these four have started every game, if I remember correctly), but Ballard is a converted defensive end who could be moved outside to make way for more girth in the interior line. Don't be surprised if Binns is effectively benched for that reason.

3. We know about your highly lauded players and the interesting matchups they help present, what is one player that we probably won't hear about but should be on the lookout for?
The main event in this contest is clearly the Georgia Tech offense vs. Iowa defense, so there has been little discussion of the Iowa offense to date. So let's discuss the undercard, and let's begin that discussion with Dace Richardson. He is probably the best feel-good story of this season; Richardson was effectively done with football after his knees declared themselves independent of the rest of his body and began a nasty anatomical civil war two seasons ago. Even the ever-upbeat Kirk Ferentz declared his career over. But Richardson, who had played right tackle as a true freshman in 2005, made a miraculous recovery over the offseason, fashioned himself into an all-American guard, and anchored the Iowa running attack...right up until he broke his ankle against Michigan State October 24. It says something for his dominance that, despite missing half the conference slate, Richardson was named first team all-Big Ten. The offense is demonstrably more effective when he's healthy. And he's healthy.

4. Your offense was broken down here and all the perception is that it is a mediocre one. What is the average Iowa fan's perception of the Hawkeye offense?
That it's a mediocre one. We love Ricky Stanzi, but he has a bad tendency to set his hair on fire just to see if he can piss on his head to put it out. The halfbacks are a true freshman from Sioux City and a redshirt freshman who was playing safety in spring practice. The receiver corps is deep -- probably the deepest at Iowa since Hayden Fry's heyday -- but have been underutilized at times because of conservative playcalling and Stanzi's fondness for throwing the ball at nobody in particular. The offensive line, expected to be the strength of the entire team before the season began, has been injury-riddled and underwhelming; six different starting lines have been used this year, and the best player has arguably been a freshman converted from defensive end to guard. It's a bizarrely efficient offense; they seem to find what is necessary and not a point more. Obligatory FIRE KOK here, because it's essentially the same thing Iowa's run for the last decade.

5. The BigTen gets no respect and the SEC gets too much. Why do you think this is? Please rant.
Hey, nobody gets more frequent flyer miles per bowl win than the Big Ten. Look, I could give you the typical litany of BXI excuses -- we play the most difficult set of bowls of any conference (which is nearly unquestionable), we dilute our tie-ins by sending two teams to the BCS nearly every year, every game is effectively a road game, just look at the regular season results, etc. -- but, to be honest, we're more irate about being lumped in with Ohio State every season. Since 2002, Iowa has faced the following teams in bowl games: Southern Cal, Florida (in Orlando), LSU, Florida (again, this time in Tampa), Texas (in San Antonio), South Carolina, and now Georgia Tech. The Hawks have gone 3-3 in those games; they have certainly held their own. Yet all we hear is how the Big Ten can't win the big one. Well, if the idiots voting in the polls gave us a shot instead of Ohio State, they might get a different result.

Oh, and by the way, the conference is 3-3 so far this bowl season in a year where most observers -- me included -- thought more than 2 wins was a pipe dream. The reason? Ask Miami and Oregon how their pre-bowl competition compared to their BXI opponents. There are basic concepts, like form tackling (who knew this was so foreign to the Pac-10?) and shedding blocks (see Miami and LSU) that are executed at their highest level in the Big Televen. Unfortunately, there are also concepts like field goal kicking (thanks, Just Northwestern and Michigan State!) and not sucking at life (LOLphers) that we haven't yet mastered.

Bob Sanders once famously said of Florida that, "they aren't so fast when they're on their asses." There is no conference more physical than the Big Ten, and there is no team in that conference more physical than Iowa. I'm glad GT's players seem to understand this will be a slog, but I'm afraid they have no idea what they're getting into.

6. What do you grow on your farm? Corn? Soybeans? Pigs?!
All three. Hope you enjoy eating them on your tobacco plantations, you ungrateful tanned-ass southerners.

That was some great insight from Hawkeye State. And I will say that I am incredibly grateful to live within 40 minutes of the Atlantic in a state where year round weather doesn't typically fall below 70 degrees. Post your comments!

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