RossWB of BLACK HEART GOLD PANTS joins the show today to talk Hoosiers-Hawkeyes. You can check out my #takes over at BHGP. I joined their podcast to talk about mainly Subarus and Menard's, too.
KR: So, Ross. You're 8-0 in 2015. Nobody outside of Iowa City expected it. This season's pretty much put Kirk Ferentz back in the good graces of the Iowa fanbase, yeah? Seems like the narrative from #IowaTwitter has shifted significantly this year. How much has this season cooled what was seemingly a seat growing uncomfortably warm in recent years?
ROSS: Hey, everyone likes a winner. 95% of the angst around Ferentz has always been about results (namely, that they weren't quite good enough) and this year Iowa has emphatically gotten the results (so far, at least), so people are happy. It helps that he's changed a few things up in terms of preparation and in-game coaching and that he's been a bit more open with the press. It's fair to wonder what will happen with him -- and Iowa fans -- if Iowa hits another rough patch, but hopefully that won't happen anytime soon. Winning really does cure most ills.
KR: I've heard some Iowa fans proclaim this the game remaining on the regular season schedule they're most nervous about. Do you share that sentiment -- and is it a common one running through the fanbase?
ROSS: Yes, I do. I mean, there are reasons to be concerned about every game Iowa has left on the schedule. They "should" win them all, but Minnesota has a solid defense and might be playing the rest of the season with "win one for the Killer!" (note: they may wanna workshop that one a bit more) emotion, Purdue has... uh... trains, I guess, and that total creeper mascot, and I'm sure Nebraska would love nothing more than to ruin their not-a-rival's season. But the Hoosiers scare me the most because it's on the road (the only time in the last decade when Iowa played well in Bloomington was 2008 and that was a putrid IU team; this IU team is decidedly less putrid) and because their offense is legit. 2 legit, one might even say. I worry about Iowa getting wrapped up in a track meet with Sudfeld and Howard and the rest of Indiana's offense and IU finally getting a few late game breaks (seems like they're overdue for that).
As far as the rest of the fanbase, I think there's a healthy apprehension about the Hoosiers. The forgiving nature of the IU defense is definitely inspiring confidence among Iowa fans, but I think there's a lot of respect for Sudfeld and the offense and concern about what could happen if he goes off and/or IU catches a few breaks.
KR: Onto football. Ol' Kirk's known to not give up much in the way of injury information -- but y'all are a little dinged up, correct? Presuming Jordan Canzeri can't go, what are your impressions of Akrum Wadley so far? And should Hoosier fans expect CJ Beathard to be limited in some way tomorrow?
ROSS: Yeah, the offense in particular has been bitten by the injury bug (why can't modern science end that miserable creature smh). The defense is without Drew Ott, an All-Big Ten caliber defensive end and the leader of the defensive line coming into this season, but otherwise they're in pretty good shape. The offense was actually in worse shape a few weeks ago, when the top running backs, wide receiver, and offensive tackles were out. Now most of those guys are back. Jordan Canzeri is almost certainly going to miss the game and so is nominal starting RT Ike Boettger, but everyone else should be suited up and ready to go.
It's been really gratifying to see Wadley blow up over the last few weeks. He's always possessed some really great skills at RB and flashed those in the past... but it was also easy to see why the coaches didn't trust him, because he fumbled the ball. A lot. So far he seems to have the fumbling under control (/knock on wood) and it's been easy to just focus on his skills: he's as quick as any back Iowa has had in a while and he has great body control. He moves well in the open field and is also really good at reading his blocks and hitting the hole well. He's not the burliest running back, but he can take a hit, too, and get some yards after contact.
As far as Beathard... yeah, he's banged up. Everyone's being pretty vague about what exactly his injury is -- it's in the hip/groin region -- but it's not expected to really improve until after the season and his mobility has definitely been compromised as a result. A healthy CJB might have had 100 yards rushing against Maryland last week, given the wide open space he was seeing, but his body couldn't take advantage of all that space. Hopefully the Iowa OL can give him some decent protection and he can do his damage through the air on Saturday.
KR: Give me one thing that should excite Indiana fans -- Iowa's biggest weakness heading into this game.
ROSS: As good as the Iowa offensive line has been in run blocking (see below), they've been below average in pass protection. They've given up 16 sacks so far this year (tied for third worst in the Big Ten) and allowed Beathard to get hit on several other plays that technically didn't count as sacks. The pass protection has just been plain shaky and while the running game has been able to bail out of the Iowa offense on multiple occasions already this year, if this turns into a shootout, then Iowa is probably going to need to get production out of the passing game, too. When the season began Beathard was pretty good at throwing on the move and using his mobility to get a few more seconds and find a receiver downfield, but with his mobility as compromised as it is now, it's going to put even more pressure on the Iowa OL to give him decent protection. Indiana's pass defense is poor, but if they're able to get pressure on Beathard, he may not be able to really exploit that shaky secondary.
KR: Okay, now the opposite. What do you see as the biggest strength of this Iowa football team?
ROSS: The running game, for and against. The ground game was a definite question mark for the Iowa offense in the offseason, considering that the Hawkeyes lost a 3-year starter at running back (Mark Weisman) and a pair of experienced players at tackle (Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal). But the running game this year has just brutalized teams. Iowa's second in the B1G in rushing offense with just over 200 yards a pop and they've scored 21 touchdowns on the ground. Their ypc isn't as gaudy as Ohio State's 5.88, but a 4.64 ypc isn't too shabby. Despite the new faces on the OL (and the multiple injuries Iowa has suffered there this season), they've been an absolute road grader of a unit for much of this season. The quartet of running backs behind them -- Canzeri, Wadley, LeShun Daniels, and Derrick Mitchll -- have really excelled as well. They each have a slightly different skill set, but they've done a tremendous job of taking advantage of the holes the offensive line has made for them and run all over several opponents this year.
On the other side of the ball, the rush defense has been a rock, too. Iowa's 5th in the nation, giving up 86 ypg on 2.8 ypc. They've given up only one rushing touchdown all year, which is kind of a fluky stat, but also a good indicator of how study the defense has been near the goal line. Jordan Howard figures to be one of the best running backs Iowa has seen all year, but the way this run defense has performed all year also gives me a lot of confidence in that match-up.
KR: Alright, the important thing. Call your shot. Give me a prediction and a score.
ROSS: I'm nervous about this game and the threat the Hoosiers represent, but I'm also not going to pick against Iowa after the way they've played so far this season. I think Beathard has his best day passing the ball in several weeks, with Tevaun Smith, Matt VandeBerg, and the tight ends all putting together impressive days catching the ball. Beathard goes for 250 yards and three scores through the air, while Wadley and Daniels add a pair of touchdowns on the ground. The magic number for Iowa in this game is 35, in my opinion. I expect Indiana to be able to score around 27-31 points in this game, which means Iowa needs around 35 points to win. I think they get there. IOWA 38, INDIANA 28.