Overall, the Big Ten is down in '12. Ohio State and Penn State are on probation. At times, not a single Big Ten team has been seen in the USA Today Coaches' Top 25 this season. Ohio State is undefeated, but they are ineligible for the coaches poll.
Iowa entered '12 without a lot of fan fare. But, right now, the Hawkeyes are struggling, after dropping two straight games in a row, for the first time this season.
The Hawkeyes are considered a young team. Thirteen Hawkeyes have started for the first time in their careers this season. Earning the first start of their career in the season-opening victory over Northern Illinois were OL Austin Blythe, OL Brett Van Sloten, RB Damon Bullock, FB Mark Weisman, DL Darian Cooper, DL Louis Trinca-Pasat, LB Anthony Hitchens, and DB B.J. Lowery. True freshman Connor Kornbrath was Iowa's starting punter. RG Andrew Donnal started his first career contest in Iowa's Big Ten opener against Minnesota, RB Greg Garmon started his first career contest against Penn State, while LG Jordan Walsh and WR Jordan Cotton started their first career games last week at Northwestern. Cotton, Hitchens and Van Sloten are juniors; Bullock, Lowery, Trinca-Pasat and Weisman are sophomores; Blythe, Cooper and Walsh are redshirt freshmen; Garmon is a true freshman.
Iowa is 2-2 at the midway point of its Big Ten season. Two of its next four contests will be at home (Purdue and Nebraska) and two will be against Legends Division foes (at Michigan on Nov. 17 and home vs. Nebraska on Nov. 23).
Can the Hawkeyes get on track at Indiana, who are coming off the first B1G win in the Kevin Wilson era in Bloomington? The Hoosiers (3-5, 1-3 B1G Leaders) won last week for the first time in B1G play @ Illinois 33-17.
Unlike several games being played in the Big Ten today, no trophy will be exchanged in Iowa @ Indiana game. Iowa needs a balance attack with senior quarterback James Vandenberg and sophomore running back Damon Bullock (#32 pictured above). As the Big Ten Network suggested this week, how much defense will the Hooisers bring to the table coming off the big win @ Illinois?
While Iowa seeks to get back on track @ IU, the Hooisers want to build on the momentum coming off the B1G win @ Illinois. Can the Hoosiers make it two in a row in the B1G?
"Defensively, we made some strides. We did have 14 missed tackles. We have to play a little bit harder. Thought we had a few guys not playing quite at the energy that we've seen in the previous few weeks, so we didn't get off blocks and weren't as physical as we needed to be. We made some sacks and had some stops and still we need to keep pushing. Positives, we held them to 17 points. We did get the sacks, so we created a turnover on defense, one with special teams. They had the ball twice inside the 5-yard line and we hold them to three points, and at the end of the game they don't score, so a couple of red zone stops were good," coach Wilson said opening his weekly press conference.
Then, coach Wilson turned to the offensive side of the ball, with the following comments, "offensively, it was one of our worst performances. I think the Illinois defense going into it, they're a little bit more skilled and proficient than people give them credit for. Their front seven, particularly, was very good. Only 1-of-13 on third down is a little disappointing. We only had seven good plays and I don't think we were being very physical. We did have one good drive at the end of the fourth quarter, but the offense was pretty anemic all day. We didn't turn the ball over. We did score when we crossed the midfield. The fourth quarter drive was nice, but we need to be a lot cleaner. It was nice to see our defense come through. We're kind of picking it up, but again, we still haven't played a complete game yet. It was good to get a win."
In 2012, Iowa entered the 14th season under coach Kirk Ferentz. In the off season, Iowa made several changes in the coaching staff, including coordinators Greg Davis and Phil Parker. The coordinators continue to work on the little things with Iowa's young football team as the Hawkeyes prepare for Saturday's contest at Indiana.
Parker, Iowa's defensive coordinator, says a number of little things on defense may not show up for fans who are in attendance or watching the Hawkeyes play on television. "Every day we are on the practice field we work on technique and fundamentals," said Parker, following Thursday's practice. "We are facing another up-tempo offense that plays at a fast pace. We have to focus on getting lined up properly and be ready to play fast."
After facing a predominately rushing attack a week ago at Northwestern, the Iowa defense Saturday will go against the #2 passing team in the Big Ten games.
"It's a challenge," said Parker. "Indiana has great skill guys on the outside. We have to get lined up, read our keys, be sound fundamentally and get to the ball as fast as we can."
The Iowa offense has had games this season where it has displayed both a solid ground game and an effective passing attack, and Davis, as offensive coordinator, feels the offense gets closer and closer each week to featuring that balance.
"We are constantly talking about details," said Davis. "That may be finishing plays, route running, blocking up front, those types of things. Last week our time of possession was good and we moved the ball, but a break down here and there prevented us from completing several drives with points."
For Iowa, Damon Bullock returned to action against Northwestern a week ago, and Davis says the sophomore running back has had a good week of practice.
"I was really pleased with Damon last week," said Davis. "To rush for over 100 yards, he caught the ball well, in a game that was like starting the season over. He has looked comfortable this week, he's had a good week of practice."
The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers are schedule to kickoff at 2:42 p.m. Central Time, at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. The game will be televised by BTN. By the way, Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday! A look at college football games on television.
Many Iowa fans are frustrated, with key coaching staff and the execution by the offense, defense and special teams. The sports message boards and talk shows are blowing up. Ferentz has been in Iowa City for 13+ seasons, so how can you lose games to Iowa State, Central Michigan and Penn State at home; Northwestern on the road all in one season?
So, what happens in Bloomington?
Can James Vandenberg find some consistent play for four quarters? After eight games, Vandenberg hasn't shined, after leading the Iowa offense as the full-time starter in 2011. Last year, Vandenberg in 13 starts was 237 for 404 with only seven interceptions, 58.7% on completions, 25 touchdowns, a long pass of 88 yards and a efficiency rating of 138.5. This year, Vandenberg isn't in the Top 10 in passing efficiency in the Big Ten, with only 3 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, hitting only on 56.9% of his passes. The biggest frustration may be that the second string quarterback hasn't taken a snap in '12.
Does the defense for Iowa step up? The Iowa defense leads the Big Ten in turnover margin, so to help a struggling offense and regain some Mojo on defense, turnovers could be a big momentum swing for either team in Bloomington. Special teams will be important too. Iowa gave up a costly punt block on their first series of the second half @ Northwestern in last week's loss.
What is the Hoosiers coach Wilson thoughts as they take on Iowa Saturday in Bloomington? "Coach Ferentz has had much success. Coach Fry got that thing going and Coach Ferentz has kept it going. They lost their last two, but they've lost to good teams. They lost to Iowa State, who's playing really well in the Big 12, their rival game early. Like we did, they kind of blew one at the end against Central Michigan, where they made a play or two, but they've lost two recent games against two good teams. It's a prideful team. They're tough. They're physical. They've had some injuries, but they're a program that overcomes that. It doesn't matter who their running back is, they're going to zone it up and get downhill and they always have a tremendous line.
Defensively, same way. Their tape looks like it did when I was at Northwestern, 10 or 11 years ago, when they were building what became the 2002 championship team. Philosophically, they're sound and structured. A lot of things they do we're trying to emulate. Coach Ferentz is one of the better coaches in our profession and one of the better guys in the profession. His kids will have a great week and we need to learn to win at home. We need to learn to keep getting better, and this will be a challenge because this is a winning football program that we're playing and we're trying to become that. For us to put together a good week and go out and compete and see where we stack up against these guys will be a big challenge and we look forward to the challenge. I respect their program and what they do, and there's a lot of good ones in our league, but the program we're playing is one that I truly respect everything they do."
Our Picks in the Big Ten today:
Iowa 37, Indiana 24 on the BTN (HD) at 2:30 p.m. / btn2go
Michigan @ Minnesota at 11 a.m. on the BTN (HD) / btn2go
Nebraska @ Michigan State at 2:30 p.m. on (ABC / ESPN 2) (HD)
Illinois @ Ohio State at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN (HD)
Penn State @ Purdue at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU (HD)