Drew Tate and the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes are 2-0 and headed where it gets nasty...on the road.
Sept. 13, 2004
A month ago, when expectations were running high regarding Iowa's football team, a neighbor asked for my opinion on the Hawkeyes. When I expressed some reservations he seemed surprised and asked, "Would you take an 8-3 record?"
"In a heartbeat," I responded.
Then I reminded him Iowa's offense has a new quarterback, a new tailback, new receivers and several new linemen. And perhaps most important, we no longer have the best kicker in college football, a guy we leaned on for two years to win close games.
Also, the schedule is not favorable. You won't find Northwestern and Indiana among Iowa's opponents. If you plug them in for, say, Purdue and Michigan, I would be considerably more optimistic.
"I'm not being negative, merely realistic. There is a lot to like about this Iowa team and barring some really bad breaks, I expect it to win enough games to qualify for a post season bowl invitation.
And there is this to remember - Every Iowa team under Kirk Ferentz has improved as the season progressed. His Hawkeyes are better in November than in September, a clear sign of good coaching. That's something to be really optimistic about."
He knew all that, of course, but like most fans, he figured Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff could work some magic and get the Hawkeyes back to a Top 10 ranking and January bowl berth.
So if last Saturday's 17-10 victory over Iowa State did nothing else, it jerked fans with unrealistic expectations back to earth. There are no guaranteed victories in Iowa's final nine games, beginning with consecutive road assignments.
It starts Saturday with a night game in the desert air at Arizona State. It will be an unusual environment for the Hawkeyes, one to which they're not accustomed. The game starts at 9 o'clock body time, and while Iowa players are generally not headed for bed at that hour, neither are they teeing it up for a football game.
Then comes the Big Ten opener at Michigan, where a visitor seldom wins. Then the Hawkeyes play Michigan State and Ohio State, both at home. And so on, and so forth. It will be a challenge, week in and week out.
If my opinion has changed about anything in the past two weeks, it's the strength of the Big Ten. This does not look like a banner year for a conference that had five teams in the pre-season Top 25. That is good news for Iowa, one of the teams that was perhaps over rated.
Still, the Hawkeyes face a challenge in every game the remainder of the season. Every Saturday presents a potential pitfall.
The Iowa State game confirms Iowa needs to improve its running game and pass blocking. Kickoff coverage, so efficient last year, has obvious deficiencies. Field goals and extra points are getting blocked.
On the bright side, the offense is taking good care of the football. It has not lost a fumble in two games. Drew Tate is a very poised for a sophomore quarterback, and his receivers have performed well.
Not surprisingly, the defense has been exceptional and almost impossible to run against. But it didn't have a single takeaway against Iowa State - one reason the Cyclones were able to hang around -- and has committed some costly personal fouls. Defenses that do the latter are "living on the edge," says Coach Ferentz.
This team seems to be sustaining an unusual number of injuries, a disturbing trend. How the absence of coordinator Norm Parker will affect Iowa's defense over a period of time is also a concern.
I'm not being negative, merely realistic. There is a lot to like about this Iowa team and barring some really bad breaks, I expect it to win enough games to qualify for a post season bowl invitation.
And there is this to remember - Every Iowa team under Kirk Ferentz has improved as the season progressed. His Hawkeyes are better in November than in September, a clear sign of good coaching. That's something to be really optimistic about.
Editor's Note:George Wine, the University of Iowa's long-time sports information director who is now retired and living in Coralville, Iowa, is the author of George Wine Online. George has remained very close to the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI since his retirement and, in fact, has authored two books during that time. The first was a collaboration with the subject of today's editorial, Hayden Fry, and named "A High Porch Picnic." The second, "Black & Gold Memories, The Hawkeyes of the 20th Century," included many of the essays George originally wrote for "The Voice of the Hawkeyes." As he wrote in the book, "Collectively, they serve as a historical reference, and hopefully provide entertaining reading." "Black & Gold Memories" is currently available at Barnes & Noble book stores across Iowa and on the world wide web.