Wine Online: November Football Left for the Hawkeyes
Oct. 26, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Following a bye week, a well-rested Iowa football team is gearing up for the second half of its Big Ten schedule, which looks more challenging than the first half.
The two toughest games ahead appear to be with Penn State and Minnesota.
The Nittany Lions remain unbeaten after a grinding 13-6 victory at Ohio State. Following a date at Kinnick Stadium Nov. 8, they finish the season with two games at home. Currently ranked No. 3 in the national polls, they have an excellent chance to be one of the two teams selected for the national championship game.
The Golden Gophers are the Big Ten's surprise team of 2008. After going winless in the league a year ago, they have positioned themselves for participation in a January bowl game. Their only loss this season was at Ohio State. Iowa's last game of the season Nov. 22 will be even more challenging because it is Minnesota's last game in the MetroDome (the Gophers move to a new stadium next season) and senior day for the home team.
Purdue appears to be Iowa's best chance for victory in a game at Kinnick Nov. 15. The Boilermakers are winless in the Big Ten and struggling in Joe Tiller's final season as head coach. In the past 60 years, Purdue has produced more great quarterbacks than any school in the Big Ten, so it is surprising that quarterback issues are a problem this season. Tiller played three in losing at home to Minnesota Saturday. But before the Hawkeyes study scouting reports on those three opponents, they have to tee it up at Illinois this Saturday. This is probably the most critical game remaining on the schedule. A victory would make the Hawkeyes bowl eligible, give them a three-game winning streak, and put them in a good frame of mind for home games with Penn State and Purdue.
The Fighting Illini have been an up and down team. In the last six weeks they have won and lost on alternate Saturdays, which may not be a good thing for Iowa. Illinois lost at Wisconsin last Saturday.
Ron Zook, in his third year as head coach, has an explosive offense built around quarterback Juice Williams, who is a threat to run or pass out of a spread formation. Illinois has scored more than 40 points five times this season and leads the Big Ten in total offense.
The Hawkeyes appear to be well-positioned for their rigorous November schedule. They've got momentum following two decisive victories, and an extra week of rest. Injuries have been few (knock on wood) in the first eight games.
The offense, behind terrific line play and the running of Shonn Greene, is Iowa's best in three years. After early-season uncertainty, the quarterback position has been stabilized with the steady play of Ricky Stanzi, who is among the Big Ten leaders in pass efficiency.
Big Ten statistics show Iowa among the leaders in every defensive statistical category. The most important, of course, is fewest points allowed, where the Hawkeyes are No. 1. Most impressive is the fact that Iowa has given up only one rushing touchdown in four Big Ten games, and that was a meaningless score by Wisconsin against Hawkeye reserves.
The game at Champaign Saturday may very well come down to whether Iowa's defense can keep Illinois' high-octane offense in check. Three Big Ten losses by the Illini have been largely self-inflicted; turnovers have been a problem.
Kirk Ferentz's best teams at Iowa have played their best football in November. A win at Illinois would point the 2008 Hawkeyes in that direction.