Iowa and Fran McCaffery’s winter of discontent

Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way quickly.

The 2017-I8 Iowa basketball team is not good, appears to lack chemistry, is under-achieving and is going to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 10 standings.

A disappointing non-conference season – low-lighted by head-scratching losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State – combined with the team’s worst start in the Big 10 since Fran McCaffery’s first season have sucked much enthusiasm and hope out of Hawkeye basketball fans.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Sure, there were vague worries about not having a “true” point guard and how to replace the remarkably productive Peter Jok. But surely a team returning four starters from a top-half-of-the-conference, near-miss, almost NCAA Tournament caliber team would, at the very least, be highly competitive under its seasoned coach.

Coach McCaffery in a moment of relative calm, considering the circumstances. Photo courtesy Hawkeye Report.

Instead, Iowa is Rutgers-level uncompetitive and quite likely to be underdogs at fellow conference-winless foe Illinois on Thursday night in Champaign.

It looks to be a long winter of discontent in the Hawkeye state, with the only thing turning colder than the temperature likely to be fans’ feelings about the head Hawk in charge.

The discontent is not unwarranted. I do, however, feel the level of vitriol directed at McCaffery may be a bit premature.

Unlike the last time his Hawkeye squad started the conference season 0 and 5 in 2010, the Iowa program has plenty of raw material to work with and a recent history of NCAA tournament appearances. Keep in mind, the 2011-12 team bounced back to win 18 wins the following season and 25 the season after that.

When you look at his coaching tenure overall, McCaffery has notched 10 seasons with 20 or more wins out of the 22 he’s coached. It seems unlikely, then, that a turnaround isn’t possible. Talk of his seat warming up at Iowa is certainly premature, but significant progress, including a return to at the very least the NCAA tournament bubble has to be in play next season, or that seat heater will go from off to simmering.

Here is what I think needs to happen to get the program back on the right track and McCaffery back in the good graces of Hawkeye fans:

· Joe Wieskamp has to be the real deal. Iowa doesn’t get Top 50 basketball talent in its own backyard that often, and when it does, often can’t close the recruiting deal. So just landing the Muscatine phenom was a huge step one. I hate putting so much weight on the shoulders of a freshman, but unless fans see some signs of life and soon, things could get even grimmer. Fortunately, from folks I’ve talked to that follow Eastern Iowa basketball religiously, Wieskamp has the skill set to be a difference making talent early and often. For Fran’s sake, this better come to pass.

· Fran needs to chill. Look, busting clipboards, screaming at refs and blowing up at players who make dumb mistakes is something you can get away with when you are winning games and garnering tourney bids. When you lose, it just can’t happen and won’t be accepted. I don’t know if he needs to enroll in a mindfulness course during the offseason or take up a relaxing hobby like crochet, but McCaffery needs to find a way to control his rage. Now, I will take explosive passion over the sad sack, lackluster, head-in-hands routine we got from our last coach any day. But I can’t believe Fran’s obvious and continued anger and frustration is having a positive effect on anyone on a losing team. Fix it.

· Addition by subtraction and find some more guards. Whether through gentle suggestion or out-and-out Creaning, the Iowa roster needs to be rejiggered. We can wail and gnash our teeth forever about how and why Iowa ended up with too many big men and too few backcourt players, but that ain’t gonna fix what’s broken. This offseason needs to see a couple players move on and a full-court press on guard help that can make an instant impact. Period. I don’t care who and I don’t care how, but it has to be done.

If significant progress can be made in these three areas, I really believe we will look back on the 2017-18 season as a wonky aberration in an otherwise successful job at Iowa authored by McCaffery. Much like many successful coaches – including our esteemed and likely College Football Hall of Fame-bound Kirk Ferentz – McCaffery seems to be pretty stubborn. But he’s not stupid.

The first Fran plan brought Iowa back from the brink, resulting in three straight tournament appearances. We are now looking at back-to-back setbacks, which no one enjoys. But if we’ve learned anything from following Iowa football, it’s that deep valleys can be followed quickly by high peaks.

It’s time to start climbing.

A Bad bet and bad basketball could lead to bleeding eyes

So where do you suppose one shops online for an extra-large Nebraska cheerleader uniform anyway?

I wish I was asking because I’m buying someone a gag gift for Christmas, but alas, my big mouth and lack of basketball smarts just may have gotten the best of me.

In this space less than two months ago, I lambasted the Big 10 media for having the audacity to pick the Hawkeyes to finish 8th in the conference this hoops season. How could a team returning four starters, the Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year and a pair of all-Big 10 freshmen possibly regress so much, even when you consider they lost a superstar like Peter Jok? I was so adamant about the ridiculousness of this affront that I made this bold proclamation:

I will go on record right now (seriously, print and save this column) saying if Iowa indeed finishes eighth or lower I will attend Iowa’s last home game in Carver Arena in a Nebraska cheerleader uniform and let Tom Kakert post a pic of it on this webpage.

Saturday, as my wife and I sat in Carver watching Iowa get tantalizingly close to hot-shooting Penn State over and over only to throw a ball away, commit a dumb foul or take an ill-advised shot on the way to a dispiriting loss, the reality hit me like a blast of frigid water.

I might actually have to make good on this bet.

I might also go with vertical stripes; I hear they are slimming.

Watching Iowa play basketball, I am flummoxed and confused wondering how a team that showed flashes of brilliance at times last year has fallen so far. Peter Jok was a heck of a basketball player,but at no time last season did I ever feel like the Hawkeyes were a one-man-band basketball team.

I’m guessing that my biggest mistake was not listening to those who insisted guard play would be a gigantic problem for this team. Yes, I know that great guard play is the engine that drives excellent college teams. However, Jordan Bohannon was one of those aforementioned All Big 10 Freshman players and I still think the kid is going to be a star on the Big 10 stage. But clearly, he needs help.

It hasn’t helped that he is missing fellow point guards Christian Williams and Connor McCaffery to a transfer and mononucleosis, respectively. And although he plays primarily small forward, the absence of a healthy Nicholas Baer also is putting padded pressure on Bohannon. Most of all, though, it seems obvious now that the presence of the sharp-shooting Peter Jok took a ton of pressure off Bohannon and he’s struggling mightily to cope with that now. He is clearly pressing and there is no cavalry coming to save him anytime soon.

That said, despite his stellar sharpshooting and addition of the dribble-drive to his arsenal as a senior, Jok was never an A+ defender. In fact, it is probably pretty charitable to call him anything more than a capable defender. And horrendous defense is the Achilles Heel killing this current Hawks basketball team.

It almost seems like a case of a collective sophomore slump, with the actual sophomores in particular struggling to regain the confidence they showed as freshmen. With a lack of upper classmen leadership and their fellow young players struggling, the current crop of freshmen look a bit lost as well.

Particularly alarming, though, were the spurts of apparent laziness and lack of hustle during the Indiana game. While it’s understandable that the recent run of poor play has frustrated Iowa players, there is absolutely no excuse to not give 100 percent, no matter the game circumstances. That is the only way to break a slump or build for the future.

All the problems and frustrations aside, I’m still extremely bullish on the Fran McCaffery blueprint for the Iowa program and optimistic for the future. I and many others may have been a bit premature to expect this group to compete at the top half of the conference this soon. But with the recruits currently in the pipeline and the raw talent already on the floor it’s hard not to anticipate big things.

We are just going to have to add a heaping helping of patience on top of the optimism.

And maybe see Torbee in a crimson and cream cheerleading outfit.ne

Cornhole’d

Hawks end the 2017 season on a high note, thumping their “rivals” to the west.  We chat with @marcmorehouse to discuss the Nebraska win, and what it means for Iowa’s bowl prospects.

Marc Morehouse covers Iowa Football for the Gazette, and on Twitter at @marcmorehouse     

Listen to the latest episode here, or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.
Follow us on Twitter @12Saturdays, and Facebook

Blasting the Blackshirts brings wild 2017 Iowa football season to (mostly) satisfying end

By the fourth Iowa touchdown, we were getting a bit loud.

I probably should have remembered how godawful the Nebraska defense was before I suggested we buy boots of beer for every Hawkeye touchdown on Black Friday.

By the time the third quarter ended, our table at the Bier Stube was decidedly bleary eyed and boisterous as Iowa kept the hammer down, steamrolling Lil’ Nebby even worse than the year prior.

In this space after the 2016 season finale I remarked on Nebraska fans’ amazing hubris in the face of the reality that they cheer for an objectively bad team:

Nebraska continues to search for an identity and can’t quite figure out why it doesn’t dominate the way it used to. Iowa, on the other hand, has a basic blue collar identity and is just going to keep grinding to remain competitive in the conference and nationally.

I look forward to the day our reluctant rival realizes that is its only path back to greatness as well. It should make for a much more competitive series.

I guess that’s a lesson unlearned, although the firing of Mike Riley is a signal that the Cornhuskers will try once again to find a magic bullet. Honestly, though, I’m not too afraid of what they come up with.

Think about this – did anyone in 1980 fear the second-coming of the mighty Minnesota Gopher juggernaut that capped off that program’s seventh national championship in 1960? I was 10 and already attending Big 10 games in Madison and Iowa City and never heard a peep about the resurrection of the Gopher dynasty.

Yet, here we are – 20 years removed from Nebraska’s last national championship (it should also be noted they only got five of them to Minnesota’s seven) – and the writers and fans in Omaha, Lincoln and parts more wind-blown are sure Scott Frost will lead them back to the promised land.

Until such time as Nebraska realizes it is no better than Iowa, Wisconsin or Northwestern, I have trouble ginning up much concern.

Looks like Bladel has been working out with Chris Doyle!

As for Iowa and its workmanlike approach to competitive football, I think 2017 is going to go down as one of the more incongruous seasons in Hawkeye history. If you told me before the game one kickoff that Iowa would retain three of four rivalry trophies, roll Ohio State by 31 points and punk Nebraska in Lincoln 56-14, I’d presume it was one of Kirk Ferentz’s best teams ever.

That clearly is not the case, though.

The biggest issue is the Hawkeye’s offensive inconsistency. Against Iowa State, Ohio State and Nebraska, the O looked like world-beaters with a road-grading running game and just enough big play capability in the passing game to score quick strikes. Against much of the rest of the schedule, though, the offense looked incapable of getting out of its own way. And in the Wisconsin and Purdue games especially, it seemed like no one had any idea how to execute basic blocking.

Hopefully, we can attribute the stop-and-start nature of the offense to breaking in a rookie offensive coordinator, first-year starting quarterback and a bunch of young faces at wide receiver, tight end and offensive line.

What’s interesting to me is that the 2017 season perfectly encapsulates the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa, for better and for worse. The peaks (ham-blasting the mighty Buckeyes, humiliating the cocky Cornhuskers, ripping out the heart of hopeful Iowa State) were exhilaratingly high. Yet the lows (shooting itself in the foot over-and-over in East Lansing and Evanston, mustering a measly 66 yards against Wisconsin, sending fans home early and angry on senior day against a very mediocre Purdue team) were depressingly low.

Plug in 2002, 2004 and 2015 as the Iowa State, Nebraska and Ohio State games this year and 2000, 2006, 2007 and 2012 as Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Purdue and you will see exactly what I mean.

Thrilling peaks, terrifying valleys, wildly unpredictable – that’s football, under Ferentz.

But hey, at least we know who we are. Iowa is going to work hard and reward its fans with wild rides.

Sitting at home, finishing up Thanksgiving leftovers and waiting to see what your bowl destination is going to be is a lot better than hoping and praying that the next coach you lure in will finally leave you satisfied.

Good luck with that, Lil’ Nebby.

Extended Interview: Lew Montgomery

Lew had tons of great stories from his playing days at Iowa, and unfortunately we couldn’t fit them all into a standard 1-hour episode.

But we didn’t want our audience to miss out on his insights and memories, so we’re pleased to present this extended interview segment.  Please note that this is a “raw” recording with minimal edits.

 

Boiled Over

Iowa is playing bad enough to lose to anybody, and Purdue takes advantage. But scoring an interview with Lew Montgomery helps take the sting off the fading Hawkeyes.

Check out the unscripted & unedited Part 2 of our interview with Lew Montgomery.  And here’s the video of the Mike Saunders story (play starts at 5:30 in the clip).

Learn more about Lucas, and pick up some Lucas Gear for the holidays.

Listen to the latest episode here, or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.
Follow us on Twitter @12Saturdays, and Facebook

Iowa and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November

I can’t recall the last time I walked out of Kinnick Stadium as angry as I was last Saturday.

Other than blocking, catching, tackling, catching punts, kicking punts or covering wide receivers, I guess a few Hawkeye players did things right against Purdue. To find out for sure, I’d have to re-watch that fiasco of failed football, however, and that ain’t happening.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, it’s a Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa season, which means any unexpected positive result must be balanced out by at least one head-scratching, ridiculous loss.

Last year we got the thrill of beating Michigan after being uncompetitive against Penn State and losing to an FCS school.

This year we got six glorious days to bask in a historic beat down of long-time nemesis Ohio State, only to be greeted with two weeks in a row of absolutely atrocious, uncompetitive football.

It’s one thing to be uncompetitive against the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers, who have had Iowa’s number for some time now. But it is beyond inexcusable to get punked by a 4-win Purdue team at home, on senior day, even if they are better than past Boilermaker squads.

A rare decent run against Purdue. Photo courtesy Hawkeye Report.

You knew it was going to be one of “those games” as soon as Iowa’s special teams unit idiotically roughed the Purdue punter after the defense forced a three-and-out, leading directly to Purdue’s first touchdown. The Boilers would briefly relinquish that lead, but the pattern was set. A bevy of boneheaded Hawkeye miscues later sent Hawkeye fans fleeing for the Kinnick exits early.

I suppose one silver lining is Iowa players have continued to play hard and show heart. That they do so while piling one mistake upon another, continuing to make basic errors like misidentifying who to block or who to cover and whether or not to catch a punt is, well . . . I guess it’s better than being stupid AND not trying.

So they’ve got that going for them, anyway.

As for the future of the Ferentz coaching regime – and by regime I mean the presumed fait accompli of a smooth transition from father to son at some point in the near-to-mid-future – I’m not sure that the 2017 November meltdown might not actually be a good thing.

Bear with me for a minute, here.

Let’s say Iowa had managed a very manageable comeback over mediocre Purdue. And then went on to smack around a demoralized Nebraska team in Lincoln. The Hawkeyes would be sitting at 8-4 and heading to a nice bowl, making the abject failure to move the ball in Madison little more than a nasty memory.

Instead, a second week of abject failure should force this staff to take a long, hard look at the current direction of the program, particularly its moribund and molasses-like offense. Counting recent bowl losses, Iowa will now have lost five or more games in seven of its last eight seasons. In addition, it’s likely that six of those eight seasons will see Iowa finish at fourth or lower in a seven team division.

Now, Iowa has finished over .500, gone to quite a few bowls and notched some huge wins over that period as well. And no one can diminish the achievement of finishing a regular season undefeated like the Hawks did in 2015.

But being “pretty good” is not good enough. I’ve never been and never will be a “look at the size of the paycheck” guy. The elder Ferentz has earned his contract through uncanny timing of stellar seasons. But being slightly worse than Bo Pelini certainly doesn’t inspire the confidence to say one family should rule Iowa football in perpetuity.

This is why I actually think this meltdown might be a good thing. It damn well better light a fire under everyone in the football facility hoping to keep that much-lauded “Iowa coaching continuity” thing going.

Because right now the natives are restless and angry. Those are at least active emotions.

The next step is apathy, which leads to empty seats, which leads to dwindling coffers, which apparently is the only thing that gets Gary Barta’s attention.

Iowa fans aren’t particularly fickle. And they will forgive this no-good November if their beloved Hawkeyes legitimately compete for a West Division title in 2018.

But if they don’t……..

Epic Fail

Hawks go in to Madison and lay an egg of historical proportions.  Josh Jackson tries to beat Bucky by himself, and almost succeeds. We talk Wisconsin with Tom Kakert of the Hawkeye Report, and look ahead to Purdue and a sneak peek at Iowa basketball.

Check out the Hawkeye Report, and follow Tom on Twitter at @HawkeyeReport.

Listen to the latest episode here, or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.
Follow us on Twitter @12Saturdays, and Facebook

 

Source: Some meme generating site on the interweb. This is all of us right now.

Badger beat down: Why can’t Iowa football have nice things?

It was Bill, sitting next to me in a chilly but raucous Camp Randall full of beer-fueled and neck-bearded Badger fans, who pointed out the weird parallel.

Like a similarly cold November night seven years ago in Minneapolis, it was only the guy wearing #15 in black and gold who appeared to have any clue about how to play football or bothered to show up for a big road game.

For those that don’t remember, that was the night DJK returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and added a receiving touchdown in a dispiriting 27-24 loss to a 2-9 Minnesota team where no one else really did much of anything.

This past Saturday it was Josh Jackson, also sporting 15, who continued his amazing November by snagging two pick-sixes and forcing a fumble on his way to a second consecutive Big 10 Defensive Player of the Week award.

Normally, this would be cause for great celebration. But considering the rest of the team played like 21 of the worst players in the conference on the same night, it’s kind of hard to get real excited.

Like in 2010, Iowa was coming off a very emotional game against Ohio State.

But unlike 2010, Iowa hadn’t just lost a heartbreaker to a perennial tormenter. Instead, it had rolled what many believe is one of the most talented teams in the country, setting up the exciting prospect of a late autumn surge into relevancy and the rankings.

Psssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh. That’s the sound of the black and gold balloon deflating.

I’m not sure why it’s the Iowa fan’s lot in life, but apparently we are destined to not have nice things. Perhaps it is considered untoward or putting on airs in Iowa City to build on a good thing and make it great. Perhaps Iowa football is simply allergic to success. Whatever it is, it sucks.

It’s also maddeningly repetitive.

Earlier this season Iowa followed up a 45-16 dismantling of Illinois with its worst (until Madison) outing of the season in a putrid overtime loss to Northwestern. Last year, after blitzkrieging Iowa State 42-3, the Hawks stumbled and bumbled to a loss against FCS foe North Dakota State. Remember hammering the Wildcats 48-7 in 2014 and then immediately following that up with a 51-14 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota?

The only thing Iowa is consistent at is wild swings of inconsistency.

Of course there will be the usual dissections and disgruntlement of the Hawkeye coaches’ game plan for the Badger game. Some will say the offense should have passed more. Or ran to the outside. Or had better play calling in general.

I say poppycock.

Sitting in row 42 at about the 30, it was painfully, embarrassingly obvious that Iowa’s offensive linemen had zero answers for Wisconsin’s attacking 3-4 defense. If linemen weren’t missing assignments altogether out of confusion and blocking no one, they were either whiffing on blocks or getting blasted three yards into the backfield. Nile Kinnick throwing to Marv Cook and Danan Hughes behind last Saturday’s offensive line would have looked terrible.

Until Iowa figures out how to deal with the Badger 3-4 defense, it’s hard to imagine them winning a West Division title over the scarlet and white menace. This needs to be a major focus of the off-season strategy sessions.

Things were a bit better, at least for much of the first half, on the other side of the ball. Wisconsin’s horrible quarterback (seriously, I don’t think I’ve seen a legitimate Top 10 team with a worse signal caller in recent memory) tried very, very hard to give the game away to Iowa.

I knew the Hawkeye goose was cooked when Jackson forced a fumble inside Badger territory, giving Iowa its first decent field position (by the way, at some point someone should really tell Iowa punt returners that you are allowed to CATCH THE BALL IN THE AIR) and the offense went three-and-out in about 30 seconds.

When you look up at the scoreboard and you are losing 10-7 despite having three takeaways to zero, you know it’s not going to be your day. Predictably, with the offense in morass mode, the D wilted in the fourth quarter in the face of the Badgers’ devastating rushing attack.

So as we find ourselves asking too often lately, where does Iowa go from here?

Personally, given Iowa’s sizeable budget, outstanding training and practice facilities, rabid fan base and robust institutional support, an 8-4 season should really be the floor for Hawkeye football. The good news is if Iowa wins its remaining two games, in which it is favored, it will have finished 12-0, 8-4 and 8-4 in its last three regular seasons. That is definitely within the realm of acceptability.

The offense is young and a work-in-progress with a new coordinator, new quarterback, two freshmen tackles and a bunch of young guys at tight end and receiver. We can and should expect them to grow and improve.

I fully expect this team to win out, hopefully put an end to a brutal bowl losing streak, and then come into 2018 as a legitimate contender for the West Division title. Anything short of that – especially if accompanied by another embarrassing outing against the bullying Badger – and one really has to wonder if a long-term Ferentzian dynasty is in the best interest of this program.

Grandpa, tell me about the Great Buckeye Massacre

Reember this one, because you’ll be talking about it for years. Iowa dazzled, dominated, and ultimately overwhelmed the hapless Buckeyes from “The” Ohio State, The superlatives pile on like Jackson INTs and Stanley TDS to TEs:  Biggest lost in Urban Meyer’s career, most points scored against OSU, biggest OSU loss since 1994, only the 4th Iowa win in (most) living memory.

Listen here, or subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher.
Follow us on Twitter @12Saturdays, and Facebook