Every week we do a Q&A with an opposing blogger. For Hate Week, it's none other than Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants. RossWB volunteered to be the voice of reason (if that's even possible) for Hawkeye fans this week...
The Daily Gopher: So um...what the hell is going on down there right now?
RossWB: Losing to the Chippewas was one the signs of the impending apocalypse that the Mayas warned us about, right? Yeah, it's a little dark down here, metaphorically speaking. Iowa entered the season with a September schedule that looked Charmin-soft: a "neutral site" game in Chicago against Northern Illinois, followed by four straight winnable home games. We're now staring at the very real possibility of limping into October at 2-3, which is not exactly what anyone expected. The only thing standing in the way of mass couch-burning, poop-flinging, and the devolution of law and order in Iowa City into rampant anarchy is probably the fact that league play hasn't started and -- thankfully -- the Big Ten looks absolutely pathetic, meaning we can still cling to the hope that we might turn this season around (or at least keep it afloat) in B1G play. But, yeah, we're pretty bummed. We thought we were mentally prepared for the growing pains that come from "several new starters" + "two new coordinators," but no one expected this much dysfunction.
TDG: By now we expect the AIRBHG to take your running backs, but has he done something to QB James Vandenberg too? What has happened to one of the B1G's best quarterbacks of 2011?
RossWB: Marvin McNutt graduated. Losing arguably the greatest receiver in school history (who had the best receiving year in school history a year ago) was a big blow; almost half of Vandenberg's yards and touchdowns last year went to McNutt and replacing that level of productivity has been (very) challenging. The other problem has been the struggles of the passing offense to adapt to Greg Davis' schemes; it's gotten better in recent weeks (not coincidentally, Iowa's passing game the last few weeks looks far more like the tried-and-true Ken O'Keefe passing offense than it did early in the season), but early on there was a lot of miscommunication between Vandenberg and his receivers and in general he's spent a lot of time this year looking like he's thinking about things rather than just doing things on the football field. Oh, and his receivers have dropped a season's worth of passes in a month's worth of games (8 alone in the Iowa State game). That hasn't helped.
TDG: We here at Minnesota have some great experience with former coaches from Texas (kidding, it was Tim Brewster). Thoughts on the Greg Davis hire as your OC thus far?
RossWB: Distinctly underwhelmed. I say that with the usual caveats -- it's not fair to judge him after just four games, he's working with personnel that doesn't fit his schemes particularly well, everyone's trying to figure out what the hell they're supposed to be doing -- but... yeah. It's been painful to watch (for the most part) so far, although it's looked slightly less inept the past few weeks, which is encouraging. (As noted above, it's also looked more O'Keefe-ish, but hey.) I'm going to hope that's more the result of the increased experience and comfort of the players and coaches and less the result of the UNI and CMU defenses being overmatched. The Gopher defense should provide an interesting challenge for this Frankenstein monster of an offense.
TDG: Kirk Ferentz as the head coach at Iowa- time for the pitchforks or is this just one of those years?
RossWB: Both, depending on which part of the fanbase you corner in a bar. The pitchfork crew isn't fed up so much with the results this year (although that's part of it), but more the steady stream of 7-win seasons lately (which taste a little tart in the aftermath of an Orange Bowl win) and (especially) the frequent recent losses to the likes of Northwestern, Iowa State, and (no offense) Minnesota. Particularly given some of the recurrent themes in those losses (effin' special teams). The just one of those years crews is more patient with the growing pains of the new starters and coaches and (mostly) leery of making a bad hire in the post-Ferentz era and really tumbling down the college football ladder. Either way, we're on the hook for roughly $20 million to him -- unless he finally decides to scratch that long-ignored NFL itch or Iowa gets its own T. Boone Pickens, he's not going anywhere.
TDG: You hate us, we hate you, but we can all hate Bret Bielma together right? How much joy has it brought you to see that smug SOB struggle?
RossWB: It's been hard to look on the bright side of life this fall, but Bielema's pratfalls have provided a bit of a balm for our wounds. It would have been better if they'd lost that home game to Utah State a few weeks ago, but it's still been fun to see them look so hapless on offense and to see their latest former ACC savior get benched. Hopefully Big Ten play provides some more Badger-flavored schadenfreude (I think it will).
TDG: The Gophers thus far in 2012- go ahead, try and say something nice. I dare you.
RossWB: 4-0 is 4-0, man. Especially in this year's Big Ten, just the fact that you guys have been able to avoid a humiliating loss is impressive. But, more specifically, I've been pretty impressed with the Gopher defense. The defensive line has been generating pressure and Ra'Shede Hageman (who I just discovered went to the high school in my neighborhood, Washburn) and D.L. Wilhite have been a pretty good tag-team at defensive end. Derrick Wells has been playing pretty well at safety, too, from what I've seen. And, hey, you guys held Syracuse to 20 points less than they averaged against USC and Northwestern -- seems like you're doing something right.
TDG: What running backs is the AIRBHG allowing to play this Saturday?
RossWB: Mark Weisman's the only running back to get any carries the last two weeks and I wouldn't put much money on anyone else getting carries this week, although Greg Garmon, Jordan Canzeri, and (maybe) Damon Bullock are reportedly available to play. One of those two might get a carry or two when Weisman needs a breather, but I fully expect Ferentz to lean hard on the guy who's racked up 300+ yards and six touchdowns over the last two weeks. Don't tell AIRBHG.
TDG: What is Iowa's advantage in the game against Minnesota?
RossWB: Um... desperation? Honestly, I don't see any obvious tactical advantages in this game for Iowa (or for MInnesota, for that matter). I think these teams look fairly evenly matched and I'm leaning toward this being a low-scoring game with Iowa pounding away with Weisman and Minnesota pounding away with Kirkwood and both teams hoping to spring a big play or two through the passing game. It's a little weird to think of a September game as a tipping point game, but Iowa really needs something good to happen or risk having this season completely slide away. They need to bounce back from the awful taste of the Central Michigan game, they need to win a trophy game (something they haven't done in over two years), and they just need something, anything to go right for them this year. Or this season runs the real risk of becoming a complete disaster zone.
TDG: What do you see as the Gopher's advantage (well besides being from a better state)?
RossWB: Confidence. The Gophers are 4-0 this year and they've won two games in a row against Iowa. Iowa's 2-2 this year, 0-2 against Minnesota since 2009, and searching desperately for answers -- ANY answers -- this year. Minnesota should feel confident heading into this game, and with good reason. They're playing well and Iowa isn't. Minnesota also has the more creative, instinctive coach, which could be crucial this year. As noted, I don't see any obvious tactical advantages for either team and I kind of expect both teams to run the ball a lot, play defense, and try to grind out a win. But I have more faith in Jerry Kill calling a play that flips the game in his favor than I do Kirk Ferentz doing the same.
TDG: How do you see the game playing out, and where does Floyd spend the next year?
RossWB: My head is struggling to find logical, fact-supported arguments about Iowa winning this game, given the events of the past few weeks (and the past few seasons against you guys). But my heart can't fathom the idea of a third straight year without Floyd and my heart has unlikely, improbable (and probably unfounded) faith in Iowa to rebound from that gut-punch loss and finagle a win in this game. The turnovers bounce Iowa's way this year, Iowa finally recovers an onside kick against Minnesota, and Mike Meyer hits a late field goal to lift Iowa to a 17-14 win.
TDG: Finally, speaking of Floyd, I know you guys haven't seen him in a long time. Any messages you want me to pass along to Floyd for you?
RossWB: You'll be home soon, buddy. Stay strong.