Let's be clear: every single one of the people involved with Black Heart Gold Pants is a stupid smelly jerkface. Including RossWB. I hate him and I hate his ass face. And don't even get me started on that horsist, Adam Jacobi.
Having said that, Ross is a kind soul who was nice enough to answer some of my questions about this weekend's HATE WEEK game between the Gophers and Iowa.
I also answered some questions from Ross and you can read the results here.
JDMill: I'll start with a question you asked me. Being that this is HATE WEEK, what is your level of hate at this point?
RossWB: Well, I'd say it's humming along at about a 7. I try not to peak too early in HATE WEEK and save most of my hate for gameday. If this year's game is anything like my last two trips to TCF Bank to watch Iowa play Minnesota, I'll be a volatile cocktail of incoherent rage, pitiful sadness, and a healthy dose of self-loathing. Good times! Anyway, it's harder for me to get my dander up when Floyd is currently residing in Iowa City; the hate burns more fiercely when Floyd is trapped behind enemy lines.
JD: What were your expectations for the Hawkeyes coming into 2013? How does their performance in the non-conference stack up against those expectations, and how have your expectations changed for this team following their 3-1 non-conference record?
RWB: My expectation was that they'd be a team with a lot of inexperience at some key positions (QB, WR, DL) and that any progress by Iowa this year would likely be pretty stop-and-start. My hope was that Iowa would get back to a bowl game after last year's collapse in the second half of the season, but I'm not sure I'd call that an expectation. I'd say that their non-conference performance met or slightly exceeded my expectations. I thought 3-1 was a pretty likely outcome: beat Missouri State and Western Michigan and split with Northern Illinois and Iowa State. I just thought mistakes or nerves or general early season sloppiness would cost Iowa one of those games and, sure enough, a late interception doomed Iowa against NIU. But while the record has been right in line with what I thought it would be, I've been pleasantly surprised by the actual performances, especially at QB and on defense. This team is still very much a work in progress, but I'm encouraged by quite a bit of what I'm seeing. I'm still not ready to say that a bowl game is a sure thing... but ask me again after Saturday if Iowa beats Minnesota and I might have a different answer.
JD: You guys have clearly ruined Floyd in the past year. He now longs for Taylor Swift. What do you have to say for yourselves?
RWB: You should have seen what he was like when we got him back after two cold, miserable years in Minnesota. He was so traumatized by what he'd seen that he spent the first two weeks locked in the trophy case, listening to Enya and watching Lifetime movies about women in peril. It wasn't until Halloween that he finally calmed down and realized that he was safely away from the dangers of Dinkytown.
JD: The Hawkeyes are 3-1 for the season losing to a very good MAC team, Northern Illinois, and beating Missouri State, Iowa State & Western Michigan. I guess it's supposed to be special that you guys play a Big 12 team every year, but seriously, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. In football. Anyway... Iowa's 3 wins have come against teams that have a combined record of 0-11. So I guess my question is, why do you guys suddenly think you're so good?
RWB: Ask Vegas; they're the ones who made you guys underdogs at home to a team that's picked up three wins against teams that are a combined 1-11 now. I'm not sure any Iowa fan thinks this team is "so good" now, but three straight wins and a 56-point win will certainly get people feeling better about a team. I also think it's a game where Iowa seems to match up pretty well with Minnesota. Minnesota's strength is running the ball, which plays to the strengths of the Iowa defense. Pass defense has been a weakness for both teams this year, but I think Iowa has a little bit better ability to exploit that weakness. The Iowa pass offense hasn't been consistent this year, but it's shown flashes of really strong play and Rudock has already proved that he can do well in a hostile environment; he made some of his best passes of the year in Ames against Iowa State.
JD: Mark Weisman is a beast. There's no denying that. But Weisman has almost as many carries for the season (95) as your QB's have passing attempts (106). Weisman has gotten the ball on 29% of your offensive plays while the Hawkeyes only throw the ball 33% of the time. He's a quarter of your offensive production. Honestly, at this point are you guys just baiting AIRBHG?
RWB: I think the secret is that Weisman is Jewish and AIRBHG has only limited powers over the Chosen People. But seriously, his workload has been a little bit insane (especially in the Missouri State and Iowa State games, where he had 30 or more carries in both games), which is why I was relieved to see him get rested in the Western Michigan game last week. I think the goal is to employ more of a rotation (Iowa had four running backs get 10 or more carries last week), but there's a tendency to default to Weisman when they need to eat clock or get a few hard yards. Hopefully Weisman continues to avoid AIRBHG's wrath for a while longer...
JD: Similar to your run game, your passing game has been heavy on one guy. Kevonte Martin-Manley has 20 receptions for the season which is 13 more than anyone else on the team, but fifteen Hawkeyes have at least one catch on the season. Tell us about your passing game and who are the guys to watch?
RWB: Martin-Manley has been heavily used every other game this season: 9 catches against Northern Illinois, 3 catches against Missouri State, 7 catches against Iowa State, and 1 catch against Western Michigan. Based on that trend, he should have another big game against Minnesota. He's definitely Iowa's primary target in the passing game and he's a reliable receiver (albeit not the most explosive guy out there). Aside from Martin-Manley, the guys to pay attention to are the tight ends (Iowa uses a lot of them, but C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ray Hamilton have emerged as the main options at that position; they're especially likely to be targeted on third downs) and Damond Powell, a JUCO transfer who's brought a much-needed injection of speed to the Iowa offense. He's still learning the playbook, so his snaps are somewhat limited, but he has tremendous ability.
JD: The Hawkeyes are one of the more penalized teams in the B1G with 6.5 penalties for about 54 yards/game. Is Iowa an undisciplined team?
RWB: I haven't looked closely at a breakdown of the penalties this year, but a lot of them seem to have been of the dumb, mental mistake variety. I can recall quite a few false starts (and a few appearances by that old chestnut of Iowa penalties, delay of game) and a good number of holding calls. For the most part, the penalties have been on offense, too. If they're undisciplined, that lack of discipline is manifesting itself as a lack of focus or an occasional lack of football IQ, rather than anything malicious or ill-tempered. I think they're just prone to losing concentration at inopportune times.
JD: These are two of the better running teams in the country. Both teams are in the Top 25 in the nation, and in the top half of the conference, in terms of rushing yards/game. But both of these teams rank in the Top 25 in the nation as far as rushing defense as well. Based on what you've seen from Iowa, why do you think they might actually have the upper hand in the run game?
RWB: I would give Minnesota a slight edge for a few reasons. One, from what I've seen Minnesota's running backs have a bit more explosive ability in them and are bigger threats to break a big gain. Weisman is an absolute hammer on the field, but he's not going to make many guys miss and he's not going to run away from too many dudes. The only running back on Iowa's team who's shown much ability to really break away from defenders is Jordan Canzeri and he's fighting to earn carries. Two, Minnesota's quarterbacks are a much bigger threat to run the ball than Iowa's quarterback(s). Rudock isn't immobile by any means, but running is almost always something he does as a second option. On the other hand, Leidner certainly looks to run the ball a lot more, which gives a defense more to think about when it comes to defending the run. Iowa's run defense has been very strong this year, but Minnesota looks like their biggest challenge by far.
JD: Prediction time. Who wins? How do they make it happen? What's the score?
RWB: /adjusts homer goggles
Iowa 27, Minnesota 20
I'm pretty bullish on Jake Rudock. He's really impressed me with his poise and his command of the offense through the first four games of the season. I think he's able to lead a key fourth quarter scoring drive to get the winning score for the Hawkeyes. I also think he connects on at least one deep pass to Powell in this game; Powell was used a bit more last week and given Minnesota's seeming vulnerability through the air, I think we're going to see Iowa test that secondary a bit to try and give Weisman a little bit more room to maneuver. Also: I'll be shocked if Jerry Kill doesn't try some special teams trickery at some point in this game. (And I'll be even more shocked if it doesn't work against Iowa...) Still, Iowa keeps Floyd thanks to some clutch passing from Rudock.