14 posts categorized "Hawkeye Sports"

September 08, 2011

Iowa-Iowa State 10 years ago

Every generation, it seems, has that riveting moment, when there's an event of such magnitude that you'll always remember where you were when the news broke. My parents' generation had Pearl Harbor. For those of us who are Baby Boomers, it was President Kennedy's assassination (sixth-period study hall in the eighth grade at Elida Junior High School). Those born after JFK was shot had the September 11 terrorist attacks 10 years ago.

Pam and I were in the kitchen, watching one of the morning news shows on our 9-inch portable TV, when the jets slammed into the Twin Towers. I was getting ready to drive to Ames for Iowa State's weekly football press conference and, with a full staff in the AP Des Moines office working on the Iowa angles, I was still free to see what was happening at ISU.

It was eeriely quiet. All the regular reporters were there, but the normal kidding and jocularity was absent. Everyone seemed compelled to speak in hushed tones. The Iowa-Iowa State game was to be played in Ames that Saturday and it was like no one wanted to appear crass enough to ask the question until someone finally ventured, "Do you think they'll play the game?"

The question went unanswered that day, a Tuesday. The next day, the two schools announced they would play. A day later, the game was off, part of a domino effect of postponements started by the NFL. Eventually, officials from the schools decided to reschedule the game for the end of the season, on November 24.

Maybe it was because of what led to the new date, but I didn't notice the rancor and pettiness among fans that usually occurs during the week of this game. The terrorist attacks had given us a new perspective on sports. Also, both teams were 6-5, so each had a good chance of going to a bowl regardless of who won. No need to get upset about anything. Just play football. And it turned out to be one of the better games in the series -- for me, maybe the most enjoyable of all the Iowa-Iowa State games I've covered.

Iowa State won 17-14. The game wasn't decided until ISU's Adam Runk made a late interception and quarterback Seneca Wallace ran for a first down that enabled the Cyclones to run out the clock. Both teams received bowl bids and Iowa got the better deal: the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Iowa State went to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport.

So, which game to cover? I'd never had to make that choice because this was the first time in my career that both teams went to a bowl. Hmmm.

Actually, it was an easy decision. Sorry, Cyclones, I just couldn't pass up a chance to go to San Antonio and hang out on the River Walk. Which I did -- after spending each day working, of course.

Now it's 10 years later and we're getting ready for another Iowa-Iowa State game. Iowa State needs to win more than Iowa does because when you look at the Cyclones' schedule, you don't see many potential victories. But the Hawkeyes have regained the momentum in this series and they're going to play just as hard to keep it going.

Just give me a game that's close and entertaining and I'll mark it down as a good day.

 

August 22, 2010

Iowa football: A frustrating duty

Retiring from full-time work has been incredibly liberating. I don't have to show up at an office. When I do work, I can pretty much set my own hours. I have more flexibility for just about everything I want to do, whether it's spending time with Pam, planning trips and long weekend getaways or just working in the yard.

If it's too wet to mow Wednesday, I'll do it Thursday. If we decide at the last minute to leave for a trip on Thursday instead of Friday, we do. If Pam and I decide we've worked enough by 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon, we quit and go sit on the porch. We might have a cocktail then or we might not. Depends on how we feel at the moment.

There's also another bonus to being on my own: I don't have to cover Iowa football on a daily basis. Now that would be frustrating. Sure, you get to cover a winner when you follow the Hawkeyes. You visit big-time stadiums and watch some of the brightest stars in college football. The season usually ends with a nice bowl trip. But all that comes with a price because your access to coach Kirk Ferentz and the players, especially at this time of year during preseason camp, is severely limited.

If you're one of the local reporters, that is. If you're with the Big Ten Network or have a national radio network talk show, well, that's entirely  different.

Look what's happened in just the last few days.

The local media had to confirm the fact that linebacker Jeff Tarpinian injured a hand by talking to Howard Griffith and Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network. They were allowed to watch practice last Thursday. Local reporters weren't.

When Ferentz confirmed for the first time that running back Brandon Wegher had left camp, he did so on ESPN radio's Scott Van Pelt Show, not in a session with local reporters. To get an update on Wegher's situation, reporters had to listen to Ferentz on Fox Sports Radio.

If someone wants to be secretive, fine. But don't be secretive on a selective basis and freeze out the people who cover you day in and day out, the ones who keep the vast majority of your fans informed, not only through breaking news but with interesting features and analysis.

Reporters around here will cover the bad news when it happens, but it's been my experience that most would rather write stories with a positive bent. And it seems to me they've been incredibly fair with Ferentz. No one gripes too much when the Hawkeyes struggle. When something does go wrong, offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe usually gets blamed. No one harps on the fact that while he's one of the highest paid coaches in the country and gets around $3 million a year, Ferentz has taken Iowa to only two BCS bowls -- and has a losing record against Iowa State.

The thing is, interview sessions with Ferentz are almost always pleasant. He doesn't toss out one-liners or homilies the way Hayden Fry did, but he gives reporters something they can use. And after his "formal" press conferences, he willingly steps to the side and answers more questions from print reporters. That's when those reporters get in the questions they really want to ask.

So c'mon, Kirk. It wouldn't hurt to give the local media a little more time. They might not dress as well as the network types or comb their hair as neatly, but they're a hard-working bunch who are fair and just want to do a good job. And they'll be there regardless of whether you're in the Top 10 of the nation or the bottom half of the Big Ten.

In the meantime, to all of you covering the Hawkeyes, I sympathize and feel your pain.

March 16, 2010

This time, it has to be right

OK, Gary Barta, no more mulligans. This time, you have to get it right. You've got to find the right basketball coach.

Todd Lickliter, Barta's choice for the position three years ago, obviously didn't work for the Hawkeyes. Whether you agree with his action or not -- I was leaning toward giving Lickliter one more season -- give Barta credit for this: He didn't try to spin Lickliter's dismissal as a resignation or a mutual parting of ways or some other nebulous term. He called it what it was -- a firing. And in letting Lickliter go, Barta admitted he made a mistake. He didn't get the right guy for the job.

I agree with Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler on this point: In trying to find the anti-Steve Alford, Barta probably went too far in the other direction in tapping Lickliter. People were fed up with Alford's arrogance and many were upset with his handling of the Pierre Pierce incidents. In Lickliter, Barta found someone who was honest, sincere, modest, a coach who had integrity and played by the rules. All admirable qualities. But Lickliter seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight that goes with coaching in the Big Ten and lacked charisma. In the end, that hurt him.

I'm not saying Iowa needs to hire a wise-cracking funnyman. The school doesn't need a coach who paints his body for a big women's game. The new coach doesn't necessarily have to show his emotions as openly as Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads.

But Iowa does need a coach who can rally the troops, someone who's comfortable on the banquet circuit, who can schmooze with donors, who can relate with students and get them interested in Hawkeye basketball again. Oh yes, he also needs to be able to recruit better players than what this team has now.

Speaking of those players, I got a little tired of their whining at the end of the season. If you're tired of losing and basketball isn't fun anymore, who's fault is that? How about playing a little harder? Work harder at improving. Take better shots. Try guarding somebody. Hey, life isn't always fun. Sometimes you have to suck it up and look for ways to make things better. That starts with looking in the mirror, not quitting on your coach.

As for style of play, I don't think Iowa has to do a total about-face and play racehorse basketball. You certainly can't call Wisconsin a racehorse team, but the Badgers play good defense, they're sound fundamentally and, the most important thing, they win. That's what keeps the fans coming back.

But a little more aggressiveness on defense by the Hawkeyes would help. They don't have to press all the time, ala Tom Davis, but clamp on a press once in a while, spring some half-court traps, do something to get some steals, create some cheap baskets and disrupt the other team's rhythm.

So the pressure's on, Gary Barta. If this choice flops, the next time reporters start figuring out how much a buyout would cost, it might be yours.

January 18, 2010

Wistful thinking

If you've seen the New York Jets in the NFL playoffs, you know they're happy to have Shonn Greene in their backfield. And Greene has to be delighted he's there because, heck, he's one victory from playing in the Super Bowl.

But if you're an Iowa fan, no one could blame you for engaging in a little wistful thinking as you watched Greene tear through the defensive lines of the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers.

Oh what might have been if he had remained with the Hawkeyes for one more season.

Remember, Greene skipped his senior year at Iowa to enter the NFL draft after a sensational 2008 season.  He rushed for more than 100 yards in every game, was named the Big Ten's offensive player of the year and received the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back.

But Greene already was older than most college juniors (23) and his market value was high. Everyone understood when he decided to move up. The opportunity and potential earnings simply were too tempting.

Just for fun, though, imagine if Greene had been around this past season.

First, redshirt freshman Adam Robinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher did an admirable job splitting time at running back. They combined for 1,575 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged a respectable 4.6 yards a carry.

But they weren't Shonn Greene -- and they didn't occupy an opponent's attention to the extent Greene would have if he had been carrying the ball. Just think of the pressure he would have taken off quarterback Ricky Stanzi. It's not a stretch to think that if Greene had stayed, the Hawkeyes might have been undefeated.

Even after Stanzi rolled his ankle in the Northwestern game, you've got to figure the Hawkeyes would have held on to win that one if Greene had been around. As for the Ohio State game, the Hawkeyes almost won that one -- maybe should have won it -- with what they had. Now, how much better would they have been with Greene thrown into the equation?

Of course, an undefeated season wouldn't have necessarily put Iowa in the BCS championship game (See Boise State, TCU and Cincinnati). But it certainly would have given the Hawkeyes a chance. And think about how much fun the debate would have been with yet another undefeated team in the BCS mess, er mix.

If only ...

But hey, Iowa ended up having a great season and Greene's pro career is off to a promising start, so everyone has something to celebrate. The season played out the way it did and can't be changed. Still, a little wistful thinking sometimes can't be helped.

January 04, 2010

Bowl memories

The scene outside my window looks nothing like the photos in the paper this morning. You know, the ones of those University of Iowa students frolicking in the ocean as they await the Hawkeyes' game in the Orange Bowl.

I see snow on the trees, snow on the roof, snow on the ground, snow everywhere. Icicles, a couple of them at least four feet long, used to hang from the eaves, but I knocked those down. The snow, I can't do anything about. Maybe we'll see the grass again in April.

Anyway, snapshots and newspaper stories from a bowl game would have made me envious many years ago. And what football fan hasn't felt that way? Think about when the Rose Bowl comes on television. You're sitting at home on a cold New Year's Day and there's the sold-out stadium on your TV screen, the sky a perfect blue, the San Gabriel Mountains rising in the background and the field as green as any pasture in Ireland.

But I went to enough bowl games when I was working that I'm perfectly happy to watch them on television now, though that first view of the Rose Bowl on TV still is, and probably always will be, the most dazzling scene in all of football. Some of those bowl games were memorable, others not so much.

When Iowa went to the Rose Bowl after the 1981 season, ending its 23-year bowl drought, my masters at The AP decided to do it up big. So whatever the team did out there, I was to tag along. You should never complain when you're traveling on someone else's dime, but I felt I was in Southern California long enough that I could have registered to vote.

I followed the Hawkeyes to Disneyland and Universal Studios. I went to every practice. Before eating with the team at Lawry's restaurant one night, Ron Maly, who was covering for The Des Moines Register, and I wrote our stories in the restaurant's kitchen. Not that there was any hardship involved. We ended the night eating prime rib. 

For two solid weeks, I wrote two or three stories a day. Believe me, I was running out of things to write, so the game itself was a welcome diversion. Well, sort of. I had to figure out what to write after the Hawkeyes fell flat on their collective faces and lost to Washington 28-0. And this was after Pam and I pulled ourselves out of bed at 4 a.m. so we could get to our seats for the parade. At least they were good seats. And the right price, too -- free.

Two years later, I was looking out on maybe the bleakest scene ever. It was one of those dark hours before dawn, the wind howled, snow blew everywhere and it was about 25 below. This was the day I left for Jacksonville to cover the Hawkeyes in the Gator Bowl. Which turned out to be the coldest Gator Bowl in history.

It was so cold the pipes in the stadium froze. No one brought enough clothes. One day, several of us ventured out to Jacksonville Beach for a media luncheon to get some stuff on Florida, Iowa's opponent. Gray clouds hung low over the beach, which was pounded by evil-looking waves. No one was tempted to take a dip. I sat next to Florida coach Charley Pell, a charming fellow who later was busted for some NCAA rules violations. OK, it was 107, but after 50 or 60, who can keep track?

Neither team acted like it wanted to play the game and Florida won 14-6. The wind chill at kickoff: 13 below. I told you it was cold.

So, Pam and I go from there to Miami, where the weather was much more pleasant and we saw a classic -- Miami foiling Nebraska's gutsy two-point conversion attempt at the end to win 31-30 and deny the Cornhuskers the national championship. I wrote a Nebraska sidebar and received a nice compliment from the desk editor in New York. I thanked him and then told him I had a lot of practice writing about the loser. It was my fifth bowl game and the team I was covering lost four of them.

Iowa's appearance in the 1984 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim was memorable, and not just because Chuck Long threw those six touchdown passes to lead a rout of Texas. That was the trip that introduced us to Crackers, one of the finest bars ever.

The music was great (oldies, of course), the servers lively (every hour they stopped what they were doing to sing and dance) and at midnight, a huge American flag unfurled from the ceiling while Kate Smith's "God Bless America" blared from the speakers. I'm no super patriot, but it was pretty cool. I think we went every night. Much to my embarrassment, it was only later that I realized that Orange County, how do we say it now, trends conservative. My first clue should have been the local airfield's name -- John Wayne Airport. Duh.

We were back in Southern California the next year, watching Ronnie Harmon fumble four times -- and drop a touchdown pass -- in another Rose Bowl loss for the Hawkeyes. But those gaffs were all accidental, right?

Yeah.

The 1988 Peach Bowl became a lot more fun when we discovered Flamingo Joe's, a downtown Atlanta bar that played lots of old music. I think Mark Neuzil, then with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, won us free drinks by guessing the singer when the following intro was played: "Been forty days since I don't know when .. "  (Lee Michaels, "Do You Know What I Mean"). 

Naturally, we went every night -- but only after writing our stories

One of the Holiday Bowl trips produced some extra work over a rumor that Iowa coach Hayden Fry was being considered for the Southern Cal job. This was before the days of the internet, so we had to drive around to find the newspaper that reported this tidbit so we knew what we'd be asking about. Then several of us, including Marc Hansen of the Register and Bob Brown of the Fort Dodge Messenger, waited in the dark (it gets chilly at night in San Diego) for Iowa to finish practice so we could corral Hayden. He was polite and, as you might expect, he laughed the whole thing off.

A couple of days later, Bob and I approached Hayden after a luncheon the day before the game and Bob asked an innocuous question about the game. Hayden must have thought Bob said something about Southern Cal because he said, "Are you guys trying to piss me off?" Not sure what he heard, but it had nothing to do with Southern Cal. Still, Bob and I laughed about that for years.

Before the 1991 Rose Bowl, I wrote quite a bit about Iowa working hard on punt protection because the Hawkeyes had a couple blocked during the season. So the first time they punt? It was blocked, of course. I just looked at Ken Peters, the kind-hearted soul who heads the AP sports operation in LA, and shook my head.

Now the challenge is stopping Georgia Tech's run-happy triple-option. Some doubts about the Hawkeyes' ability to do that must be creeping in because Tech is now favored by five points, after the line opened at 2 1/2.

Norm Parker will have his defense ready, but it sure would help if the Iowa offense plays well. The Hawkeyes managed to get by with only their defense in the regular season finale against Minnesota. That won't cut it Tuesday night. Just look at what Navy and Air Force did in their bowl games. They run an offense similar to Tech's and made their opponents, Missouri and Houston, look silly. And Tech is doing it with better athletes.

No matter the outcome, I don't need to be there. I'll be perfectly content watching from the comfort of my sofa, regardless of what's going on outside.

Besides, I'll be in Florida in less than a month -- and I won't have to write a word.

December 20, 2009

Bye-bye Anthony? Probably

You can just hear a cynical Drake fan now, can't you?

"Great. Anthony Tucker stays out of trouble at Iowa just long enough to help the Hawks beat us. Just our luck."

But this is no time for cynicism. Tucker's suspension from the Iowa basketball team after his second arrest for public intoxication in 13 months is a serious matter for the kid and another lousy break for coach Todd Lickliter. It came only hours after Tucker scored 17 points in Iowa's 71-67 victory over Drake at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Tucker, who at 20 hasn't even reached the legal drinking age in Iowa, needs help. Getting busted twice for public intox in a little over a year shows he's got a problem with alcohol. And for someone with an alcohol problem, it certainly doesn't help being in Iowa City, where the downtown bar scene is so available -- and so tempting.

Tucker may well bolt before anyone from Iowa has a chance to sit down and talk to him. If he does, let's hope the light bulb above his head goes on and he figures out a way to get some help. Maybe he'll stick around long enough that somebody at Iowa can say, "Here's some people or places who can help you. Give them a call and listen to what they say."

If he does seek help, maybe he'll be sincere about shaping up this time. All his earlier talk about lessons learned seems pretty hollow now.

As for Lickliter, geez, the guy just can't get a break. I don't know him. I got out of full-time work before he took the Iowa job, so I've never covered him. But he seems like an upstanding guy who plays by the rules and tries to do things the right way. I like his self-deprecating sense of humor. It's a refreshing change from his predecessor.

Yeah, his team doesn't play the most exciting brand of basketball. When the shots aren't falling, it's downright ugly. But Lickliter doesn't deserve what's happened to him recently. Four  guys from last season left. A promising newcomer, Devon Archie, has been hurt and is yet to play. Lickliter himself had a scare when he was hospitalized for a torn carotid artery. And now one of his better players can't stay away from the sauce.

Tucker has some talent. For sure he can shoot it. If his Iowa career is over -- and that's probably the case --- there's always a coach out there who's willing to give a player one more chance. So it's a good bet Tucker will end up playing somewhere and helping that team.

It's just too bad he couldn't stay on the straight and narrow so he could do it at Iowa. That would have been good for him and definitely good for the Hawkeyes.

December 06, 2009

What one second can do for you

It doesn't matter how old you might be, you can always learn something new.

Take last night, for instance. Who knew Sully's Irish Pub in West Des Moines attracted so many Texas fans? We're there toasting a Drake basketball victory, friendship and any other excuse we can dream up for drinking Irish coffee and Guinness. The Nebraska-Texas game is on television and a huge cheer erupts when Texas kicks its game-winning field goal as time expires.

Funny thing, there's not a hint of burnt orange or Longhorns' gear in sight, yet a lot of people are really excited. Hook 'em Horns, right?

Well, not quite.

We're being facetious about all of this, of course. Those weren't Texas fans celebrating. They were Iowa fans -- and there no doubt were whoops and hollers in bars across the state when Hunter Lawrence's field goal sailed through the uprights. Because the Texas victory improved the Hawkeyes' chances of landing a berth in a BCS bowl.

But Iowa fans everywhere had to be squirming as Texas quarterback Colt McCoy rolled to his right with the final seconds ticking away. When he finally threw the ball away, the clocked showed zeros and the Nebraska players rushed the field, thinking they had won the game 12-10 and clinched the Big 12's BCS berth. But the play was reviewed, one second was put back on the clock and Lawrence came through.

And that one second has made all the difference. What if the Longhorns had committed one of the biggest blunders ever and really let time run out? What if the official review determined time had indeed expired?

Oh my.

A Nebraska victory would have sent shock waves rippling through the entire bowl scenario. It would have put the Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl and dropped Texas into the at-large pool, from where the Longhorns might have bumped Iowa from a BCS game.

With two Big 12 teams in BCS bowls, Iowa State would have moved up in the pecking order and the conference wouldn't have had enough teams to fill its bowl commitments, which would have affected other bowls. If no Big Ten team got into a BCS game, everyone in the league would have moved down a notch and that also would have impacted other bowls.

Imagine the hand-wringing that would have ensued, not to mention the fact that TCU or maybe Cincinnati would have ended up in the BCS championship game against Alabama.

But one measly second and a calm, accurate kicker kept the BCS house in order. So Iowa fans, you might want to try to get Lawrence's cell phone number and send him some congratulatory text messages. And maybe a thank-you note to that replay official.

As for Texas, one touchdown and 13 points isn't going to strike any fear in Alabama hearts. After the way Nebraska manhandled McCoy and the Longhorns, the Tide defense has to be licking its chops.

Mack Brown and his offensive coaches had best be getting to work soon. They've got a lot to figure out between now and Jan. 7.

November 25, 2009

Let's go bowling

Be wary of what lurks within, Iowa football fans.

Within your own conference.

As the Dec. 6 bowl selection date approaches, Hawkeye fans are justifiably excited about the possibility of their team landing an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl. Iowa has finished its regular season at 10-2 and is 11th in the BCS rankings, so the Hawkeyes are eligible for one of the four at-large spots in the big-money bowls.

The Florida-Alabama loser in the SEC championship game will get one. That leaves three. TCU will be guaranteed a spot if it  finishes unbeaten, which is almost certain to happen. That leaves two. If Boise State goes unbeaten, the Broncos will be hard to ignore. So we could be talking about just one at-large berth remaining.

At first glance, Oklahoma State appears to be Iowa's main competitor, if the Cowboys beat Oklahoma in their Bedlam Series game on Saturday. Okie State is 12th in the BCS standings now and would finish 10-2 with a victory over the Sooners.

But Penn State, 13th in the BCS standings and also 10-2, is really the team to be concerned about. Yes,  the Hawkeyes beat Penn State in Happy Valley and were more competitive against Ohio State than the Nittany Lions. But the Iowa loss was a long time ago, back in September. Plus, Penn State has more national cache than Iowa, has a better offense than the Hawkeyes (just about every decent team does) and they have Joe Paterno, who's certainly more colorful and a better draw than Kirk Ferentz (With no offense intended to Kirk. That's just the way it is).

In Iowa's favor: The Hawkeyes did beat Penn State, they find a way to hang around no matter the opponent or circumstances and, most importantly to the bowl folks, they'll put a lot of butts in the seats and spend a lot of money in the hotels and restaurants.

I think Iowa's going to get that at-large spot, in the Fiesta Bowl. But if that's your hope, it wouldn't hurt to be pulling for Oklahoma this weekend, just in case. And you better hope that Nebraska doesn't upset Texas in the Big 12 championship game.

If that happens, all bets are off.

Now, what about Iowa State?

The Big 12 has eight guaranteed bowl slots, including a BCS game, and right now, eight teams are eligible. It could be nine if Kansas beat Missouri on Saturday.

Should that happen, I look for Iowa State still to get the nod over Kansas for a Big 12 bowl, even though the Jayhawks beat the Cyclones. Iowa State fans will travel, the Jayhawks have gone in the tank since beating ISU on Oct. 10 -- they've lost six straight -- and things are generally a mess in Lawrence with coach Mark Mangino being investigated for verbal and emotional abuse.

So, if you're a bowl, do you want Kansas and all that baggage or do you want an Iowa State team with a new coach who's invigorating the program and would be excited just to be there, wherever it may be. Of course, this all could be moot if Kansas loses to Missouri, which is likely to happen.

It could be the Insight Bowl in Phoenix. It could be the Independence Bowl in Shreveport. But the Cyclones are going bowling. And I say good for them.

November 11, 2009

Open it up, Kirk

Iowa goes to Ohio State's Horseshoe this weekend with a redshirt freshman, James Vandenberg, making his first start at quarterback.

All Vandenberg is being asked to do is lead an offense that wasn't all that potent to begin with against the No. 1 defense in the Big Ten. All that's at stake is the Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

No pressure, huh?

So, how about trying something a little different? Anyone who follows Iowa football knows that coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe are too conservative to try anything really crazy. But you're not going to beat the Buckeyes lining up in your base offense and running right at them. Ain't gonna fly.

You can't give Vandenberg too much because the kid's barely had time to grasp the basic offense. But you can at least give him a chance by throwing a few new wrinkles into the offense.

The two Iowa players most likely to break off a big play are receivers Marvin McNutt and DJK. Have McNutt take some direct snaps. He went to Iowa as a quarterback. He ought to be able to handle that. Run a reverse with DJK. Try a couple of bubble screens. Run McNutt on a reverse and have him throw it.

And while the offensive coaches are at it, maybe they could find a way to get a few balls to someone who's become invisible lately. You remember Tony Moeaki. He's the tight end who caught six passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Michigan. He's caught six balls total in the four games since, none against Northwestern last week.

He's being double covered, you say? Well, draw up something to make sure he isn't. That's why Kirk and Ken get the big bucks.

It's not all on the offense, though. The Iowa defense has to come up big time in this one. The Hawkeyes need to get some stops at Ohio State's end to keep the field position in their favor. They also have to come up with a couple of momentum-changing turnovers, something they couldn't do against Northwestern.

Even if the Hawkeyes get creative on offense and force some turnovers, there's still no guarantee they'll win. But without some creativity and turnovers, they have no chance.

October 26, 2009

Credit where credit's due

Why has it become so hard in sports to give the other team credit for something?

Your team loses and it's because the players gave the game away. Or your team had some bad luck. Or there were some fluky plays. And, of course, the refs/officials/umps screwed us.

This comes up in the wake of the narrow but significant victories the Iowa State and Iowa football teams posted over the weekend.

Iowa State came up with eight turnovers in a 9-7 victory at Nebraska -- the Cyclones' first win in Lincoln in 32 years. If Florida or Alabama or even Nebraska had eight takeaways, fans and pundits would be slobbering all over themselves about the great defense they played.

Case in point: Alabama defensive lineman Terrence Cody -- who has all of 17 tackles this year (and no sacks) -- blocked two kicks to help preserve the Tide's 12-10 win over Tennessee and now he's being talked about in some circles as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Iowa State gets eight turnovers and it's a fluke. The Cyclones got lucky. Nebraska shot itself in the foot. One NU fan said the Cornhuskers had to give Iowa State the game for the Cyclones to win it.

OK, when Nebraska receiver Miles Paul loses the ball as he headed to the end zone, maybe that's a fluke. But ISU safety James Smith never gave up on the play and that's why he was in position to recover the ball when it squirted from Paul's grasp like a wet trout.

As for the other turnovers, it sure looked like the Cyclones created them. They punched the ball away or simply wrested it from Nebraska runners. Say what you want about interceptions off tipped balls, but somebody on the defense has to be in position to tip it. And how about the hops 6-foot, 234-pound linebacker Jesse Smith showed when he jumped to make that last interception? He got it because he was in the right place.

One Nebraska player lamented, ``Luck's not going our way right now.'' But just who was the unlucky team? Iowa State played without its starting quarterback and running back, several players were puking in buckets because they were sick and defensive back Ter'ran Benton went out in the first half with a broken leg. Now that's bad luck.

You've got to hand it to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, though, because he made no excuses. He told reporters he didn't want to say the Cornhuskers beat themselves because that would discredit what Iowa State did.

Still, the Huskers might want to put in just a wee bit more time on ball security drills.

As for Iowa's 15-13 win at Michigan State, Ricky Stanzi's last-play touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt made all the highlight shows and deservedly so.

But if Florida's Tim Tebow had done that, oh my gosh. It would have been his Heisman moment. Touchdown Timmy does it again. We would have heard about it from now until the ceremony.

Iowa pulls it off and well, the Hawkeyes are barely scraping by. That was a bad call when the MSU defensive back was flagged for holding just before intercepting a pass on the final drive. The Spartans weren't in the right kind of defense. And so and so on.

Check the replay and yes, Michigan State had no defenders in the middle of the end zone. Once McNutt got inside position, his defender was toast. But how about giving McNutt credit for getting in that position and some kudos to Stanzi for his quick read in recognizing the situation.

What's wrong with saying, ``You know, those other guys made some great plays. That's why they won.''

Is that so hard to admit?