Note: This is my last post for Black Heart Gold Pants, so I hope you read all the way through for everything I have to say. I hope you read everything on this site all the way through, actually, but especially this post.
Sure, Iowa just lost the Insight Bowl, 31-14. But what was really important about losing to Oklahoma? How much do we really know? What does it all mean, Basil? The Takeaway has the answer.
Jordan Canzeri. Jordan Canzeri. Jordan Canzeri. All that talk about "running back by committee" and "we'll use anyone who can play RB"? Yeah, forget it. Kirk Ferentz decided to hitch his wagon to Jordan Canzeri, and the result was... well, pretty much what you'd expect from a 172-pound true freshman tailback facing a fast defense: three yards a pop, several big hits taken, and an offense that doesn't move very effectively.
Obviously things would have been different with Marcus Coker out there, and the Hawkeyes should be pissed that Coker did whatever he did and took himself out of the game (though from the sound of it, this isn't likely to be a lingering problem, so take that, AIRBHG). But Coker and Mika'il McCall obviously weren't available, so why on earth did Ferentz and/or Ken O'Keefe go basically 50/50 on rushes and passes in the first half? The passes weren't even particularly ambitious or aggressive; Jamell Fleming shut down Marvin McNutt for most of the game, and one Vandenberg figured out he wasn't going to get McNutt open very often, he stuck with safe underneath passes until late, and Iowa's offense suffered. Iowa didn't run a winning gameplan until it was time to go hurry-up spread, and Vandenberg flourished there; unlike the Pitt game, however, Iowa didn't have the talent to make up the large deficit.
Kirk Ferentz, riverboat gambler. For all the jokes about Kirk Ferentz doing things like kneeling on the ball with 7 minutes left in the half and calling a draw in a Hail Mary situation, the one aspect of his game where he's actually comfortable with taking a fairly significant risk is his 4th down playcalling. Ferentz doesn't actually punt inside the 40 very often at all anymore, and he's been pretty reliable with keeping the offense on the field on 4th and 1 from basically anywhere in enemy territory.
So when Iowa faced a 4th and 1 on its first productive drive at the Oklahoma 9-yard line (indeed, the next time Iowa would get that close was with under a minute left in the 3rd quarter), Ferentz didn't hesitate to dial up a run play. Now, the fact that he went with Canzeri to carry the ball instead of, oh, anyone else is unsettling*, but the fact is that if the play were properly officiated, Iowa would have had a first down. Iowa was ready to go with its quick-snap look like usual on 4th down, but the referee stood over the snap while Oklahoma was able to get its defense set... and then didn't notice the Oklahoma cornerback running onto the field from Iowa's side of the LOS when the ball was finally snapped, which is just about the easiest offsides penalty you can call. Kirk Ferentz was pissed, and he should have been. By and large, the officiating was good in the game, but a momentary fit of incompetence screwed Iowa out of a golden opportunity for a touchdown, and that sucks.
*While we're talking about short yardage situations, did it occur to anybody else during the game that Bob Stoops was basically running a clinic on how to use a QB like A.J. Derby with his package of plays for Blake Bell? Stoops incorporates a large, gifted QB into his gameplan situationally; Kirk Ferentz shrugs and moves that large, gifted QB to linebacker.
Should we be excited about next year? It's tough to figure out what 2012 holds for the Hawkeye football team. Kirk Ferentz has to replace a coordinator for the first time ever, the team's coming off a 15-11 record for the last two seasons, and Iowa's losing another 5-ish guys to the draft -- mostly at positions where there isn't an evident future star behind them. The schedule's not getting any easier (Iowa could go 0-for-October and it wouldn't surprise me). So is there any reason for optimism here?
I think there is. I'm happy with a starting lineup of James Vandenberg, Marcus Coker, Brad Rogers, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Keenan Davis, and Kevonte Martin-Manley at the offensive skill positions, and while I'm less optimistic about the state of the offensive line (especially if Riley Reiff goes, and he ought to), I do think there's some talent and potential there. I want to see more out of Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff than what they showed this year, because they were getting abused out there at times. But then again, so did Julian Vandervelde when he was a freshman and he ended up in the NFL, so there's cause for hope.
On defense, it's natural to see the dearth of production from the front four, see that Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns are leaving, and wail plaintively. But if recruiting stars are to be believed, the defensive line is probably going to be the scene of Iowa's biggest turnaround in the coming years. Carl Davis still has room to grow as a player, but he's a space-eater who'll probably be asked to start next year. Past him, Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie, and Darian Cooper are all 4-star DTs who will be freshmen next year (Cooper as a redshirt FR), so while 2012 might be too early to see much big production out of them, the door's certainly going to be open for an infusion of talent and youth there. At defensive end, I recommend prayer.
It'll be nice to have Micah Hyde back, and if B.J. Lowery's got any improvement left to do, now would be the time for it. If Nico Law can bring the aggressive style of his special teams play to the starting SS role, that would also be quite a welcome development. Kirk Ferentz has been active in recruiting linebackers lately, so if someone like Melvin Spears can step in at MLB and OLB stays manned by Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens, that's a pretty decent unit. It's not great and I don't see an All-Big Ten linebacker in the bunch (at least not for the 2012 season), but I don't see any glaring problems there either.
The special teams units should be good too. Mike Meyer is legit, and perhaps it's time for the Jonny Mullings Experience to begin. Yes, the kickoff coverage has sucked over the last two years, but... there's no but. It has sucked. That needs to improve.
Bottom line, I think this is an 8-win team next year, maybe a game or two lower if injuries and academics are unusually cruel, but perhaps a game higher if the situations at OT and DE fix themselves adequately. 8-4 in the regular season isn't contending for the national championship or even the Big Ten championship, but to stay within a couple games of that mark on an annual basis is pretty damned good, and better than most college football teams can claim over the last decade. You can want more, and that's fine, but be happy that Iowa's baseline is where it is.
And finally: so long, friends. As I mentioned before, this is my last post for BHGP. Seriously. As anyone who's kept close tabs (web browsing term) on this site probably knows, I haven't been around very often recently, and I can't even remember what the last post I did was that wasn't a Takeaway or Hamsterdam. Yeah, I can look it up if I want, but I'm guessing nobody else on BHGP can't remember what the last post he did was*.
The reason for that is simple: I write for a living now. I say that not to brag -- although it's totally something to brag about -- but to just point out that BHGP is a hobby for all of us, and if a hobby is the same thing as the work you do, it's not going to feel like a hobby for very long.
Now, it's demonstrably true that I'm not writing here very often at all, and that's a pattern that I don't see changing for as long as I'm full-timing at Eye on College Football. If BHGP was my blog and mine alone, it would be dead, dead of that insidious killer of most blogs: inattention. So it's patently unfair of me to be on that highest tier of the masthead while everyone else is doing the work, regardless of what I was doing for this site 3 years ago. Everyone else is doing all the work now. I'm basically BHGP's Norm Parker.
So that's why I'm hanging 'em up here at Sterling Cooper Draper Pants. Really, that's it. There's no other shoe about to drop, no indignation, no secret behind-the-scenes drama. If someone purports to tell you otherwise, smack them for lying to you, and then tell them to reconsider their life priorities because gossiping about BHGP is a very weird thing to do. I love this website and SB Nation and I hope BHGP becomes the king of all Iowa media. ALL OF IT. I'm also more excited about this blog than I've ever been, even in those formative months when it was just a dream in the head of Jebus, Patrick, and me that we discussed over email. And if you're thinking about not reading BHGP anymore because I'm leaving, I will quietly judge you for that.
Without Jebus and Patrick, this site wouldn't have existed, which means I wouldn't be where I am today, which means... lord, I don't even want to consider that. They took a leap of faith and invested literally thousands of hours in this site for basically nothing in return, and they did it while being incredibly supportive and incredibly good writers. Pat's still here at BHGP, of course, and I don't need to tell any of you how good he is at this. Read him.
The best decision of the BHGP era** was bringing RossWB on board. He's gone from being a wrestling update writer to someone who can write really well about any sport. Ross makes me laugh basically every day and if you've been sleeping on his work -- especially in recruiting -- it's time to wake up. RossWB is our Andre Woolridge (and he looks exactly like him) (no he does not). Read him.
HFMR, Horace E. Cow, and hawk6894 are unbelievably creative, and one look at the Rec counts whenever they post anything should be testament to that fact. They do things with this blog that I never would have been able to think up myself, and Horace E. Cow's statistical analysis posts (the Fran-Graphs and Statistical In-Ferentz serieseses) are both informative and funny as hell. If Ross makes me laugh almost every day, these three guys make me say "holy crap" just about every time they post anything. They are awesome. Read them.
Last, PSD hasn't been here for long, but he's been doing a killer job bringing the link action back to BHGP and, well, rooting us back in reality. That's not an insignificant thing to do, especially as we spend so much time imagining different worlds where coaches and athletic directors spend all their time making prank calls, or where Fran McCaffrey is actually a rocketship. It is possible to overindulge in BHGP-ness. LOL I said P-ness. See what I mean? Anyway, when we first started doing the INPs in 2009 or whatever year it was, not only did readership numbers take off, but it was the first and only time people would tell us things like "I only get my Hawkeye news from BHGP" and not be saying it in a bitterly ironic way. PSD will bring those days back, because he knows this stuff inside and out and he knows how to write. Read him.
Like I said, the future of BHGP is bright, and now I'll be admiring it from the other side of the screen just like the rest of you. I'm prouder of all of these guys than I've ever been proud of anything else, and I will fight anyone who tells me there's a better community of Hawkeye fans anywhere else in the damn world than what we've got right here. I'll always be a BHGPer.
*Excepting HFMR, of course, who is higher than a kite right now.
**If we include the two months of The Hawkeye Compulsion, the best decision we ever made was to give Ron Zook a hair-smelling fetish.