Letter from a Country Reprobate: Spartan Preview.

Whew. I arrived in Minneapolis last week a gentleman. I left with shattered faith in same. Arrests were not made, so at least there's that. Meanwhile, on to this week's game.

Below is my variation on the theme of Saturday's game. I diverge from Adam and Ross' view of things, notably in pinning more significance to Iowa's startling offensive statistics, while advancing the thesis that Rudock/Davis have been so good we haven't noticed yet that we're throwing a rookie onto the field against the best defense in the country, they of "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness." And we're really not that nervous about it.

The story line has been so far: "classic Iowa v. classic MSU". Maybe. However, the game turned last week on something that was not classic, mud-churning, line-blocking Iowa at all. It was the play when no one at the POA was blocked at all, and some crazy 165-pound guy was streaking down the right sideline, with the Gophers, as Tom Powers noted, staring straight up at the sky from their backs. The first defensive series predicted the Iowa win; that play was the inflection point that broke them. That was not classic Iowa, according to the current popular assessment of Iowa as a "cro-magnon" football team. I think we have another creature on our hands.


From TheOnlyColors comments:

Annual Blood Simple Bowl.

Most of the guys I talk to admire Dantonio, the Perles/Norm Parker/Phil Parker/Dantonio/ school of D. I don’t know where the "hate" is coming from, if there is any. It’s been a while since the 2008 event, which will disqualify a guy under the new rule, or the 2011 thing when Iowans were yelling about the eligibility about one of your guys (I was one of those guys; sorry). Everyone I interact with respects the MSU School of Rock-You Football. I think we have more affinities than distempers. Ferentz consistently refers to Dantonio as "Mark"; if he had a problem with him he would call him "Coach Dantonio."

MSU has an interesting problem to solve, with a confidence-shy QB and a team record of only 1 play greater than 30 yards, and zero greater than 40. Meanwhile, the Iowa QB has more rushing TDs v. FBS competition than MSU has team touchdowns against the FBS competition. I don’t know how you get the big plays without unharnessing Cook, but if you unleash Cook, with immature tight ends, there is precedent for the ceiling caving in. So I presume Dantonio will spend the first quarter figuring out if MSU can push Iowa backwards on both sides of the ball, rather than risking a turnover-laced meltdown with a more wide-open approach. As Ross notes, these Iowa linebackers are good. They’re smart, they're playmakers, they're opportunistic; they have very good hands. They all will be in NFL camps. If the Iowa DLine can keep MSU blockers off the linebackers, they are going to be a challenge for Cook.

I didn’t realize one of your TE’s was a DE a month ago. I don’t know how that matchup goes. Evidently he’s a superb athlete, but it’s a lot to absorb in a few weeks. It generally takes three years for an Iowa TE to get on the field — if he’s good. Four is normal.

I believe Iowa will run the whole offense, incidentally, and that is a lot more than running Weisman. Iowa is second in first downs in the conference behind OSU, third-down conversion % is up 50% over last year, and the OLine has been stable since Sept 1 (always a sign of good things for Iowa). Iowa’s tied with Michigan for 1st in the country on rushing TDs yielded (0) and Iowa has a defensive pass-completed rate of 48.7%. What does this mean? Iowa has actually invented a new kind of offense, and done so with a rookie QB, while MSU alum Phil Parker has come into his own in his second year as DC.

Iowa’s balance on offense is overlooked in this preview: only NW, Michigan, and MSU are more balanced, and not by much; and only NW is ahead of Iowa in productivity. It’s somewhat amusing to see people analyze Iowa according to the cliches of yesterday: the MOARWEISMAN meme. It’s completely misleading. Sid Hartman, something of a professional cynic, has been watching football (in Minneapolis) for the Star Tribune for 60 years and he compared Rudock to Montana in his column last Sunday. So to consider Rudock a "work in progress" is fine, but he’s already performing at a very fine level (if Iowa goes 4-4 in conference I would expect him to be honorable mention all-conference, or even third team) and Iowa trails only OSU in total first downs, while being middle of the pack in first downs pg. Iowa leads the Big Ten in plays, as well, a fact that should be a wake-up call to everyone as to what our OC and Ferentz are doing. Iowa is running 6 more plays a game than OSU, and 8 more than Wisconsin, in third. Last, what’s notable about this is Iowa is also leading the Big Ten in Time of Possession while running up-tempo. MSU is second, but is averaging 10 fewer plays per game. Sorry, hoary simplicities about "Iowa being Iowa" are fine, but none of the offensive numbers support that. This is not Grandfather’s Iowa offense. The innovation here is merging classic Iowa zone-scheme power running with a multiple edge-game, all executed up tempo. No one has run an uptempo smashmouth offense; Stanford’s play cycles are 10% slower than Iowa’s, and Stanford’s passing game more resemble’s Iowa’s old one, than the new one under Davis.

It’s probably a measure of how well Rudock has played that I haven’t read yet a single story that highlights his challenges in facing the best defense in the country this week. Not one. Everyone expects him to run the offense and put up the numbers now. We don’t know how many yards and points that is against MSU, probably not too many. But no one is wringing his hands about Narduzzi victimizing the rookie QB. He’s been too consistent and too smart. Fun fact: Iowa moved its Wednesday practice last week. Why? The QB (who is pre-med and targeting a pediatric cardiology career) had an organic chem exam.

Weisman is a strong, sturdy dude but he’s a lot more than a "battering ram." He has an uncanny ability to cut to the hole and hit it on-tempo, something that the more fluid, faster back Bullock has yet to demonstrate. Weisman will get more than 15-20 carries in this game; he ran it 26 times last year despite getting 3 ypc until a late burst for 37. One thing I’ve noticed this year is that teams have given up trying to tackle him high; Minnesota just dove at his knees or ankles. They’re not giving him a chance to throw a stiffarm. I’m curious to see how theMSU linebackers match up. I guess I predict something like 30 for 95: really a brutal game for the kid.

So, again as noted, most summaries of early Iowa play just run with the cliche of "same old Iowa, good defense and good run game." That’s fine, but it doesn’t explain what is going on. At all.

Agree with Ross it’s a one-score game, winner unknown. MSU turnovers could break it open for Iowa; turnovers and special teams failures could break it open for MSU. Iowa matches up well at QB, TE, RB; MSU corners probably take away our wideouts; I think the game is over if our DLine can stuff the MSU run. That’s the key indicator for me. If we can block you, expect our tempo to go up, not down, as the game wears on. While I’m sure we will probe for a quarter, getting Weisman 6-8 carries, stay alert for the Davis change-ups, such as the 70 yard fly screen to Powell last week.

As for conference "blue bloods": Of course, if one could buy Nebraska for what it’s worth, and sell it for what Nebraskans think it’s worth, one could retire to Ibiza tomorrow. They’re a somewhat comical crew, rather than "blue bloods", with a broken recruiting model and a Tourette’s Syndrome coach who has yet to assemble a first division coaching staff. PSU is just disgusting: if they were self-appointed "blue bloods" in the Paterno era, they’re self-appointed pariahs now. It’s a bit hard to keep a straight face when an institutional sex offender spouts "success with honor" B.S.

Anyway, class is as class does, and I think both MSU and Iowa can play with any team this year owing to their defenses, while operating football programs that are clearly ethical operations that are subordinate to their schools’ mission, as should be the case. Looking forward to this game. There will be blood. Enjoy Iowa City, a great town, just not too much.

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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