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Speak Your Truth: Iowa Q&A

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Friend of the blog Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants stops by to talk defense, special teams and NOT offense.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It is time, once again, for the Spider-Man Pointing Meme of all Spider-Man Pointing Memes rivalry game. The Wisconsin Badgers and No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes are basically the same team year after year and 2021 is no different. Both teams have excellent defenses and mediocre to below average offenses. Special teams will no doubt play an important role again, positively for Iowa and negatively for Wisconsin most likely this season, but the advantage changes from season to season.

This game will be the end of Wisconsin’s Homecoming Week and hopefully the return of the Heartland Trophy to Madison after it has resided in Iowa City for the past year. While the general overview of Iowa is the same every season, we had some specific questions that we wanted answered and our Iowa cousin Jonah from Black Heart Gold Pants was happy to oblige.

Here are his answers!

First things first...let’s talk turnovers. Tom Fornelli had a tweet on Tuesday that showed Iowa led the nation in percentage of their team’s points scored off of turnovers while Wisconsin led the nation (by an absurd margin) in points allowed off of turnovers. With star CB Riley Moss set to miss the game for the Hawkeyes, will Iowa struggle to force turnovers at their insane rate? Is the inherent luck of the turnover margin starting to even out a bit?

I want to start by saying as someone who reads the opponent Q&As every week: I fully understand how this is probably going to sound to Badger fans and I swear I’m not some smug opposing fan who simply thinks their team is unstoppable. Iowa fans, by and large, are on the other end of that spectrum and are in a perpetual state of dread waiting for all good things to come to an end.

But the turnovers are not one where they’ve “been lucky”. That’s been the narrative from the national media and virtually every opponent but we’re now halfway through the season and the Hawkeyes still lead the country in interceptions by a wide margin despite not managing to turn over Aidan O’Connell a single time in Week 7 (he’s thrown eight in his four other appearances against P5 opponents). And it’s not just this year. The Hawkeyes lead the nation in interceptions since 2017.

Iowa v Maryland
Iowa has so many interceptions.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

That’s not to say this group is impenetrable or something. Quite the opposite. Iowa is just barely top-50 nationally in passing yards allowed and that was really exposed by Purdue and the combination of O’Connell and David Bell.

But that’s essentially the scheme. Phil Parker has designed this defense to force opposing QBs to take what is there over and over and over and consistently hit those windows in the zone. If they can do that, they can rack up yards and potentially points. But when there are mistakes, they often lead to turnovers. For that reason, I expect them to be fine with Terry Roberts at CB again this week unless Mertz can channel his inner Aidan O’Connell this week.

Even without the turnovers, Iowa’s defense has been quite good again this year. The Badgers have struggled in pass protection so far, and Iowa usually has at least one terrifying dude that sacks the quarterback with regularity, so who is the top pass rushing threat for the Hawks this season?

The defensive line has been interesting to watch. They were a major area of concern entering the year but looked fantastic through the first several games. Zach VanValkenburg is the guy this year and will be All-Big Ten again this season. But it’s actually been Lukas Van Ness who leads the team with four sacks. Joe Evans is an edge specialist who will play in passing situations and has come up with three sacks thus far.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa
ZVV is a cool collection of letters for one name tbqh.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

But candidly this is an area of concern entering this week. Purdue was able to keep O’Connell incredibly clean and the front four created virtually no pressure at all. The Boilers carved up the secondary in part because they gave the QB loads of time to pick his spots and when Phil Parker dialed something up putting his corners in man coverage (a true rarity at Iowa), David Bell was simply the best player on the field.

If ZVV, Van Ness, Evans and others can generate pressure without the need to send guys from the secondary, I like Iowa’s chances of turning Graham Mertz over. If not, it could be a long day for Hawkeye fans.

Tyler Linderbaum is a joy to watch. No question here, just thought everyone should know that.

Absolutely. The kid is a pitbull and it’s a crying shame we aren’t further along with cloning technology.

Can I get two under-the-radar players, one on each side of the ball, that could make an impact on Saturday?

I’m going to hedge a bit here only because these guys might be under the radar for opposing fans but are certainly not for Hawkeye fans.

On offense, Keagan Johnson is a real X factor. He’s the fastest player on the team but for some odd reason he was basically non-existent for Iowa through the first three weeks of the season. Now just past the midway point, he’s third on the team in receiving yards despite having just six catches on the year. He’s averaging 31 yards per reception and for an offense that has really struggled to take the top off of defenses, he provides that added element to the game.

The other name on offense to know if Monte Pottebaum. For starters, it’s a hell of a name. He’s the second member of the Baum Squad along with Tyler Linderbaum. He has a neck roll, sports a mullet and plays fullback. Enough said.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois
You may not like it, but this is what the ideal fullback should look like.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Actually, no, probably not enough said. The kid is a battering ram that destroys everything in his path. Iowa is at its best running the ball when they have Pottebaum leading for Tyler Goodson, but the big fella can scoot a bit too. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the year despite mostly getting work in short yardage situations. He’s also got three catches on the year and Brian Ferentz has shown some propensity to use him as a blocking back in passing situations.

On the other side of the ball, Terry Roberts is the name I mentioned as stepping in for Riley Moss. He’s been a staple on special teams for years now and is truly elite as a gunner. But at corner, he would be a starter for virtually any other iteration of this Iowa defense. But when Matt Hankins opted to take his COVID year instead of leaving for the NFL, there was simply no spot for him. Until now.

Syndication: HawkCentral
Terry Roberts (No. 22) will step into a larger role on defense with Riley Moss out.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

He’s had a couple of passes that were sure interceptions if Moss were in the game against Penn State and Purdue, but he’s largely been exactly where he is supposed to be and is a good athlete.

The other name to watch on defense is Jestin Jacobs. He’s Iowa’s third linebacker, but because the Hawkeyes run a 4-2-5 against opponent personnel groupings that don’t feature two backs or two tight ends, his snap count has been limited this year. He’s an absolute animal who will be playing on Sunday eventually. He’s 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds but runs like an elite tight end. He’s proven elite an matching up with those tight ends and is likely to get lots of run against a Badger offense that will be one of the few teams trying to out-muscle Iowa this year.

Let’s get a prediction on how this game will go. I don’t need a specific score, per se, more of just how you see this one playing out and who you think will win.

Pain.

Pain for everyone. Pain for the players. Pain for our eyeballs. Pain for college football. I fully expect this to be the rockiest of rock fights. I don’t know how Wisconsin only threw the ball eight times last week, but I suspect they try that again. Iowa will throw more, but that doesn’t mean they complete more.

This has all the makings of a 60+ minute slug fest where both coaches are perfectly happy to just play field position the entire time and hope the other team blinks. I like Iowa in special teams and if they make Graham Mertz throw it around a bit, but I think Wisconsin is able to run the ball more effectively than some of Iowa’s past opponents and suspect they will thoroughly shut down Iowa’s run game given their deficiencies at tackle.

You didn’t ask for a score prediction, but I’ll give you one anyway. Wisconsin 13, Iowa 9

BONUS QUESTION: how many punts does Tory Taylor get inside the 20 on Saturday?

This is a bit of a trick question because what you’re really asking is how many times will Iowa get the ball past their own 40 without mistakenly ending up in field goal range. I’ll set the over/under at four, which is just slightly above his season average of three per game (he leads the nation with 22 punts downed inside the 20). I’ll also add that at least one of those is going to be downed inside the five by Terry Roberts.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

BONUS QUESTION NO. 2: can you explain, from an Iowa point of view, the ongoing spat y’all have with Penn State fans?

Ugh. This just won’t seem to end and I doubt your readers truly care, but it has most definitely been a thing. So much so that I unintentionally wrote more than 500 rambling words on the situation before I caught myself.

Suffice it to say Iowa fans did boo at PSU players. PSU players, beyond any reasonable doubt, faked injuries in that game. Iowa fans are in fact not all terrible people who knowingly boo injured players out of spite. And if you’re looking to take one man’s word on the matter, are you going to take the word of Kirk Ferentz or James Franklin? Penn State fans have made their choice and now Iowa fans are again questioning the judgement of a fanbase that, well, I’m going to stop myself again.

Can’t we just talk about how stupid it is trying to score points in a football game?