Iowa Football: Grading the Hawkeyes' 2010 Season

Stix Symmonds@@stixsymmondsCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2010

Iowa Football: Grading the Hawkeyes' 2010 Season

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    The 2010 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes certainly had its ups and downs.  From huge preseason hype to the late season meltdown, this roller coaster ride could hardly be predicted. 

    At times, Iowa looked every bit the national title contender they were billed to be.  From their easy walk through teams like Iowa State and Ball State to their 37-6 drubbing of then-undefeated Michigan State, the Hawkeyes showed that they were capable of playing about as well as anyone in the country.

    At the same time, they fell behind Arizona 27-7 before staging a miraculous turnaround.  They dropped at home to Wisconsin 31-30.  Let's not even talk about the three-game losing skid to end the season that included losses to unranked Northwestern and Minnesota.

    The Hawkeyes certainly played as poorly as just about anyone in the country as well.

    So, how do you grade this team overall? 

    This is how I did it.

The Offense

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    There were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this unit coming into the season.  Ricky Stanzi was back for his senior season, as was Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.  RB Jewel Hampton returned from a torn ACL that kept him out of the 2009 season, Marvin McNutt had a breakout year in '09, and Keenan Davis would get a few more looks to round out the receiver corps.

    There were also reasons to doubt the unit.  The O-line was practically all-new and that's not a unit you really want a ton of inexperience on.  Stanzi had finished the 2009 with 17 TDs and 15 INTs - numbers that had Hawk fans more than a little nervous.

    In the end, Iowa improved over their 2009 version. 

    In '09 they averaged 23.2 points per game, which was enough to finish tenth out of 11 Big Ten teams.  This year, Iowa improved that number to 29.1 points per game - good enough for sixth in the conference. 

    Ricky Stanzi improved his QB rating from 131.62 to 160.5 and dropped his interception numbers like a rock, finishing with only four interceptions on the entire year.  Opposite those four interceptions, he tossed 25 touchdowns and improved his completion percentage from 56.3% to 64.8%

    WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos became the all-time leading receiver at the University of Iowa and finished the year with 745 yards and ten touchdowns.

    Hampton was lost for the year again with another torn ACL and ended up being a relative non-factor.  Adam Robinson managed the bulk of the running duty just fine though, averaging 4.64 yards-per-carry on 203 carries and scored ten touchdowns. 

    What's more, Marcus Coker stepped up when Robinson suffered a pair of concussions and averaged 4.98 yards-per-carry on 81 carries with a touchdown of his own. 

    All-in-all, Iowa's offense was something of a pleasant surprise.  The offensive line played well considering their level of experience, the running game showed better depth than expected, and the pass game was far more efficient than anyone predicted.

    The downside for the unit was their inability to put together the kinds of winning drives that was the hallmark of the 2009 season.  Four of Iowa's five losses were by four or fewer points and could have been won with just one more decent drive.

    What's more, Ricky Stanzi -- in his ultra-focused attempt to correct the interception mistakes of a year before -- rushed far too many plays and chose his check-down receiver before plays even had time to develop.  The run game was good, but it wasn't explosive and the receivers seemed to have rubber on their hands more often than glue.

    2010 Grade: B

The Defense

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    The largest portion of the hype surrounding Iowa in the early going of the season had to do with their defense.

    DE Adrian Clayborn was a pre-season All-American.  Karl Klug, Broderick Binns and Christian Ballard returned to join Clayborn on an already fierce defensive line.

    SS Tyler Sash was a ball hawk in 2009 and was back with his partner-in-crime Bret Greenwood for another fantastic season.

    Jeremiha Hunter returned at linebacker, but had a couple of new(er) guys joining him.  Jeff Tarpinian was set to step in and pick up where Pat Angerer had left off.

    For the most part, the defense didn't really disappoint. 

    The Hawkeyes finished second in the conference in scoring defense -- behind Ohio State -- allowing just 16.4 points per game.  They were also second in the conference in rushing defense, but dropped from first to sixth in the conference in pass defense.  They finished in the top ten in the nation in both scoring and rushing defense, but finished 58th in pass defense.

    A person would be hard-pressed to call the defensive performance of this team a failure for 2010.  There were problems, however.

    The injury bug bit Jeff Tarpinian and threatened the continuity of a unit that fans had become accustomed to being very solid.  The corner position left a bit to be desired, which was also a disappointment after the stellar play of Amari Speivey in 2009.

    Adrian Clayborn was supposed to be an absolute monster on the line, but failed to get consistent pressure into the backfield.  His teammates didn't do much to pick up the slack and Iowa struggled all year to force opposing quarterbacks into compromising situations.  They ended the season 83rd in the nation in sacks with just 19.

    The most damning aspect of all was that Iowa failed in each of their five losses to stop opposing offenses from marching the field and putting up winning scores.  Northwestern did it not once, but twice.  A unit that had built a reputation for coming up big when it mattered most, had turned into something akin to a liability when the game was on the line this season. 

    There were some positive surprises, however.  Mike Daniels asserted himself nicely this year with four sacks, 40 tackles and 11 tackles-for-loss.  Micah Hyde also showed a lot of promise, pulling down three interceptions and was second on the team with 77 tackles.

    Overall, it was a good season for the defense, but wasn't quite as good as fans expected and Iowa needed.

    2010 Grade: A-

Special Teams

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    Special Teams play hasn't been exactly the strongest aspect of Iowa's football program for a couple of years now.  In fact, the last time Iowa's special teams took the spotlight was when Daniel Murray kicked the game winning goal to knock off undefeated Penn State back in 2008.

    Murray gave way to freshman Michael Meyer.  Meyer finished the regular season hitting 12 of 15 field goals for a solid 80%.  That's better than Murray did a year before, making only 19 of 26 attempts (73.1%).  Meyer also connected on 28 of 30 extra points (93.3%)  Murray had been slightly better in this aspect (32 of 33 for 97%).

    One miss in particular stands out for Iowa fans.  Meyer's missed XP against Wisconsin made the difference between a 31-30 loss and a potential tie to force overtime.  For a freshman though, Meyer fared well and showed promise for the future of Iowa's kicking game.

    Kick coverage was spotty at times (to put it nicely).  Arizona returned a kickoff for a touchdown, pushing the momentum firmly in the Wildcats' favor and helping build that 20-point lead over the Hawks. 

    Iowa finished the regular season ranked sixth in the conference in opponent kickoff returns, allowing an average of 95 yards per game. All too often, they allowed opponents to operate on a short field and put their defense at a stark disadvantage.

    There was also that awful missed recognition of a fake punt by Wisconsin that kept the winning drive alive for the Badgers. 

    On the flip side of that though, Iowa was also second in the conference in opponent punt returns.  Iowa allowed just seven yards per game and only 1.7 yards per return. 

    Fans like to pick on special teams as they point out the missed extra points and that kick return for a touchdown.  Over the course of the season though, that one return was the only one allowed and their punt coverage has been very good.

    It's just been those handful of plays that hurt Iowa so badly and have stuck out in fans minds.

    2010 Grade: C-


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    Oh boy.  Okay, here we go.

    Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has reached almost iconic status at the University of Iowa.  He took over a struggling program from another Iowa icon (Hayden Fry) at a time when the cupboards were pretty well bare. 

    He patiently put together a team that has been bowling far more often than not and has the program's first BCS bowl victory when Iowa defeated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl following last season.  The team has earned the respect of conference foes and entered the year being touted by the media as a potential dark horse in the national title race.  

    Poor coaching doesn't produce that kind of program.

    However, that's all the result of past work.  That wasn't 2010.

    Norm Parker can easily be praised for what he's built as a core for this defense.  At the same time, it's difficult to blame him for any of the shortcomings that the defense suffered this year.  Complications from diabetes and the amputation of a foot kept Parker away from the team for a good portion of the season.

    It's really tough to determine if those shortcomings would have happened had Parker been on the sidelines or not.  It's really easy to blame someone else --anyone else -- for lapses in Iowa's normally stingy protectors-of-the-goal.

    Fair or not, I give Parker a free pass with a N/A due to his long absence from the field.

    Ken O'Keefe has been the butt of Hawk fans' ire for a few seasons.  Perhaps its rightfully so.  Iowa's offense has never been very flashy under O'Keefe's watch, and more often than not, it's been a far weaker component to the team than the defense has been.

    At twelve years of tenure at Iowa, O'Keefe has had plenty of time to figure out how to put together a potent offense -- especially with talent like Derrell Johnson-Koulianos at his disposal.  

    Iowa's offense has instead become increasingly more predictable, and thus stoppable.  The run game has been merely "decent", not great.  Some of that can be blamed on injuries and youth, but the usage of the run game has been questionable on many occasions.

    Iowa's scoring offense has been sixth and tenth respectively in the conference over the 2010 and 2009 seasons.  It was much better in 2008, but that year Shonn Greene was carrying the entire offense on his thick legs and broad shoulders.  O'Keefe hardly had much to do with that and play calling is pretty darned easy when you've got a Doak Walker Award winner at your disposal.

    In 2007, Iowa was dead last in the conference and in 2006 they were seventh.

    Particularly damning this year was Iowa's two-minute offense.  It was horrendous at best and failed utterly at putting together drives when they needed one most.  You can blame Ricky Stanzi for not having the poise he showed last year.  You can blame the offensive line for giving up four consecutive sacks to Arizona.  

    You can blame a lot of things, but you'd better add O'Keefe to that list.  The preparation lies with him and the many failures belong solidly on his shoulders.  


    Kirk Ferentz is above reproach in many fans' minds, but they might reconsider.

    The fact that Iowa's offense has been so poor for so long and yet there have been no changes made is Coach Ferentz's responsibility.  The fact that Iowa's offense has struggled so mightily in late-game drives and yet there have been no adjustments is Ferentz's responsibility.  The fact that everyone in the football-viewing-world knows what play Iowa is going to run next and yet there have been no upgrades to the system is Ferentz's responsibility.

    Coach Ferentz is as loyal a friend to his coordinators as a person could possibly hope for.  He's getting paid millions of dollars per year to perform though, and failing to acknowledge and fix problems that have festered throughout the year and reach back as many as four seasons is dereliction of duty.

    As Al Namias IV pointed out, Coach Ferentz's team quit on him this year.  In my mind, that is perhaps the worst failure a coach can endure. 

    For whatever reason -- a disagreement of philosophy or a failure of communication -- Coach Ferentz and his players weren't on the same page by the time the Hawkeyes collapsed. 

    What's more, at a crucial time in the season, when Iowa was firmly in the Big Ten title hunt and needed just a little extra "oomph" to get over the hump against Northwestern (and again against Ohio State), Ferentz stood quietly -- almost bored -- on the sideline chewing his gum while his team slipped into oblivion.  If it can be said that his team gave up on him, it might also be said that he gave up on his team.

    Where was the fire?  Where was the passion?  Where was that excitement and drive that coaches like Pat Fitzgerald use to pick their teams up and propel them to victory?

    Maybe Coach Ferentz has never really displayed those attributes, but the lack thereof filtered over to the players this year, to the detriment of the team and fans who love to cheer them on.

    Still, he did get Iowa back to a bowl game.  For a fair number of fans, that's good enough. 


    Overall 2010 Grade: D-


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    As might be expected, the step back that was the 2010 season is beginning to manifest in the recruiting arena.

    So far this season, Iowa has picked up one four-star recruit (, 13 three-star recruits and one two-star recruit.

    There are two five-star recruits (Cyrus Kouanjio and Doran Grant) that have Iowa on their radar and seven four-star recruits considering Iowa City as their next home.

    That's all well and good, but one has to wonder how many will move the Hawkeyes down their list in light of their disappointing season. 

    The Hawks have picked up four-star OG Jordan Walsh and three-star OG Austin Blythe to help add security to their offensive line into the future.  They've also picked up three tight ends, a quarterback, a running back and two wide receivers.

    Of course, as always, where these young men might actually play is anyone's guess.  Iowa frequently takes young players and moves them into new positions, often on the other side of the ball entirely.  Only Walsh and Blythe are fairly certain locks at continuing their career on the offensive line.

    Along with those players, Iowa has secured commitments from a middle linebacker, two outside linebackers and a safety.

    Again, they might not stay there at the collegiate level, but that's what they're coming in as.

    Iowa is a tough program to accurately rate when it comes to recruiting.  They often take players who aren't highly recruited and turn them into all-conference players (Matt Kroul and Dallas Clark come to mind).

    There's a distinct lack of four and five-star recruits for a program that just came off an 11-2 season and a BCS bowl victory.  This is where Iowa traditionally falls behind their competition, but it hasn't really hurt Iowa that much in the past. 

    Without seeing what the coaching staff will do with this bunch, it's tough to grade the ongoing class, but based on past seasons, Iowa is still on par with their usual results.

    2010 Grade: B-  (with the potential to improve by signing day)


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    What kinds of "intangibles" does a team like Iowa have for an entire season?  This year, there were a few, actually.

    Dealing with preseason hype is definitely one of those intangibles. 

    It's not often that Iowa comes into a season being mentioned in connection with a potential national championship berth.  When it does happen, fans get understandably ultra-excited about the possibilities. 

    Iowa's coaching staff had an opportunity to both temper the expectations by reminding fans of the competitiveness of the conference and use the excitement as a fuel for better play on the field.

    Coach Ferentz did a masterful job of tempering expectations and using his traditional, conservative coach-speak to try and lower the roar to something much more manageable.

    Unfortunately, he completely failed at using the excitement to fuel the team.  Instead, his attempt at tempering expectations only managed to reduce the team to something much less than they were capable of being and destroyed the killer instinct of those players that had it. 

    There comes a time to loose the dogs of war, but Ferentz & Company refused to do so.  In fact, it appeared that any time the players attempted to take such matters in their own hands, he tyrannically reigned them back in to the point they just gave up.

    It's one thing to recognize the tough road ahead.  It's something entirely different to show a complete lack of faith in your team's ability to navigate that road no matter how tough it is.


    Dealing with Norm Parker's Illness/Absence was another intangible, and one that wasn't completely foreseen coming into the season.

    Parker has had his troubles with his health in the past.  It wasn't truly unexpected when he had to retire to the coaching booth to carry out his duties as Defensive Coordinator.  It was a little bit of a shock when he was hospitalized however, and the team had to carry on without him there at all.

    Any time someone as knowledgeable and assertive as Norm Parker goes MIA, you're going to have some setbacks. 

    Iowa did the best they could in this case, pulling the best people they felt they had at their disposal into position and attempting to carry on with Norm's basic philosophy in mind. 

    That it didn't work out quite the way we're accustomed to isn't necessarily a failure.  It's unfortunate, but not necessarily a failure.  Nobody will ever replace Norm Parker and his wealth of experience.  I'm not sure what else they could have done on short notice.


    Dealing with player emotions was an intangible I don't think any of us really understood until it was too late.

    When asked after the loss to Minnesota if something was missing from the team, Adrian Clayborn replied "A will to win, I guess."  Karl Klug answered whether or not something was broken on the team with a simple "I don't know."

    That folks, is dejection. 

    What I didn't realize until it was too late (like I could do anything about it), was that part of Iowa's demise over the last three games was a fundamental failure to properly address the players' state of minds and find the motivation that would build their energy and refocus it.

    Emotion is part of the game.  It's part of being a competitor and it has to be embraced.  Focused, but embraced.

    Somewhere along the way, Iowa has forgotten how to deal with the emotion of the game.  Somewhere along the way, Iowa has forgotten what it means to be passionate, yet focused in that passion.


    We can quote statistics all day long and debate numbers until we're dreaming of touchdown-to-interception ratios and third down conversion rates.  What we can't put a quantity on are those parts of the game that have nothing to do with numbers but everything to do with performance on the field.

    Iowa didn't do a very good job of grasping those intangibles and properly dealing with them.

    2010 Grade: D


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    Expectations are important.  They are the benchmark we use to determine where we're going and what we hope to achieve.  They are the measuring stick we use to determine success or failure.  Those expectations are quantified into tangible numbers so that we can more easily distinguish whether or not the expectations were met.

    So what number would you associate with the expectations for Iowa coming into the year?  12-0?  11-1?  10-2?


    Somehow, I don't think many fans came into the year thinking that the Hawkeyes would finish 7-5.  Those aren't numbers you'd traditionally associate with a team in the national title hunt, or even the Big Ten title hunt.

    The thing about expectations is that they're also unavoidable -- or they should be.  The purpose of playing the game is to win.  The path to winning is via improvement. 

    Iowa finished the 2009 with a lofty 11-2 record and a BCS bowl win.  Given the amount of talent returning, the leadership embedded within that talent and the schedule before them, improvement could only realistically be described in numbers that begin with two digits. 

    In hind sight, we could easily say that losing to Wisconsin maybe should have been expected.  Losing to Ohio State is always expected (for now).  Losing to Michigan State might have even been accepted.  Losing to Arizona isn't anything to be embarrassed about.

    But Iowa didn't lose to Michigan State.

    So realistically, a 9-3 season would have been a successful regular season with the strength of the conference.  It's a realistic expectation that leaves room for a bowl win to get to ten wins.

    7-5?  There's only one way to grade that finish.  FAIL!


Total Grade

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    There were bright spots to the 2010 season.  The defense was good even if it wasn't as great as Iowa fans had come to expect.  The offense was better than expected and Ricky Stanzi made huge strides in correcting his mistakes of the past. Iowa got a quality win over a top ten, conference opponent in dramatic fashion.

    Unfortunately, the dark patches outnumbered those bright spots.

    The defense folded and the offense sputter every time they were needed the very most.  The coaching staff has gone beyond stagnant to the point of becoming counter-productive.  The team failed to embrace the expectations laid upon them and there was such a disconnect between the players and coaches that the team fell completely apart.

    In the end, everything Iowa was supposed to be blew away in a cold November wind.  Everything they were supposed to achieve faded away into that magical, invisible land of shouda-woulda-coulda -- never to be seen again.

    Fans can take solace that their team will get one last chance sometime in December or January to grab some small piece of redemption.  It won't be enough though.  It'll never make up for what should have been.

    Offense = B

    Defense = A

    Special Teams = C

    Coaching = D

    Recruiting = B

    Intangibles = D

    Record = F

    2010 Overall Record = D