My lack of posts come from burying my head in the sand until the election is over. I'd just get myself worked up into a lather and that's not good for anybody.
But I thought it all year and the Wisconsin game really was the first one that pushed all the over-hyped buttons in my Iowa football world.
I say "over-hyped" in the sense of what some pundits have said. There has been entirely too much blind faith in the defensive line being one of the best in the nation and having that translate to the entire defense as "one of the best defenses in the nation".
Essentially, Iowa has a great defensive line (with caveats), two very good safeties, a fair to middling (at best) linebacking corps, a #1 cornerback that should be a #2 in a good defense and another that's going through every possible cornerback growing pain in a season that can't afford it.
And the bigger problem is that Iowa's base zone defense NEEDS an agile linebacking group that covers the soft middle and a group that can go sideline to sideline better than most in order to succeed. Toss in two smart, opportunistic safeties and that's what works in Iowa's scheme. It's too basic of a set NOT have this. A great defensive line is merely a luxury in their defense. It only needs to be good.
Iowa's defense was so Iowa-y last year because Edds was so freakin' incredible at taking away the underneath from the running backs and the wide receivers in the flat on the quick outs. And Angerer took away the quick go from from the tight end just long enough to force the quarterback to check off it. That brought safeties in play to make their jump early as they read what was initially covered and where help would be more prudent and all interception-y.
Heck, I don't even think cornerbacks need to be great in their defensive set. Just good. Great safeties make good cornerbacks. It allows them to be more aggressive if help is a given. But...if the cornerbacks have it in the back of their mind that the drag across the middle isn't going to be covered effectively, their zone becomes expanded. Happy feet is the result. And happy feet with a cornerback that's learning on the job and happy feet with a cornerback who seems to want the big hit over effective coverage leads to weird TV football confusion. Too many guys on the field simply can't do what they do best and end up having to worry about stuff that isn't relevant to their primary assignment.
But when your linebackers look like they took a time machine back to 1977 with floppy pads and trippy running after opposing players that seem like they're from the future, going after guys that seem to, once and for all, put to rest the argument that players 30 years ago could easily play in today's game, what does the coaching staff do? They went into the season hoping, praying that upfront pressure would minimize any deficiencies in the linebackers, at least until they got better as the season progressed. They didn't. I think Iowa fans in general got a little too into "Clayborn's back, baby!" to realize that they had two brand-spankin' new linebackers in a scheme that demands they be better than this.
And that upfront pressure has been, dare I say, spotty. Ballard and Binns disappear from long stretches at a time, something that can't happen when Clayborn's getting double-teamed every snap. They stop the run, expect when they don't, especially late in the game. It almost seems like they tire out, a shock to watch from an Iowa team. The pass rush is good enough but only 12 sacks on the year (72nd in FBS) sends the mind whirling in so many different directions. That doesn't have to mean everything but it also isnn't entirely devoid of meaning. Sacks are a result of good coverage but also are a result of beating your one-on-one match-up so thoroughly. Let's say sacks aren't a barometer. How 'bout tackles for loss? That's a good gauge of a great defensive line, right? 84th in FBS with 5.7 per game.
I believe that this is a talented Iowa team. I do. But if you were scheming against this Iowa defense as an opposing coach, would you be that frightened? Compare it to scheming against some of the Iowa defenses from 2002-2004 at various stages of the each season (i.e. - most of '02 and late '04). I don't think it's close. The cushy, pillow-like soft middle and the tendency for Iowa's CB's to overplay/happy feet it says a simple "mix it up" with copious amounts of play-action will do the trick. And during the game, track Iowa's individual player tendencies. It doesn't change enough. If the CB's are inching to defending the run early, he'll do it for long stretches until they're exploited and even then, it doesn't seem if they adjust enough. Linebackers backpedalling get exploited when the receiver/TE cut the route short because the linebackers don't recover well from their backpedal and no adjustment happens, like inching the safeties up to compensate against the Wisconsin receiving corps that doesn't possess blazing speed. Problem, though, comes in the cornerbacks not being good enough to give away their safety blankie. So...Iowa does one thing to compensate and two more options come open for Wisconsin to take advantage of. A lot of creaky moving parts here.
And as Mate said, Stanzi couldn't have had more time Saturday. That was a very good defensive line Iowa faced and the line, previously the biggest concern that was slowly wandering into Bears "Oh, my God, they're defining futile" territory, looked like what everyone says about Iowa - a team built on a beefy, technically solid guys up front. It's almost too bad Iowa fans can't focus on that with the defense in the shape it is. They deserve some love after that day.
But Stanzi, while a better version of Stanzi than last year and having all the time in the world, missed receivers multiple times and patently refused to give the middle of the field more time to develop. His check-downs seemed too quick Saturday, opting for the safe route too early on downs that necessitated a longer look down-field. I shouldn't be complaining about a 30-point effort against Wisconsin. That should have been enough to win. But having that much time in the pocket - a pocket that never even seemed to collapse even a little bit on so many occasions - and a Wisconsin secondary that didn't play well at all (second only to the Michigan State cornerback play on the week for crappy crappiness - how did Northwestern lose that game?), Iowa should have put up 40-45 Saturday. That was a once-in-a-season opportunity against a very good team (at home) missed.
Iowa is a good football team. It's when you get into the details of defining "good" where things get dicey. Last year was such a high that many Iowa fans put their hands over their ears when some talked about concerns. Too much talent was returning. But the lack of talent at key positions allowed things like stupid mental lapses on special teams and terrible clock management to mean so much and/or even become a factor.
Great teams overcome it. Great teams don't let it come into play.
I'm fine with Iowa being a "good" team. It's part of the ebb and flow of being a fan. But that's what they are. Good. Not great.
I believe they'll beat Michigan State, giving them a signature win and they have a great chance of beating a mediocre Ohio State team. But I don't think this is a team that does what Iowa does, get better quick and run the table. The Northwestern and Indiana games are entirely in play in my Iowa football world for frustrating football watching.
In fact, I don't really think Iowa's getting particularly better as the season progresses.
They might even be getting worse.