In what has got to be the longest off season ever on record in Iowa City, we have finally arrived at Iowa Hawkeye Football 2013! I don’t think there is any Hawkeye fan out there who doesn’t think this opening game against NIU is anything short of a must-win. You already know all the past history of what’s gotten us here, so I won’t say the same thing any differently that what has been written before. But, I am going to keep my eyes on these 5 things, as I think they will be critical in determining if Coach Ferentz has the ship sailing in the right direction. Here we go:
1. I need to see some swagger from the Hawkeyes. I want to know the killer instinct is there. I watched the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss game on Thursday night. Neither of those teams are what you would ever call perennial contenders in the SEC. Heck, I wouldn’t even label them as perennially average, but Thursday night both of these teams looked like they could beat anyone on any given night. Why? Swagger.
2. “Smart” better be spelled G-U-T-S. We’ve heard a lot about the fact that QB Jake Rudock is smart. That’s just great. But you don’t have to be smart to execute. You don’t have to be smart to take some chances. Temper all that cranial energy with some of that swagger, and I’d bet you have CJ Beathard. I’m already very concerned that Jake is not the crowd favorite. And we all know what happens with 70,585 impatient fans and the unpopular choice at QB. If Iowa falls behind in this game and Jake has engineered a first half full of 3-and-outs, there had better be some shaking up going down on that sideline. I will be the first to say, if a 2-man QB rotation keeps the defenses guessing, I’m good with that. Play to win. Every Quarter. Period. Finally, Jake, since you’re so smart, can you just concoct some of the championship-caliber team chemistry, please?
3. Special Teams need to be special again. In the early 2000s when Hawkeye Football really was worthy of the “bullies of the Big Ten” moniker, Special teams play pulled us through time and time again. We haven’t seen anything special since Adrian Clayborn blocked that punt in Happy Valley to catapult us to the Orange Bowl. Something special needs to happen again. I’m not talking about a string of made field goals. I’m talking a game changing punt block or a kick return for a touchdown. We need a new Sean Considine to step up and be noticed. Where, in that locker room, is the next Tim Dwight? Sorry to inform you this, but the Tim Dwight show happened nearly 20 years ago! I know Tim was special, but with new coach Chris White coming from the NFL to coach the special teams, I’m expecting to see some dramatic improvement there.
<Insert from my archive here a picture depicting a recent fabulous special teams play. Oh. That’s right. I don’t have any. Ouch.>
4. Some solid defensive line play is absolutely critical. If we let plays get to the linebackers or the secondary, we are in trouble. Last season, as you’ll recall, it was simply customary for the Hawk defense to give up too many 3rd and long situations to first downs. Reducing those has got to be Job 1. I also believe you can’t blitz every play, but there has got to be some pressure on Lynch to keep him moving side to side and force mistakes.
5. If all else fails, I’ll probably be fine as long as you just gimme a Yolanda’s pork-on-a-stick. Game day at Kinnick couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
So with all that said, I’m calling it this way: After NIU ties the game with a 4th quarter field goal, Iowa wins 24-17 as Jordan Cotton returns a kick for the game winning touchdown. As sure as my face is stuffed with pork, that’s my swagger. Go Hawks!