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5 posts from September 2009

September 25, 2009

Hold off on that Kool-Aid -- for now

Let's get something straight right away. I'm not ready to start drinking the Hawkeye Kool-Aid or jump on the Kirk Ferentz bandwagon. 

Yeah, the Hawkeyes are 3-0 and they've got several winnable games down the road. They'll play in a bowl game somewhere.  Still, it's way too early to get drunk on sugary drinks and start rambling about a run for the Big Ten title or landing a berth in a BCS bowl.

However, I have seen enough that I might be tempted to at least take a sip or put one foot on the running board of that wagon.

The main reason?

The defense. I was skeptical of the defensive line -- as I'm sure others were -- but if the Arizona game is any indication, that bunch is going to be just fine. Tackles Karl Klug and Christian Ballard already are helping fans forget they don't have Mitch King and Matt Kroul anymore. And you had to be impressed with how 282-pound defensive end Adrian Clayborn sprinted across the field to chase down Arizona running back Nic Grigsby from behind. That was a big-time play.

The linebacking was always going to be solid, and Tyler Sash and Amari Spievey are all-Big Ten-caliber players in the secondary. 

Why the skepticism?

The offense. The line still isn't settled and if quarterback Ricky Stanzi keeps getting off to shaky starts, it'll rear up and bite the Hawkeyes one of these days, like maybe Saturday night at Penn State.

So what's going to happen in that game? Who knows? It's hard to get a handle on it. Penn State hasn't been tested. Do we really know if Joe Pa's bunch is deserving of a No. 5 ranking? If Mississippi is an example of what a Top 5 team is supposed to look like, that doesn't say much for Penn State, does it? The Rebels were downright awful Thursday night.

Iowa's recent success against Penn State has been well documented. A big reason, in my view, is that while Penn State has opened things up some on offense, the Nittany Lions still favor a smash-mouth, physical style and that's Iowa's game. The Hawkeyes can stand up against those teams. It's the finesse teams like Northwestern that tend to give Iowa fits.

Iowa fans like to remember last year's game, when the Hawkeyes ruined Penn State's unbeaten season. But don't forget the 27-7 loss the last time Iowa played in Happy Valley. That was just two years ago. The Hawkeyes were embarrassingly bad in that one.

So, let's play and see what happens. Too bad it's on at the same time as the Iowa State-Army game. I'll be there and I'm looking forward to it. It should be an interesting game. Just wish one of them was an 11 a.m. kick.

Now, if Iowa wins, heck, I'll be ready to belly up to that Kool-Aid bar and hop on the bandwagon with both feet. Until then, anybody know where I can get some Templeton Rye?

September 16, 2009

“Words have always been changed by people; and people have always been changed by words.”

I've frequently turned to my books of quotations when I needed inspiration for a headline, speech, promotional piece or even filler for a newsletter.  I'd find a nugget that would resonate, smile at the perfect wording, and use it for my client. But I never thought of putting a plethora of those powerful statements on three-by-five cards to paper my walls, or posting one of them in my office in hopes that it might provide a teachable moment for someone who walked into my workplace. But Dr. Mardy Grothe has me thinking today. That headline is a Grothe original.

Grothe started his quotation journey in college (thanks to Thoreau's Walden), covering his apartment's walls in the inspirational wordings that he'd discover daily. Want to change your life or help someone change theirs? Post some thought-provoking quotes in your business.
You'll become the company's "philosophical officer," says Grothe, who's billed as America's most popular quotation anthologist. The psychologist turned business consultant and platform speaker has parlayed his passion for quotes into five books for language lovers (written within one decade!): Ifferisms, Oxymoronica, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like, Viva la Repartee, and Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. He shared tidbits from those books and kept his audience well-entertained on September 15 at the Central Library in Des Moines.

Sixty-seven-year-old Grothe admits he'd frequently use a thought-provoking quote as a response to a patient in his clinical practice in Boston. Does he "talk in quotations" in conversations to family members? Nope, he says, but Grothe's heard that a marriage has been saved by his "Quotes of the Week" newsletter. The subscriber now makes his wife breakfast and reads her Grothe's email epistle every Sunday.

One couple attending the Des Moines presentation read Grothe's books to each other, and Grothe says that reading to your partner is an excellent relationship-builder for couples. Hmm. I purchased his "Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths."  Start expecting the Schoffners to be sharing better wisecracks and off-the-cuff comments in the weeks ahead.

Drmgrothe Dr. Mardy Grothe

September 10, 2009

It's Big Game week ...

... so excuse me while I yawn.

OK, I'm not that cynical about Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State football game in Ames. But the game just doesn't excite me that much -- this year or any year. Maybe it's because I didn't go to either school or develop a loyalty to one or the other. I can appreciate that a lot of people enjoy watching it, but it's just one more game for me.

Don't get me wrong. They should play each other. And I like to see both of them do well. It's always easier to write about winning teams. And the week they played, I always turned out a bunch of stories, just like everyone else. I just never got caught up in the emotion.

Plus, I never cared for the bickering that goes on this week. There's some good-natured back and forth to be sure. But there's also a lot of childish sniping that makes the debate over health care look downright cerebral. And I'm sick of hearing the argument that this is Iowa State's ``Super Bowl'' and the Cyclones don't care what happens the rest of the season as long as they beat Iowa.

Hey, if Iowa State's 2007 team had a choice between going 9-3 and losing to Iowa or 3-9 and beating the Hawkeyes (which is what actually happened), how could anyone in their right mind suggest the Cyclones would take the latter?

But I will say this. It's more important for Iowa State to win the game than for Iowa to win it. I'm not saying Iowa State makes the game more important than Iowa does. It's just more  important for Iowa State to win it.

That's because the Cyclones typically don't do as well in the Big 12 as Iowa does in the Big Ten. Since Iowa State broke its 15-game losing streak to Iowa in 1998, the Cyclones have finished above .500 in the league exactly once, a 5-3 mark in 2000.

Four times they've broken even at 4-4. They've also gone 1-7 three times, 0-8 twice and 2-6 once. So, if ISU is to build any kind of won-loss record, it has to win as many nonconference games as possible. And winning nonconference games means beating Iowa.

The Cyclones went to a bowl game five times from 2000-2005. In four of those bowl seasons, they strengthened their record by beating Iowa.

Iowa, on the other hand, can get by when it loses to Iowa State because the Hawkeyes have been finishing in the top half of the Big Ten. They've gone to a bowl seven times under coach Kirk Ferentz and have lost to Iowa State in three of those seasons. Heck, they lost to Iowa State in 2002 at home, then went 8-0 in the Big Ten and ended up in the Orange Bowl.

That doesn't mean I think Iowa puts any less emphasis on the Iowa State game. It just means that generally, Iowa is better able to handle the rest of its schedule than Iowa State. The Hawkeyes can compete in the Big Ten. The Cyclones struggle to do that in the Big 12.

I did enjoy the Iowa-Iowa State game in 2001. It was the last game of the regular season and both teams were eligible for bowls, so the game wasn't going to wreck either's year. Iowa State won, so the Cyclones could hang their hats on that. But Iowa got the better bowl (Alamo vs. Independence), so the Hawkyes had that going for them.

The downer, of course, is that the game was played at the end of the season because it had been postponed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I'll be at Saturday's game, of course, and I'll write about it. Unless someone really messes up with a lot of turnovers or special teams breakdowns, it should be close. Either team could win it, so there's at least some suspense.

What would make it interesting for me is if someone who usually doesn't get a lot of attention or has dealt with some adversity steps into the limelight and plays a significant role. Exhibit A: Bret Culbertson beating Iowa with those five field goals in 2007 after muffing critical kicks each of the two previous years with the Big 12 North title on the line. 

Give me a new star or a bounce-back guy. Those are the kind of stories I like.

September 05, 2009

A sigh of relief for Hawkeye Nation

It's OK, Hawkeye fans. You can let your breath out now. It's safe to uncover your eyes.

You won. Barely, but you still won. Just be sure to salute those determined special team players who blocked not just one, but two Northern Iowa field goal attempts in the final seconds to prevent the Panthers from pulling off the upset.

Those guys could have been deflated after the bizarre sequence that gave UNI kicker Billy Hallgren a second chance. If the ball doesn't go beyond the neutral zone on a blocked field goal, the kicking team can recover it and retain possession? Who knew? Certainly not the Hawkeyes. And other than the officials, I'd wager that no one else in Kinnick Stadium did, either.

But those Hawkeye frontliners dug in, got their hands up and did it again. So kudos to them.

As for the rest of the Iowa performance, pretty spotty, eh? Tight end Tony Moeaki showed what the Hawkeyes were missing when he was sidelined so often by all those injuries. The big guy's got some hands and athletic ability. The tight ends long have been a comfort factor for Iowa quarterbacks and a healthy Moeaki certainly is that.

But this team still has some issues.

The running game. The offensive line. The pass rush. They all need work. Yes, it was the first game and yes, Northern Iowa is pretty darn good. Still, a Top 25 team should win the battle along the line of scrimmage against an FCS opponent and the Hawkeyes didn't do that.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi seemed to settle in during the second half, but I'm not sure the wide receivers scare anyone right now. On the plus side, Amari Spievey looks to be on his way to becoming one of the best cornerbacks ever to wear the black and gold.

There also are a couple of positives for coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes won, which is always better than the alternative. And after a close call and with Iowa State up next, Ferentz certainly will have his players' attention.

September 01, 2009

What about that defense?

Like everyone else, I'm eager to see what Iowa State can do with its new spread offense. I'm also curious about the defense. Because the defense, not the offense, will determine if the Cyclones can better last year's 2-10 record.

It could be that Austen Arnaud completes passes all over the field, Alexander Robinson finds big holes to run through and the offense lights up the scoreboard. That would be entertaining and Cyclone fans would be delighted. But if the defense can't keep the other team from doing the same, all those yards and points rung up by the offense won't mean a darn thing.

And last season, the defense couldn't stop anyone. In their 10 losses, the Cyclones gave up an average of 38.5 points and 467.4 yards. Two teams put up more than 50 points on the Cyclones. Another scored 49. Iowa State scored enough points to win at least four other games, but the soft defense negated whatever the offense accomplished in those contests.

I'm thinking new coach Paul Rhoads brought in a good hand to run the defense. For sure Wally Burnham is an experienced hand. He's coached for 40 years, including stops at Florida State, South Carolina and, most recently, South Florida. His South Florida units consistently ranked among the nation's top 30 in total defense.

Burnham is old enough to be his players' grandfather. But he's still feisty. "He mixes it up with us," linebacker Derec Schmidgall said. "He's out there running around. We can't get him stopped most of the time. He's out there moving more than we are."

Let's hope Schmidgall is exaggerating to make a point. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to think a coach old enough to get Medicare is moving around more than my linebackers.

Burnham coaches an aggressive, attacking style that the players seem to like. With all the spread offenses the Cyclones see in the Big 12, they'll have to be aggressive or risk getting blown up. They might get ripped anyway.

There's some talent and skill in the secondary, Nate Frere has the ability and mentality for the nose guard job and I think Christopher Lyle can have a big year at defensive end. We'll have to see about the rest.

ISU's spread offense features a hurry-up, no-huddle component. If the defense isn't any better, Cyclone fans might not want that group to hurry too much. Because that would mean the defense gets back on the field that much sooner.