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Inexperienced Hawkeyes must crawl before they can fly

Posted September 6, 1999

By Mike Hlas
Gazette sports columnist

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Which game will be the first 1999 Hawkeye win?

Nebraska (Sept. 4)
Iowa State (Sept. 11)
Northern Illinois (Sept. 18)
Michigan State (Oct. 2)
Penn State (Oct. 9)
Northwestern (Oct. 16)
Indiana (Oct. 23)
Ohio State (Oct. 30)
Illinois (Nov. 6)
Wisconsin (Nov. 13)
Minnesota (Nov. 20)

This is an unscientific poll designed solely to allow Gazette Online viewers to express their opinions.

It may have to be said again and again, but you can't get a true read on Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz or his players this early in the season.

This isn't meant to be a defense of Ferentz, it's simply a call for prudence. Opening the season against Nebraska with the talent he had to work with was a virtual no-win situation.

Before we make any firm judgments about this coach, let's see what his team does through 11 games against competition great and mediocre. Let's see if his team grows and improves over three months instead of shrinks. Let's see how his staff recruits with a full year to work at it.

You can't draw long-term impressions from Saturday's 42-7 loss to Nebraska. The short-term suspicion is that Iowa's offense will stagger for a while.

HOW GOOD IS quarterback Kyle McCann? We don't know yet.

McCann will face heavy pressure on a fairly regular basis. Can he cope with it better than he did against the Cornhuskers?

Does this ridiculously inexperienced offensive line, which featured four first-time starters Saturday, have the capacity to mature into a competent unit? There's no way of knowing right now.

Can Iowa's defense hang tough for four quarters instead of two when it is asked to be on the field for 60 percent of the game?

It isn't as if those questions weren't out there before the Cornhuskers mauled the Hawks.

Look, Ferentz wouldn't be here today if Iowa had the talent that could go helmet-to-helmet with the Huskers. An organizational change was needed, which means the new coach would be behind the 8-ball for a while.

"You can imagine what it's like trying to take a new staff, take a new group of young players and get them ready to play in the opening ballgame," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said about Ferentz after Saturday's game. "It's a very difficult task. I thought they looked very organized. I thought they executed a lot of things well."

They also got outgained 543 yards to 169.

Now that the 'Clones have their first victory, which game will be their 2nd 1999 win?
University of Iowa (Sept. 11)
UNLV (Sept. 18)
Kansas State (Sept. 25)
Nebraska (Oct. 9)
Missouri (Oct. 16)
Colorado (Oct. 23)
Texas (Oct. 30)
Texas Tech (Nov. 6)
Oklahoma (Nov. 13)
Kansas (Nov. 20)

This is an unscientific poll designed solely to allow Gazette Online viewers the opportunity to express their opinion.

Having listened to offensive linemen Jay Bickford, Andy Lightfoot and A.J. Blazek at Iowa's media day and/or after the Nebraska game, my take on them is that they are guys who love football and crave success. But all three, as well as tackle Bruce Nelson, made their first major-college start Saturday. That's no formula for competing against one of the best defenses in the college game.

Lightfoot, a redshirt freshman, didn't even know he was starting against Nebraska until the night before the game when he was told senior Chad Deal's groin injury wouldn't let him go against the Huskers. He'll probably be very good some day. But that day isn't tomorrow.

If you want to interpret that as making apologies for Ferentz, fine. It's easier to cut him a break with a 42-7 loss to the Huskers than the 63-0 embarrassment that would have occurred were it not for the first-half fortitude the Hawkeyes showed on defense.

Now, we focus on Iowa at Iowa State. The last time the Cyclones were favored to win this matchup, well, did they have point-spreads way back then?

Iowa State clubbed the Hawks 27-9 a year ago. Is ISU better now than it was last September? Probably. Is Iowa better now than it was last September? Probably not.

With a night game at home, a one-sided victory over Indiana State already in the books, and this new thing called confidence when it comes to playing the Hawks, Iowa State has every reason to be excited.

Saturday, Colorado got pasted by Colorado State, 41-14. Missouri nipped Alabama-Birmingham, 31-28.

Perhaps the Cyclones' Big 12 schedule, featuring six teams that went to bowls last year including Colorado and Missouri, isn't 100 percent fear-inducing. Their game this Saturday night certainly isn't.

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