Go Mailbag Awesome: October 7

By RossWB on October 7, 2021 at 10:06 am
go hawks go
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to Go Mailbag Awesome, where we answer your questions about Iowa sports. Technically these are tweets, not letters or emails or other mail-related items, but "tweetbag" is an unpleasant word. Just say it out loud... gross. So we're going with mailbag instead. We'll try to do this on a weekly basis. And if the bird app frightens or disturbs you, you can always email questions to ross-at-goiowaawesome-dot-com. 

Let's get started! 

A) I don't think an extra day of rest and recovery means that much in the grand scheme of things when we're talking about 18-22 year olds at or near their physical prime... but it sure isn't a bad thing, you know? Penn State has one fewer day of rest/prep than Iowa (though the same amount that they would have against an opponent in normal circumstances) and they have to travel halfway across the country; Iowa has that one extra day of rest/prep and doesn't have to travel... doesn't hurt! And we'll take any little advantage in a game as big as this one. 

B) Cookies and cream, accept no substitutes. 

The only catastrophic outcomes from this game would be a slew of injuries (particularly to key players) or Iowa getting the brakes beat off them for four quarters. A non-blowout loss would certainly still be bitterly disappointing (and put a severe crimp in those "Iowa-->College Football Playoff" hopes) because opportunities to win games like this come along so infrequently, but in the context of this season Iowa would still be well-positioned to win the Big Ten West, have a great season, and make a very good bowl game. That's not bad!

A little bit. You can check it out here. I've got mixed feelings about using the Pentacrest for the location for Fox's BIG NUDE SATURDAY pregame show, to be honest. It's an improvement on the Hubbard Park location ESPN used for College GameDay the last time they were here (the only thing Hubbard Park really has going for it is "a lot of space"), and the Pentacrest is one of the most scenic parts of the Iowa campus, especially with the Old Capitol looming in the background, but it's also so far from Kinnick Stadium and the tailgating scene. I'm sure there will still be a healthy crowd around the set for the show on Saturday, especially since there's four hours between the end of the pre-game show and kickoff, which leaves plenty of time to do some (more) tailgating prior to the game. Of course, putting the set near Kinnick and getting the benefit of the great energy you find around the stadium is challenging because doing so would likely require displacing some tailgaters... no great solutions here, I suppose. 

Yes, definitely. A one-loss Big Ten team is almost certainly going to make the Playoff, especially with the way the ACC and Pac-12 are lighting themselves on fire this year. A one-loss Iowa team probably wouldn't get as much benefit of the doubt as a one-loss Ohio State or Penn State team (partly because Iowa and partly because those teams would have a few more quality wins on their resume by virtue of playing a full slate of Big Ten East teams), but I still don't see a 12-1 Iowa team with a win over Ohio State/Penn State in the Big Ten Championship Game being left out of the Playoff. The only real danger of that happening is if Cincinnati and Oklahoma both finish the year undefeated (since we can probably safely assume that Georgia and Alabama are all-but-locks to make the Playoff at this point), and even that might not be enough. No disrespect to the Bearcats, but until we actually see the Playoff Committee take a non-Power 5 team, it's hard to really believe such a thing will happen. 

Nick Lachey seems to be doing great -- he just won The Masked Singer and he's got a Netflix show, Love is Blind... oh, wait, you meant Luke Lachey. He also seems to be doing well. He's pretty clearly entrenched as the TE2 behind Sam LaPorta, which still means a lot of playing time in a program that uses two-tight end sets as much as Iowa does. His blocking is improving (and he's starting to show a real mean streak there, which is exciting to see) and while he hasn't had too many receptions this season, that should come in time. He's still just a freshman, technically, so he's got plenty of road ahead of him in Iowa City -- the future looks promising for Lachey continuing the "TE U" tradition at Iowa. 

I don't think they necessarily need to have a positive turnover margin to beat Penn State this week. Depending on the context of the turnovers themselves (and, well, the rest of the game), I think it might be hard to beat Penn State with a negative turnover margin. But if the turnover battle is a draw, I think Iowa can still win the game -- the defense, special teams, and offense are strong enough to beat Penn State head-to-head. Obviously, a positive turnover margin would dramatically improve Iowa's odds of winning this year -- as we've seen in multiple games this year, when the turnovers start flowing, very good things happen for Iowa. 

The biggest impediment to an Iowa hockey program for years was the lack of adequate facilities; you can't really have a Division I hockey team playing at a mall skating rink. That issue's been solved by the construction of the new Xtream Arena in Coralville, where the new Iowa Heartlanders hockey team is set to play their games. If Iowa had a hockey program, they could certainly play their games there as well. So now the biggest impediment is the financial cost of adding the program -- paying for scholarships, coaching staff salaries, equipment, travel, etc. And you'd need to pay those costs twice-over, too, since you'd want to add a women's hockey program as well to satisfy Title IX concerns. That financial impediment probably only gets resolved by a very generous gift from a wealthy donor; they would need to provide the funds to get the programs off the ground and financed for a while. Anyone know if the Stead family likes hockey? 

As for who replaces Barta... if they go with an internal hire, Barbara Burke would be a no-brainer choice. She's the current Deputy Director of Athletics and immensely respected within the Iowa athletic department. But I think Iowa will probably look to make an outside hire when they replace Barta, just as they did when they hired Barta. I don't know who exactly that might be, but they'll almost certainly look for someone with a healthy amount of administrative experience and particularly experience in college athletic departments. Ideally that would be someone who understands the specific challenges of a Power 5 athletic department, too, especially as the differences between Power 5 schools and other colleges become more significant (which seems likely to happen over the next 5-10 years). 

Iowa's defensive line versus Penn State's offensive line. That's the big domino that's going to impact almost everything else. Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington are stars at receiver and Riley Moss and Matt Hankins will absolutely have their hands full trying to contain them, but everything that happens on that side of the ball is going to come down to whether or not Iowa can generate a pass rush and make things difficult for Sean Clifford. If they can't, there's a good chance that he and those dynamic receivers will be able to pick Iowa's zone defense apart.

The best way to take Dotson and Washington and PSU's other weapons out of the game is to get Clifford spooked and/or running for his life. And that's going to come down to whether or not the Iowa defensive line (and maybe the linebackers, if Phil Parker decides to employ a few more blitzes in the gameplan) can generate sustained pressure. It will be very very very hard for Iowa to win this game if the defense can't win a lot of their battles in this game. If this game turns into a shootout, that's a big problem for Iowa because Penn State has better guns and more bullets. 

This is a fun question, but I don't have a great answer, mainly because my memory is shit. The top choice is definitely "Figured we'd leave the timeouts and take the pig" from last year's Minnesota game, but I'm sure there have been some other good ones, too. Feel free to drop some examples in the comments below!

Time to consult the ol' magic 8-ball: 

magic 8-ball

Sorry, pal. Hopefully the arrest is at least after the game! 

Broadly speaking, I do believe in turnover luck (and especially when it comes to fumble recoveries), but I also think that turnover generation is a skill -- and a repeatable skill, at that. Teams that are good at generating turnovers are often good at forcing turnovers on an annual basis. That was the finding of this sports analytics study: "The model results indicate that teams who historically win the turnover battle will continue to win the turnover battle. However, teams do tend to trend towards average and extreme results are often not repeated." 

Iowa has ranked in the Top 20-30 of turnovers generated pretty consistently over the last 5-6 years and they've been especially good at hauling in interceptions during that time span (best in the NCAA). Seems like a bit of a repeatable skill, no? Right now Iowa is on pace for a turnover margin of +25 or better, which would be rather extreme, so there's likely to be some regression toward the mean overall. And, of course, there's a great deal of volatility in turnovers on a game-to-game basis; this year alone Iowa has forced three interceptions apiece against Indiana and Iowa State as well as six against Maryland... and none against either Kent State or Colorado State. 

From a big picture standpoint, turnover generation is reasonably sustainable and a somewhat consistent factor, as well as something that can be a key component to victories. Iowa has regularly had good seasons over the past 5-6 years because they have good defenses and those good defenses have been pretty consistent about forcing turnovers because they feature good players, good coaching, and good schemes. Does that mean that Iowa can count on forcing, say, three turnovers against Penn State on Saturday? Unfortunately not. But given their track record, Iowa is probably better positioned than the vast majority of college football teams to have an opportunity to do so. 

Is there one? It's not something that's come up very often. I guess we'll know if Ferentz calls for a fake punt when Iowa's up by 28 in the third quarter. 

And let's end on a non-football question: 

This field hockey team seems legit as hell. They have been steamrolling teams for much of this season. They have a host of wins over Top 10 opponents already and they've already many of the teams who figure to be their toughest challengers in the NCAA Tournament, which is a good sign. The strength of the team appears to be their lockdown defense and, as Iowa fans, we know the good things that can result from having rock-solid defense as the foundation of your team. So, yeah, I'm gonna say that the field hockey team makes this a two national championship year for Iowa sports (after wrestling in March). That would put one hell of a cherry on top of what's already been a tremendous year for Iowa athletics. 

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