By Sam Kienzle
The month of December is coming to a close for the Iowa football team and its fans. Like last year, so much has happened off the field—enough to make one’s head spin with uncertainty and frustration. Will the loyal members of Hawkeye Nation remember the month and chew it like a bitter root until the 2012 season finally comes or suppress it like a miserable holiday family get together, where Uncle Zeke falls into the Christmas tree after too much “hot cocoa” and Aunt Edna decides to confront the extended family on her deep-seeded concern of everyone’s “unfettered sinning?”
Fans, players, and coaches likely thought that December of last year was about the worst it could get for player-personnel upheaval. Everyone looked into the rearview mirror and exhaled as the Hawkeyes stunned 12th-ranked Missouri with Marcus Coker’s power running and Micah Hyde’s sly interception-for-touchdown. But before the team could cap 2010 with a sweet victory, leading rusher Adam Robinson was excused from the team after being pulled over with a friend in a criminally-smoky vehicle. Before that, (then) all-time receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was arrested at his home for having a variety of illegal drugs and forever solidifying his image as a talented party-boy of a receiver.
Surely nothing could top the tumult of 2010 as the Hawkeyes headed back to the Insight, this time to face another offensive machine in #14 Oklahoma. Long-time sage defensive coordinator Norm Parker announced his retirement, but that was somewhat unsurprising. If it wasn’t at the end of this year, most of us expected it soon. Perhaps mobility and energy had caught up to the man and his ability to translate his philosophies into his players’ production. He had nothing left to prove as a coach, anyway, so the timing seemed appropriate.
In the last few weeks, however, things have gotten weird. A little over two weeks ago, Iowa’s coaching staff announced that running back Marcus Coker (1,384 yards, 15 touchdowns) had been suspended for the Insight Bowl for violating the University’s Student-Athlete Code of Conduct. Shocking, considering his quiet humility and love for astronomy and its academic responsibilities. Whatever his infraction, most now wonder how Iowa will move the ball on the ground against an already overbearing Oklahoma team. If Coker’s 281 carries for the year were a slice of bread, the rest of Iowa’s rushes would be the crumbs on the plate: backup De’Andre Johnson comes into the Insight bowl with 18 light carries for 79 yards against some of the schedule’s weakest teams. Promising runner Mika’il McCall has 11 carries for 65 yards. From what he flashed in the season opener, perhaps he could step into the starting role the same way Coker did for Adam Robinson the in 2010 Insight?
But scratch that option, and scratch McCall’s name from the 2012 Media Guide: He is likely gone from the program after being suspended for a “violation of team rules” for the Nebraska game and then declaring his exit through Facebook earlier this week. His post about bolting was quickly taken down, but he is likely an afterthought for the future of this program. He has been mum with reporters who have contacted him at home (like the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson), and it’s clear that he’s upset with the suspension and his status on the team.
A bittersweet retirement for a legendary defensive coordinator and the ensuing uncertainty of who will coach the defense for the bowl game, check; the suspension of Iowa’s seemingly upstanding, durable starting ball carrier (and second-leading rusher in the Big Ten behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball of Wisconsin), check; the disgruntlement and apparent departure of promising running back Mika’il McCall, check. What could possibly be next? Oh yes, the resignation of Iowa’s defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski. The coach of the line since 2007 resigned to take the same position at Nebraska, a seemingly lateral move if not for a bit more money at the end of the year. Kaczenski iced the cake when he basically said—during an interview with Jeff Culhane of the Husker Sports Network—that Nebraska is his first real gig. Said Kaczenski, “It obviously helps when you walk into those high schools and you have the ‘N’ on your chest. I’m looking forward to that. That’ll be the first time in my career you’re walking into high schools with a name-brand on your chest. I’m very excited about that.”
Oklahoma, meanwhile, is in no great shape itself—especially on offense. Despite the betting lines in Vegas being anywhere from ten points to two touchdowns, the Sooners are missing up to ten offensive contributors with injury, including pass-eating receiver Ryan Broyles and leading rusher Dominic Whaley. The team should still be able to move the ball because of their outstanding depth and the fact that Oklahoma is the fastest no-huddle spread offense in the country. Also considering Iowa’s defense does no single thing particularly well, unsurprising it will be if Oklahoma finishes with 400-500 total yards and a few points.
With Coker and McCall gone, a sieve of a defense without a mainstay coach for the line (LeVar Woods is coaching the line on a temporary basis), and an overmatched Iowa team on paper, it would be easy to pick against the Hawkeyes. For some reason, however, I can’t give up on Iowa. The team always seems to prepare well for bowl foes, looking faster and more energetic in postseason games. Throw in some criticism and doubt of the team, and they really seem to dig in.
I expect to see the vacancy of Marcus Coker show itself through quarterback James Vandenberg and a likely pass, pass, run plan. Vandenberg will pass to set up a Jordan Canzeri or De’Andre Johnson run, followed by more short to mid-range passes. If Canzeri and Johnson can get 3-5 yards a run, the Hawkeyes will have a chance. They must run the ball to keep the clock moving and, most importantly, to keep the Sooner offense off the field. Marvin McNutt certainly wants to play better than he did in the Nebraska game (29 yards receiving, lowest of the season). Vandenberg will try to lean on McNutt like he has all season, and one has to hope that a few more players will help move the ball, whether it be Keenan Davis, Brad Herman, or C.J. Fiedorowicz. As for the defense, hopefully the unit will play like a vintage Norm Parker defense—prepared, powerful, energetic, and inspired by the outgoing leader.
Iowa 30, Oklahoma 28