Fresh off an 11-2 season in 2009, the Hawkeyes fell short of expectations and sent QB Ricky Stanzi out with an 8-5 record in 2010. Heading into 2011, the Hawkeyes were not only dealing with replacing Stanzi but also five more players that were drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft. When the dust settled on the season...RB Marcus Coker finished second in the league in rushing behind Heisman contender Montee Ball, WR Marvin McNutt finished first in the conference in receiving yards and QB James Vandenberg posted an impressive 25 to 7 INT ratio as well as finishing third in the conference (behind Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson) in passing yards. If I would have told you that before the season, you probably would have thought Iowa would finish better than 7-6. We caught up with our buddy Ross from the Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants to get his take on the 2011 season and also get a glimpse into 2012.
CFBZ: In our Pre-Season Preview you said you thought 8-4 would make for a fairly successful season. Iowa finished up 7-6. Was this season a success, a failure or somewhere in between?
BHGP: This season didn't finish too far off of my 8-4 prediction, but it was unquestionably a failure. It was a failure as much for the number of losses as it was for the teams they lost to (a frustrating 3OT road loss to Iowa State and a baffling road loss to Minnesota) and the ways they lost them (seeing the same flaws on offense, defense, and special teams exploited again and again). It was also a failure for the lack of improvement over the course of the season; the team that got its doors blown off by Michigan State or stomped by Nebraska didn't look markedly different than the team that struggled against Iowa State and Pitt in September. Given the schedule and the returning talent Iowa had at several positions, an 8-4 regular season should not have been the tallest hurdle for them to overcome. Alas, it was and the way they lost several of those five games made it even more difficult to take.
CFBZ: Which players surprised you this year with their performance?
BHGP: The most pleasant surprises for Iowa in 2011 for me were the arrival of Christian Kirksey as a potential star linebacker and the emergence of Marvin McNutt as a full-blown star at wide receiver. McNutt had been good in 2009 and 2010, so Iowa fans thought we knew what he was capable of -- yet few of us expected him to put up the greatest receiving season in Iowa history: 82 receptions, 1315 yards, and 12 TDs. He rewrote the Iowa single-season and career record books and left Iowa fans with their mouths agape on many occasions. Kirksey emerged as Iowa's leading tackler and a defensive stalwart at home against either the run or the pass and as a sophomore in 2011, he should have plenty of time to get even better in 2012 and 2013 for Iowa. It's harder to place a finger on the biggest disappointment; even in a 7-6 season, there weren't any particular players that were notably bad. The biggest frustrations were probably QB James Vandenberg's inconsistency (he was frequently brilliant on the road, awful at home) and struggles under pressure and the general under-performance of the Iowa defensive line. There were good individual players in that unit, particularly DT Mike Daniels and DE Broderick Binns, but as a whole the unit struggled for most of the season to generate pressure or contain the running game, which led to the worst overall Iowa defense in several years.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
BHGP: The overall feeling for this season will undoubtedly be disappointment, given the unimpressive 7-6 record and ugly losses to the likes of Minnesota and Iowa State. The memories of those painful losses, as well as the moribund offensive performances in the losses to Penn State and Nebraska, will linger for a while -- but so too will the thrill of the tense win over Michigan or the improbable come-from-behind win against Pitt. There's no question that, overall, this season was a disappointment given the skill Iowa had at several positions and the easy scheduled that they were given -- but that doesn't mean that they weren't a few bright spots to remember all the same.
CFBZ: With Marcus Coker leaving the program, who steps in at RB next year?
BHGP: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Iowa hasn't had a running back use all four years of eligibility since Damian Sims in 2007 and only once since then has the previous year's leading rusher returned the following season (Adam Robinson in 2010; he didn't make it to Year Three). Which is to say that Iowa fans are unfortunately accustomed to turmoil at the running back position. Marcus Coker's departure leaves a big, 1400-yard shaped hole in the offense, though, and no obvious replacements to fill it (especially since his main backup, true freshman Mika'il McCall, has also transferred away from the program). The most likely scenario is Iowa turning to more of a RB-by-committee approach to replace Coker's production. Jordan Canzeri, a speedy but sprightly true freshman, started the Insight Bowl against Oklahoma and did okay, but he's not a 15-20 carry a back workhorse. He's a guy who should probably get 5-10 carries as well as another 5-7 looks in the passing game, since his strength is in the open field. A pair of incoming freshmen, speedy stud Greg Garmon and steady grinder Barkley Hill, are the most likely names to fill out the RB rotation.
CFBZ: What are the primary areas of concern for Iowa going into the off-season?
BHGP: Iowa's used to off-season turmoil in certain areas (like, say, running back), but that hasn't been the case in the coaching staff, which has been one of the Big Ten's most remarkably stable staffs since Kirk Ferentz's arrival at Iowa in 1999. So much for stability; defensive coordinator Norm Parker retired after the Insight Bowl, defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left Iowa for the same job at Nebraska, and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe shockingly left for the wide receivers coach position with the Miami Dolphins. That's a lot of turnover at a place that's hardly seen any shake-ups over the last decade. On one hand, new blood and/or new responsibilities could energize a program that had seemed stagnant in recent years... but it could also lead to more chaos and more disappointment. It's difficult to know what to expect from Iowa in 2012, which is both exciting and a little frightening.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys