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2003 Iowa Football Look Ahead

2003 Iowa Football Look Ahead

8/1/2003 by Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation

 

At the risk of inviting the fury of the Hawkeye Nation, I am going to make a statement that might not be so popular right about now:

(ducking) The 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes are going to lose at least three, if not four football games.

Now, let me save us all some time by answering your emails and questions in advance, as I know what they are going to be.

#1: 'Jon, how in the heck would you know? You picked Iowa to finish 7-5 this year in your pre-season predictions?!?!?'

Jon: Yes, you would be correct, I did pick Iowa to finish 7-5 in my pre-season picks.

Here were some of my thoughts behind that prediction, taken from my pre-season preview:

"When the smoke clears, I have Iowa going 7-5 in 2002 and heading to another bowl game. As I said before, I feel there is at least three very critical games that could turn the season around for Iowa and help them take another step forward. Purdue, Iowa State and Wisconsin are the key games on the 2002 schedule. All three games are winnable, but I am not convinced that Iowa's defensive line is up to the challenge."

"Too many unproven players are going to have to play at a very high level for Iowa to make the next step. I am not saying they can not take those steps in 2002, but I just see too many 'best case scenarios' having to come to fruition for Iowa to get to the 9 win level. Eight wins is attainable, but this year, I will err to the conservative."

"It should be a fun and exciting year no matter what, as every game on the schedule appears winnable, save the trip to Ann Arbor." OK, so I was wrong about the defensive line. So was every other writer/wannabe expert/analyst, etc. We all had the same concerns and in my opinion, with good reason.

I felt that the Iowa football program was not yet at the level where it could lose Aaron Kampman, Jerry Montgomery and Derrick Pickens and come back the next year and be nearly as effective. I questioned Howard Hodges and Jonathon Babineaux at defensive end, since neither had ever started a D1 game.

I remember expressing those concerns to Iowa Defensive Line coach Ron Aiken at media day, before practice had begun and here is what he told me:

Coach Aiken on Jonathon Babineaux: "Coming out of high school Jonathon was a good defensive end. When we entered Spring drills, he was a starter and came out of the spring as a starter. He is about 260-pounds, he is cat-quick and is a strong kid who will do a great job for us as a defensive end. We are excited about having him on the DL."

Coach Aiken on Howard Hodges: "Howard Hodges is 250-pounds, he is 6-1 and runs a 4.7 forty. He is a smaller guy, but strong and athletic and we feel he will do very well for us at the other end. Both of these guys are tough physical players and that is the key thing we are looking for out of our defensive linemen. With these guys being as athletic as they are, that will give us an additional plus this year as far as rushing the quarterback."

HN: With smaller, faster players in 2001, will there be a change of defensive philosophy along the front line?

Coach Aiken: "We are going to be as tough and physical up front as possible, that will not change. The key thing with both of these players is that they are going to get off blocks a little bit faster. They are going to run to the ball a little bit quicker. But as far as toughness is concerned, that is a key part of our defense and that will not change at all from last year."

Well, I guess I took the stance of 'Show Me'. Aiken was right and I was wrong, which shouldn't be a big surprise.

But back to my opening statement of the 2003 Hawkeyes, as well as one of the statements in my 2002 Season Preview.

I said that 'too many 'best case scenarios' having to come to fruition for Iowa to get to the 9 win level.' The defensive line had to step up huge. The wide receivers had to step up huge. Antwan Allen would have to learn quickly. Brad Banks, who had never started a D1 football game, would have to be consistent. David Bradley would have to make huge strides as would every aspect of the Iowa special teams, save Nate Kaeding.

Miraculously, Iowa did all of those things. The chances of each of those things coming to pass is still mind boggling to me, but we saw it happen in 2002.

This team also avoided the injury bug unlike any Iowa team I have ever seen. Bob Sanders and Fred Russell missed a few games due to injury, as did DJ Johnson. Jonathon Babineaux missed the final game due to a death in the family. Special teams contributors George Lewis, Chad Greenway and Mike Follett missed several games due to injury. But for the most part, the key contributors played in every game.

That happened for Oklahoma in 2000 and they won a National Championship. Iowa was one injury to Fred Russell away from possibly playing for the 2002 National Title. Russell missed the second half of the Iowa State game with a shoulder injury that totally changed the approach and attack strategy of the Iowa State defense. I don't think that Banks' fumbles would have mattered with a healthy Russell. But I digress.

Back to the future, the 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Here are the major questions marks heading into next season. Offensive line losses are going to be significant. Bruce Nelson, Eric Steinbach, David Porter, Andy Lightfoot and Ben Sobieski will play their final game for Iowa in January. Nelson and Steinbach have already made a few All American teams, Porter was 2nd team all Big Ten and the production at right guard from Lifhtfoot and Sobieksi was certainly all league caliber. We are talking about three, possibly four players who will hear their names called in next April's NFL draft. Steinbach might be a first round selection. Robert Gallery will return and make a run for the Outland Award in 2003 and if he stays healthy, he could be an All American. Sam Aiello, Kory Borchers and Eric Rothwell will be back and those players have seen some game action during their careers. Pete McMahon will figure prominently on the line and Auburn transfer David Walker will be in the mix at one of the guard positions. Freshman Chris Felder had a fine scout squad season and should challenge for time, along with Ben Cronin, Blake Larsen and Brian Ferentz. Kody Asmus and Jacob Bowers will also be reserves.

So there is some talent there and the cupboard will not be bare, it will just be very inexperienced as far as career starts and extended playing time. If this group of players can become just an average Big Ten offensive line, that might be good enough for a good season.

Quarterback might be the biggest question mark of them all heading into next year. Nathan Chandler played sparingly this year and when he did play, he was not asked to throw the ball that much, as Iowa did not want to run up the score on its opponent. His release still does not look beautiful, but I don't think we have seen enough of him to judge him one way or the other at this point.

Freshman Jason Manson, whom most of the people I speak with liken as a 'Brad Banks Clone' will also be in the mix. He is listed as 6-feet-1, 185-pounds in the Iowa Media Guide. Here is a list of his high school accomplishments from Iowa Sports Information:

"Regarded as one of the top three prep players in the state of Connecticut . . . named all-state as a junior and senior . . . named all-conference his final three years as a prep . . . team captain as a junior and senior." Career - - three-year starter at quarterback, guiding his team to a 32-2-1 record . . . Bloomfield won three state championships during his four years at the school . . . threw a state record nine touchdown passes in one game . . . career totals include over 7,200 passing yards, 89 passing touchdowns and just five career interceptions . . . as a senior he also rushed for over 800 yards and 12 touchdowns . . . also played defense and returned punts and kickoffs . . . lettered four times in football and baseball and three times in basketball. Sophomore: 36 TD passes, 2,700 passing yards & 2 rushing TD's Junior: 26 TD passes, 2,400 passing yards & 9 rushing TD's Senior Year: 26 TD passes, 1,900 passing yards, 800 rushing yards and 12 rushing

I spoke with Rick Milton, Bloomfield's Offensive Coordinator, last winter and here were some of his comments on Manson: "Jason is able to make the deep pass with touch and he can throw very well on the run," Milton said. "We also ran a lot of veer options and spread options and he makes his fakes so effectively that we couldn't even tell if he had the ball at times. Plus, he can find the open receiver by buying himself time scrambling in the backfield."

"Colleges have shown interest in him as a quarterback," Milton said. "The kid gave up a lot during the last three years to be a quarterback. He probably could have played both ways and returned punts and kicks for us, too."

"But Jason chose to focus on being a quarterback. He is a perfectionist and he and I were together five days a week for three hours a day working on the mechanics of the position. Being a quarterback was a year round job and desire for Jason."

Milton said that college coaches and scouts have told Mason that he has nearly 'flawless' mechanics as a quarterback coming out of high school. "He is a natural, but someone who has really worked hard at his craft." Milton said.

Not too shabby. He was also a very good baseball player and could have had a future in that sport, but he was dedicated to playing quarterback.

Iowa also has freshman Cy Phillips at quarterback and he showed enough promise at quarterback to keep the position change dogs at bay.

If Manson and Chandler are equal coming out of the spring and fall drills, I would really like to see Iowa use both quarterbacks and give Manson some seasoning. If he would be ready to take over the starting job at any point, it would be great for Iowa to establish some longevity at quarterback within the program.

Also, keep in mind that Chris Leak will be visiting the Hawkeyes over the course of the next few weeks. Some people consider him the best quarterback in America and he can also run with the football. Plus, he isn't too shabby via the air. He is the national record holder with 180 career TD passes and counting and he has more than 15,000 career passing yards. But starting as a true freshman is always tough, especially for quarterbacks. Plus, Manson sounds like a winner and is already in the fold and will have had one full season and a spring session head start on Leak, should he become a Hawkeye.

OK, so we have two pretty big question mark areas involving a lot of players. But outside of that, I think this team will be pretty solid.

Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis form one of the best one-two running back combinations in the country. Iowa loses CJ Jones as one wide out, but Mo Brown, Ed Hinkel (if he is still on offense) and Clinton Solomon will return. Calvin Davis and David Vickers redshirted this year and Iowa will look to add at least one if not two talented recruits this winter.

Dallas Clark has said he will return, giving Iowa the best tight end in the nation next year and perhaps the best in school history, with all apologies to Marv Cook.

The losses of Colin Cole, Fred Barr, Derek Pagel and DJ Johnson are certainly large, but overall, I look for Iowa's defense in 2003 to be better, on the whole, than the 2002 edition.

Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson appear to be the starting cornerback's, with Juco commit Corey Reddick possibly pushing for time. Sophomore to be Adolphus Shelton (key INT v Purdue) will be in the mix, as will freshman Richie Williams. Marcus Paschal will fight for time behind Bob Sanders and Sean Considine and Jermire Roberts will battle it out for the free safety position.

Abdul Hodge will be a more than capable replacement for Barr and may wind up being better than Barr before all is said and done. Grant Steen and Kevin Worthy will return, but freshman Edmund Miles will be waiting in the wings to make an impact. He will certainly do just that on special teams. Chad Greenway will also be in the mix as will Mike Follett.

Up front, Iowa's defensive ends are lights out, with all conference performers Jonathon Babieneaux and Howard Hodges returning along with Matt Roth. Derreck Robinson is also a very capable backup. Unsung star Jared Clauss will be the anchor on the defensive line and Fabian Dodd needs to have a strong spring to earn time at the tackle position vacated by the amazing Cole.

Look for freshman Steve Burch to push for time at tackle. Matt Neubauer played inside some this year and freshman Eric Zilisch came to Iowa as a 6-foot-5, 230-pound linebacker. Freshman Larry Thomas could also get into the mix and it will be interesting to see the progress of Warren McDuffie who is among the best athletes on the team.

David Bradley and Nate Kaeding will provide consistency in the kicking game and Iowa's special team units should once again be stacked with great young athletes.

'So Jon, why the three or four loss prediction?'

One more important factor for next year is the schedule. Gone are Northwestern and Indiana; enter Ohio State, who may be ranked #1 in the nation to start the year and Illinois, a team that will be better than they were this year and is one season removed from a Sugar Bowl appearance and Big Ten championship.

Iowa will host Pac 10 upstart Arizona State and the salty Miami of Ohio Redhawks with slinging Ben Roethlisberger. Buffalo is the lone sacrificial lamb on the 2003 schedule. Michigan, Penn State, Illinois and Minnesota will also visit Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes travel to play Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State as well as a trip to Ames, where the Cyclones will be returning a lot of players from this year's squad.

Two of the three most important areas of a football team will be huge question marks: Offensive Line and Quarterback.

So don't look for another Big Ten title next year.

After Hayden Fry's first Big Ten championship (the 1981 Hawkeyes that went 8-4), Iowa followed that season up with another 8-4 campaign, a 9-3 season and an 8-4-1 season.

To me, 9-3 would be off the hook for next year. 8-4 would be good and 7-5 would not surprise me, given the schedule.

But the future is very, very bright for the Iowa football program and next year's defense could win a few games on their own.

NOTE: Here were a few other predictions I made in my 2002 pre-season football prognostication article:

Aaron Greving rushes for more yards in a season that Ladell Betts ever did while at Iowa. (I had the stats right, but the wrong back)

Ed Hinkel becomes a fan favorite right from the start and breaks Kahlil Hill's freshman record of 35 catches in a season. (We will never forget Hinkel's grab in the back of the endzone at PSU, and his contributions on special teams made for a very special season. But who knew that Mo Brown would have a breakout year?)

Bob Sanders will lead the team in tackles for the second straight year. (Wrong)

Iowa's special team units are better in 2002 than 2001 with regards to coverage. (I guess I really went out on a limb, there, huh? They had no where to go but up)

Iowa will allow 20 sacks or less. (Iowa allowed 11 sacks with one to go)

Iowa will rush for more than 2,000 net yards. (Iowa has gained 2,665 net yards with one to go)

A good time will be had by all (Right on the money!)


Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation was founded by Jon Miller, and later acquired by Rivals and Sports Illustrated. You can visit them at HawkeyeNation.com

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2003 Iowa Football Look Ahead - Summary of Iowa football and basketball games