Maybe “Up from the ashes” is too strong of a headline. And maybe not.
The three seasons leading up to ’08 got two (’05), zero (’06) and four (’07) votes (yes, the bowless 6-6 team with a home loss to Western Michigan in the season finale got four votes).
If ’08 wasn’t a breakthrough, it was a release. It showed you that, yes, Iowa football could still walk with the big boys.
The ’08 O-line was among Ferentz’s best, maybe No. 2 to the 2002 group. The ’08 defense is criminally underrated. This was Mitch King and Matt Kroul at their best. This was Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds taking off. And a couple of fellas named Adrian Clayborn and Tyler Sash.
The ’08 defense has had nine players drafted into the NFL (Clayborn, Kroul, King, Christian Ballard, Edds, Angerer, Bradley Fletcher, Amari Spievey and Sash).
The offense wasn’t bad, either. It’s a chicken-egg question, but Shonn Greene’s numbers from ’08 (1,805 yards and 20 TDs, both season records) say that Greene and Iowa’s O-line were NFL-caliber. Eventually, eight offensive starters were NFL draft picks, including all five starters on the O-line.
Quarterback was the hotspot, but Iowa was good enough around QB to make it work. Iowa lost its four games by a grand total of 12 points, so it worked far more than it didn’t.
Plus, Iowa closed out the Metrodome with a 55-0 beating of Minnesota.
Shonn Greene. . . . It took a while, but the Hawkeyes eventually settled on Ricky Stanzi as QB. He went on to lead them to a 6-3 record and the Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina and a 26-11 record in three seasons. . . . The 169 points Iowa’s defense allowed that season was a Ferenta-era low and best since 159 in 1997. . . . Shonn Greene against Wisconsin. . . . SS Tyler Sash went from freshman curiosity to Iowa’s interception leader with five, including a pair in the Outback. . . . Daniel Murray’s victory slide after the 31-yarder to lift Iowa over Penn State, 24-23. Basically, the field goal heard around the college football world that weekend. . . . Metrodome hijinx and we’ll just leave it at that. . . . Shonn Greene against South Carolina.
Not sure how it worked out in the NFL, but Kirk Ferentz will forever be 0-1 against Dave Wannstedt as Iowa’s coach. . . . Iowa’s current streak of three straight losses to Northwestern started in 2008. Really, it started with Brad Phillips’ helmet on Shonn Greene’s helmet. Kill shot. . . . Speaking of avenging losses, at this rate, Ferentz might never be able to get back Illinois’ Ron Zook. Iowa and Illinois don’t meet again until 2015, at the earliest. . . . Shonn Greene leaving early for the NFL. But you saw that one coming, right?
What you think
@heibri Definitely, 2008 Shonn almost single-handedly brought the Badass attitude back to town!! #favoriteFerentzteam
@GoHawks1123 2008. Shonn Greene and a bad ass defense. #favoriteFerentzteam
@bdj79 Went with the Greene Outback team, undefeated home record, first and only bowl game I’ve been to, good guys on team
@BFRIZ09pta Greene and co was amazing to watch as well set us up for a great orange bowl the following year.
@OC_Hawkeye Predict ’09 will win big, but I went with 2008 which closed the book on the Christensen era; fortunate with Stanzi emergence
– The 55-0 margin over Minnesota was Iowa’s biggest margin ever in the series.
– DT Matt Kroul set a school record with 50 consecutive starts, edging OL Bruce Nelson. Two Iowa-raised players of the highest character.
– DT Mitch King started the tradition of a D-lineman firing up the team in the end zone before warm-ups. Adrian Clayborn carried that on. Who’s next in line for that? Is there someone you could see with that kind of team-wide cred?
Greene’s greatness gives Hawkeyes lift
MINNEAPOLIS — Shonn Greene leaned against a wall in a Metrodome hallway. He waited for a TV camera’s light to kick in.
The light flickered and flickered. Greene’s energy did the same.
“Tired, man,” the Iowa running back said with a belly laugh. “Just tired.”
It was late Saturday night. He just finished off the greatest season ever for an Iowa running back. He was tired, man.
The best kind of tired.
Greene rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ 55-0 thrashing of Minnesota in the Golden Gophers’ Metrodome finale Saturday night.
Greene’s effort pushed his season total to 1,729 yards, the single-season record at Iowa, topping Tavian Banks’ 1,691 yards set in 1997. Greene also has 17 rushing TDs this season, tying Banks’ ’97 record. Greene, the only running back in FBS to rush for more than 100 yards in every game this season, became the first Hawkeye to lead the Big Ten in rushing since Albert Young in 2005.
In the locker room afterward, Banks, 34, who works in athletic training in Naperville, Ill., gave Greene a call on his cell phone. That’s how the torch is passed these days, via Verizon.
Everyone can hear Greene now.
“I just feel privileged and honored,” Greene said. “Tavian was a great back here and a great person. It was a privilege to break the record.”
Banks surprised Greene with the call. Greene said it was a quick congratulations.
“The thing that I would add is his humility,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The way he’s handled success has been so impressive.”
That was the theme that ran through Iowa’s record-breaking night at the Metrodome. It was the Gophers’ worst loss ever in Big Ten Conference play. It also was the first time Minnesota (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) was shutout at home since a 48-0 loss to Nebraska in 1989.
The 55-point margin was Iowa’s biggest in the 102-game series history, beating a 61-10 shellacking in 1983. It was Iowa’s first Big Ten shutout in Ferentz’s 10 seasons and it was Iowa’s largest margin of victory in the Big Ten since a 62-10 win over Northwestern in 2002.
In the Hawkeyes’ postgame, it was a bucket brigade of credit.
Defensive tackle Mitch King credited the defensive backs. Cornerback Amari Spievey, whose 57-yard interception return for a TD gave Iowa a 27-0 halftime lead, credited the front four.
“It took us a little bit to get rolling, but our offense and defense started clicking,” King said. “Everybody started clicking.”
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi credited wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for bailing him out with a terrific grabs. Let’s just say they helped each other.
Stanzi completed 15 of 28 for a career-high 255 yards and tied a career high with three TD passes. Johnson-Koulianos caught 7 passes for a career-high 181 yards, including a 29-yard TD in the third quarter.
“Ricky Stanzi, I just felt like he’s gotten better at different aspects of his game as the year went on,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “It’s encouraging in a lot of ways. It’s inspired me to get better.”
Ferentz talked all season about how this team was enjoyable to coach. He also mentioned what an inspirational performer Greene has been.
Every week, Greene has been a consistent force. He has fought a right ankle injury for the last month of the season, since a victory at Indiana. He shook it off a throughout the game Saturday night. He’s taken the hits, but he’s delivered more.
That man-sized effort has echoed throughout the locker room.
“That guy’s a stud. He’s been a stud since he’s gotten here,” Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer said. “He’s a great player, he’s a humble person and everything that he gets he deserves.”
Greene’s season will be a generational topic of conversation. Angerer is going to make sure of that, personally. He’s already told Greene he’s going to tell his kids he played with the Sicklerville, N.J., native.
“He said, ‘You don’t have any kids,’” Angerer said with a laugh. “It’s something I look forward to. He’s made an impact on everybody’s lives on this team. I think he’s the epitome of what Iowa football is.”
Greene made an impact on Johnson-Koulianos in the third quarter. On a 37-yard burst, Greene broke into the open. He needed to split two defenders to take the full 62 yards for a TD.
When looking to make a cut, Greene ran straight into Johnson-Koulianos, who turned and looked for someone to block.
The shot sent Johnson-Koulianos to the turf.
“I thought someone shot me with a shotgun out of nowhere,” Johnson-Koulianos said. “I couldn’t imagine what just hit me because I couldn’t see it, until I got up and saw that it was Shonn.”
Johnson-Koulianos, a wide receiver, then gave maybe the ultimate compliment to opposing defensive backs.
“I don’t know how these safeties get up down after down and hit this guy,” he said. “I don’t understand how they do it, but I have a lot more respect for them now.”
You’ve followed Greene’s story all season. You know the academics, the moving furniture, the whole “lost 2007″ thing. Anything else? How about the tattoo on Greene’s neck.
It’s a heart with the name “Cheryl” written in cursive inside. Cheryl is his grandmother. He started living with her when he was in high school. He said she is basically his mom.
“She had a lot to do with my life,” he said.
“I got the tattoo after high school. It’s just a little something.”
While the camera light flickered, Greene had a few quiet moments for himself. It was such a contrast to the previous three hours.
It was a good kind of tired. The best kind.
Iowa O-lines start ‘assembly required’, but finished product worth wait
IOWA CITY — The Iowa offensive line will never come bubble-wrapped off the assembly line and freshly delivered to Kinnick Stadium.
No, it doesn’t work that way for the Hawkeyes. Offensive lines come “assembly required” in Iowa City.
Sometimes, it might require hammering a square peg, as in converting a tight end into a tackle. Nearly every time, it takes some growth and maturity. If a piece breaks down along the way, the whole thing might collapse. Last season, two pieces, tackle Dace Richardson and center Rob Bruggeman, broke down. Iowa’s offensive line had a long year, being pegged with the brunt of 46 sacks.
“It was a little like 2000, last year,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, whose resume is steeped in offensive line. “I’m going back to a flashback when Sam Aiello hurt his back during a run drill, he went down that Wednesday before Ohio State. That snapshot moment is etched in my mind.
“Last year was a year like that, if you will. We just couldn’t quite catch any good breaks, it seemed. The good news is that during that time we were accumulating some pretty good experience.”
Iowa’s O-lines are more craftsman than factory, but when they come together, they are a thing of beauty. The beauty is in the numbers for this year’s group.
“You could see the potential last year and I think now we’re just a bit more experienced, maybe a bit more adept at some of the things we’re trying to do,” Ferentz said. “We’re making a natural progression. It’s never been a question of ‘Boy, are we going to get it done?’ It’s just a matter of what we have to do to get it done.”
The “what we have to get done” part varied for each of the five positions going into this season.
First, sophomore Bryan Bulaga, a 6-6, 301-pounder, had to get to left tackle.
Ferentz asked him to make the move after Bulaga started five games at left guard as a true freshman last year. It might have happened sooner, but a shoulder surgery kept him on the sidelines for several games last season. He missed spring after shoulder surgery.
Bulaga came in with blue chip credentials (Parade Magazine All-American) and he’s lived up to them, earning a midseason All-American mention from Sports Illustrated.
These guys are well aware who came to Iowa with what credentials.
“We joke around with it a lot,” Bulaga said. “Dan (Doering, a guard) was ranked high. We joke around about it, but we’ve all got one common goal in the end. It doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on, a one-star or a five-star. We’re all trying to win ballgames and get Shonn (Greene) as many yards as we can.”
This remains the “mystery spot,” with junior Rafael Eubanks and sophomore Julian Vandervelde splitting time.
Eubanks’ road at Iowa has had more than its share of curves. He was named the “Gatorade player of the year” coming out of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn. He started at center as a freshman and earned some national recognition. He started every game last season. He lost his job in fall camp this year but has made himself a home at left guard.
Well, maybe more of a time-share than a home.
“He’s playing pretty well,” Ferentz said. “I look at him like he’s a starter.”
Vandervelde kind of sneaked in the back door. He was initially a grayshirt recruit out of Davenport Central, meaning he wouldn’t have a scholarship until his second semester. But someone dropped out and he came in on a full ride.
Senior Rob Bruggeman is one of Iowa’s classic walk-on stories. Coming out of Cedar Rapids Washington in 2004, Bruggeman worked his body into a 475-pound bench press and his way up the depth chart. The rise stalled out after he suffered a torn ACL in spring ’07, but he claimed the job in fall camp over Eubanks.
Now Ferentz has touched on Bruggeman’s NFL draft prospects.
“He’s a good player, but he’s also a glue guy,” Ferentz said. “He’s a fifth-year senior, with trials and tribulations. Not to say that everybody doesn’t appreciate the chance to play, but I think guys who have missed time may have a keener sense of how close the end can be.”
Until Iowa’s last game, this was Seth Olsen’s spot. It will be again, after his sprained ankle heals, which may or may not be in time for today’s game.
Olsen, a Parade All-American coming out of Omaha’s Millard North High School, has had a productive career with 30 starts. Iowa’s lone married player has been a tackle, but this season he settled in at guard, which plays to his 6-5, 305-pound mauling nature.
“The thing about Seth is he’s way ahead of his years in maturity, knowledge, spirituality,” Eubanks said. “He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to, from our first year here, and I still look up to him now. He’s so knowledgeable in football and life.”
Last week, junior Andy Kuempel stepped in for Olsen and showed that the competition on the O-line has made the unit better.
Junior Kyle Calloway is the point man for growth chart from the end of ’07 to today. In his first season as a starter last year, Calloway struggled.
“He’s experienced his share of frustration, lack of success, tough moments, but he’s worked through them and he’s really playing at a pretty high level right now,” Ferentz said.
He started all 12 games at left tackle last year. When Bulaga made the move last winter, Calloway shifted to the right side.
This isn’t a reflection on Calloway’s play. The blame for last season’s 46 sacks goes a lot of different directions. But this seems to be as good a spot as any to mention that Iowa has allowed only 14 sacks this season, with the blame for a lot of those not going anywhere near the O-line.
It’s never easy assembly for an Iowa offensive line, but this one has been worth the wait.
King has plenty to say about the ’08 Hawks, leadership and those rousing pregame gatherings
IOWA CITY — Yes, of course, one side of the coin is Shonn Greene and his 1,729 rushing yards and Doak Walker Award.
This is a talk with the other side of the 2008 Hawkeyes’ coin, defensive tackle Mitch King.
He’s a four-year starter at defensive tackle. Iowa’s records for tackles for loss and sacks don’t go beyond the leaders, but King is on those all-time lists with 55 career tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks. The 55 TFLs are second among active players.
King was named the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year. The fifth-year senior also earned second-team Associated Press All-American honors.
“A guy that’s as good a football player as we’ve had here is King,” Iowa’s venerable defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. “In terms of the National Football League coming in and looking at him and saying, ‘Wow, look at this guy,’ that’s not the case because he’s not 6-foot-5, 290 pounds and (doesn’t) run a 4.6. But he’s as good a football player as we’ve had, I think.
“He’s as good a college football player as we’ve had since we’ve been here on defense.”
Parker brushes more football out of his teeth than most people on the planet know. So yeah, that’s a big deal.
In a recent interview with The Gazette, King ran through topics ranging from family to the pregame end zone shout-fest he began with the entire team this season.
And no, he doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time during those things.
Iowa’s defense will say goodbye to a grand total of three seniors — King, tackle Matt Kroul and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. King found himself in a defensive huddle, meeting rooms and locker rooms with a young group that probably took a lot of their cues from the vocal senior.
“On the field, the guys would probably tell you I yell quite a bit and things like that,” he said. “But it was always trying to get everybody on the right page. But I feel playing with the younger guys, that helped me out a lot. They showed me it was still a game and that you’ve got to still love it and everything like that.
“That’s what helped me out the most this year, just seeing how much everybody still loved playing the game and how enthusiastic they were about going out there every day. That really helped me out all year long.”
Yes, you might’ve noticed. King plays the game with fire in his soul. If you followed Iowa football on the radio, you’d feel it.
“I always try to play with enough passion not just for myself but for it to carry over to some other guys,” he said. “I do love the game. I love making plays. I love doing all the things that go along with big plays, but also just love the team camaraderie and just being a part of that all my life, it’s a good feeling that we ended so well.”
On the Kirk Ferentz show last season, the highlights rolled from Iowa’s loss at Wisconsin. A crowd shot focused on King’s dad, Lindsay. The intensity pouring out of the look on his face and body language could’ve melted steel.
Even though Lindsay and Tammy King divorced, Mitch says the entire family, including brother Vince and sisters Rachel, Emily and Reagan, remains close. Mitch is the baby of the bunch.
“That (the intensity) just doesn’t come from one side,” he said. “My mom is really an intense person. Loves coming to watch me play. I don’t think she’s ever missed a game. She’s there for me all the time. My dad, he’s always the first one to talk me down from a bad game and he always pumps me up after a good game. They’ve both been really supportive and that goes for my brother and sisters as well.”
The ownership King took in his senior year was apparent from Week 1. Before the Hawkeyes broke into their pregame stretch and workout against Maine on Aug. 30, King gathered the entire team in the south end zone and spit fire. Or spoke in tongues. Something like that. This went on the entire season and, barring laryngitis, will continue through the Outback Bowl.
“I wanted to be the guy to get everybody pumped up,” he said. “At that point and time, I’m usually pumped up and things. I just wanted to express how important each and every game was.
“A lot of it wasn’t chanting and me hurrah-ing. It was more just me talking and trying to get the guys focused and into understanding what the importance of the game was and what it meant to us as players and us as a program.”
It all looks pretty much 100 mph. What’s going through your mind?
“A lot of things I don’t ever really think about before they come out of my mouth,” he said. “That goes good and bad. Sometimes I don’t really express what I really want to, but the guys on the team understand that I’m pumped up. They understand the gist of it. I don’t really think about it much before it comes out.”
Probably something you can’t rehearse.
“Even if you do, it’s going to change on the whim,” he said. “It’s going to change when you do it. You’ve got to be in the moment.”
Can you remember anything specific?
“I don’t remember the game, but I was pretty much just stuttering,” he said. “Well, not really stuttering, but I’d say things backwards and I’d miss words. I don’t remember the game, but it didn’t come out exactly the way I thought it would.”
Did anyone ask what you were trying to say?
“They all laughed and got excited and got amped up because I was so amped up.”
Defensive tackle Kroul, King’s running mate these four seasons, owns Iowa’s record for consecutive starts at 46. If it weren’t for a hamstring injury that cost him a couple starts his sophomore year, King would be right there, too.
With 29 straight starts going into the Outback, King remembered the injury as a wake-up call.
“Before games, I stretched out, but during the week, during practice, I just stretched enough to get through it,” he said. “I really needed to take care of my flexibility and hamstrings and all that stuff. I bought some Culligan jugs and just drink water whenever I have the chance. I try to stay hydrated. We go through a lot and put our bodies through a lot. That’s something I didn’t do when I was younger. I took it for granted. I thought I was invincible and things like that. I didn’t take care of my body enough. That goes for eating and sleeping as well.”
Eating, is there anything you need to avoid?
“Not really. Eating is one thing I love to do. I probably shouldn’t eat as many Laffy Taffys as I do, but I love them.”
That’s the one striking thing about Iowa defensive linemen. The fitness they show any given Saturday is right there with Lance Armstrong.
“I’ve only missed one or two lifting sessions, but I’ve been able to make them up with coach (Chris) Doyle, sometimes doubling up in one day or coming back on a Saturday or doing something,” he said. “Aside from having a great strength coach, it’s got to come from your attitude. You’re only going to get as good as you want to.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys come through here and just go through the motions. They got stronger just doing the workouts, but they didn’t reach their potential. Some of those guys aren’t here anymore. It’s an attitude more than anything, especially when you’re going up against a bigger guy like offensive linemen are.”
So, is it a game-time intensity?
“It’s a different intensity,” he said. “You’re not screaming and hollering and running around. You’re focused on it. You try to get every ounce of productivity that you can.”
Back to leadership, is that a role you wanted? It’s not something you apply for, or do you have to earn it?
“I wanted it. I’ve started for four years,” he said. “I learned from really great players, (Chad) Greenway and (Abdul) Hodge, (Sean) Considine and all of those guys were great leaders. I always wanted to be in those shoes when I was their age or as soon as possible. People were looking for leaders. I just kind of fell into the role rather than me trying to do it.”
That’s a lot of eyes on you, both on and off the field.
“I’m not the perfect person. If you want to talk to someone like that, talk to Kroul. I’m not saying I’m a saint, but I keep my backyard clean for the most part. I have fun. I joke around about things. I know when to have fun, but that’s a small portion of our lives and we’ve learned to sacrifice it. I’ve been able to take that as it comes.”
There is an element of sacrifice to this. No one walks out there and does it. This is a yearlong deal.
“Sometimes when it’s hard with those December workouts, I wish I could go out and party and hang out and stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning and do what I want and eat what I want.” King said. “Being so close to home, all of my buddies who came up to school up here have lived that lifestyle.
“It’s tough seeing them have fun and live a normal college life, but at the same time, you’ve got to realize they’d die to be in your shoes. They’d die to run out in Kinnick in front of 70,000 on Saturdays. They’d trade with you in a heartbeat. It goes back and forth. I’m just lucky to be in the position I am with a family that’s helped me and supported me the whole time. I’ve changed from my first year to now. It’s been a huge jump from the kind of person I was back then. You’ve just got to learn and if you don’t, you wash out. I’ve seen it multiple, multiple times.”
Something clicked this year. Last season, the 6-6 record and no bowl, that was a low. Something went right this year. Can you compare and contrast?
“At that time, there was a lot of frustration,” King said. “I was one of them. We were a better team than the way we finished. We had a great defense last year, very comparable to this year. Last year, defensively we were on the field a lot. You get frustrated and things, but you just have to really buy into the system.
“You really have to trust your coaches. You have to trust that the guys around you are, sooner or later, going to buy into the system and be on the same page. That’s really what happened this year. A lot of guys sold out for one another and got on the same page.”
Is this a pinnacle or a starting point?
“Since I’ve been recruited, I’ve seen pinnacles in this program. You talk about the Robert Gallerys, the ’02s, the Orange Bowl. There was a lot of success before I got here, so I wouldn’t call it a pinnacle by any means. But, I’ll tell you, I’ve talked to some of the seniors, we’re all really excited about coming back or watching on TV and watching the Hawkeyes. I’m really excited to see where it goes. We’re losing three guys on defense. It’s going to be a great defense next year. Our offense is going to be humming.
“It’s exciting. Everybody’s buying in. It’s been jump-started. I’m really excited for the next few years for Iowa.”
Last end zone pep talk — any thoughts?
“I haven’t even put thought to it. All my mind is on is winning a bowl game. I’ve never been personally a part of one. I was dressed for the Capital One Bowl, but I didn’t actually play. I lost the Outback Bowl. I lost the Alamo Bowl. They were all nail-biters and they sucked.
“I want to come out on top and win a bowl game. That’s all I’ve thought about so far. It’s so close yet so far away from a football guy’s standpoint. That’s the only thing on my mind right now.”