IOWA CITY — I know it’s a busy time, dear readers, but today’s menu is loaded. We’ve got Mark Mangino’s bitterness and Paul Rhoads’ classiness and Urban Meyer’s ugly offense and Tim Beck’s hide-and-seek act to discuss.
But we must start with the undefeated, third-ranked and national championship-contending Iowa Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0). Roll that sentence around in your head for a while.
Iowa linebacker Cole Fisher can hardly believe it himself, after seeing the previous five Hawkeye teams go 29-30 against FBS opponents.
“I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said the senior out of Millard North. “Our philosophy the whole time has been to do the little things right. Once you do little things, it turns into big success.
“So far, this season is a pretty cool example of that.”
Standing in Iowa’s way of completing a perfect regular season is Nebraska, a supposed newly minted rival when the Huskers joined the Big Ten five years ago.
Do the Hawkeyes hate Nebraska?
“I don’t know about hate, but we know we need to get after these guys in order to win,” said senior tight end Henry Krieger Coble from Mount Pleasant, Iowa. “They are a rival for us.
“Even though we haven’t been playing each other forever like all these Big Ten teams, we know that they are a heck of a program and pose a huge challenge for us, regardless of record.”
Krieger Coble said finishing a perfect regular season with Nebraska as the opponent might provide the perfect cherry on top.
“Their stadium is an unbelievable environment — one of the best in the country,” he said. “Just to get an opportunity to go out there and play ... it’s a heck of a team and a heck of an environment for these stakes. You can’t ask for anything more.”
Nebraska’s best hope to play spoiler might be to put stress on an Iowa defensive front seven that’s looking a bit tired and lacks depth.
A key batch of statistics hints at some late-season wear and tear. Let’s look at the Hawkeyes’ first eight games in a group and the last three:
» Yards per game allowed: First eight: 286.3. Last three: 415.3.
» Points per game allowed: First eight: 15.3. Last three: 27.3.
» Rushing touchdowns allowed: First eight: one. Last three: six.
The last three Iowa games have been against Indiana (407 yards, 27 points), Minnesota (434 and 35) and Purdue (405 and 20). The Hoosiers have moved the ball well all season, but the other two hardly are offensive juggernauts.
Why Iowa’s defense may be tiring comes down to playing time. Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette looked at snap counts for players from @Hawkeyegamefilm.
Starting linebackers Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Fisher have played 99 percent, 99 percent and 94 percent of snaps. That’s not factoring in their work on special teams. The starting defensive tackles — Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata of Howells, Nebraska — are at 83 percent and 81 percent.
Those are high percentages. I’ve seen Iowa in person five times this season. Lately, the surge up front and the explosive defensive bursts haven’t been as frequent, like what was seen against Wisconsin and Northwestern in October.
Iowa is last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in tackles for loss. The Hawkeyes miss defensive end Drew Ott dearly. The senior disruptor from Trumbull, Nebraska, was on track to earn All-America honors before tearing knee ligaments.
Middle linebacker Jewell is Iowa’s leading tackler with 102.
“You feel the wear and tear every day,” said the sophomore from Decorah, Iowa. “But you’ve got to understand what you’re going for here. Every regular season is exhausting. We just have to finish.”
The Hawkeyes are well aware the 415.3 yards and 27.3 points allowed the past three games are higher than normal.
“We have some small detail things to fix,” Jewell said. “They are becoming bigger as the weeks go on. So we’ll focus on fixing one detail a day this week.”
Iowa comes to Lincoln with a short week of preparation after playing Saturday. Nebraska comes off a bye week. But the Hawkeyes shouldn’t look to coach Kirk Ferentz for any sympathy.
“Suck it up,” Ferentz said. “We’ll rest later.”
Other college football items to note:
» The “No-Class Act of the Year” goes to former Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino.
He has been the ex-coordinator since Oct. 26 when coach Paul Rhoads fired him. Rhoads, himself under administrative duress this season, was fired Sunday, a day after the Cyclones blew a 21-point halftime lead at Kansas State and lost 38-35.
Shortly after Iowa State’s lead drifted away following two lost fumbles in the final two minutes that led to K-State’s winning points, Mangino tweeted:
“There is no doubt at all ... The Fat Lady is singing!”
That clearly was a reference to Rhoads’ shaky job status, and Mangino’s classless hope that his old boss would get canned, too. Now, guess who was still on Rhoads’ staff Saturday? Mangino’s son, Tommy, as receivers coach.
Mangino had a strong run as coach at Kansas, including a national coach of the year honor, but my respect for him is gone after this. He was an interesting guy with a wicked sense of humor. But he lost his job at KU for his bullying and poor treatment of people. I see he still eats and spews toxic stew.
And where did Mangino grow up on toxic stew and bully culture? Just outside Youngstown, Ohio. Amazing.
As for Rhoads, he’s a good football man and a better person — among the best I’ve had the pleasure to work with. He led Iowa State to its greatest victory, an upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011, plus notable wins over Nebraska and Texas.
His seven-year record is 32-54, a winning percentage not much different from any other ISU coach because this job is very hard. And it got harder when the Big 12 shrank to 10 teams and did away with divisions.
The full round-robin schedule is a killer for old Big 12 North teams. Why do you think Kansas State coach Bill Snyder advocates all the time to add two teams and go back to divisional play?
Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard is a smart guy and a go-getter as a hirer, but he’ll have his hands full replacing the popular and passionate Rhoads.
» This is from the “Leopards Don’t Change Their Spots” Dept.:
When Tim Beck was offensive coordinator at Nebraska, criticism noticeably bothered him. The flak he took last year — and rightfully so — after the Huskers barely escaped an upset by McNeese State sent him into hiding.
His offensive players dutifully did interviews after games and practices in his absence, but the $750,000-a-year coach couldn’t take it. A full month passed after the McNeese game before he took another question.
Now, Beck is co-offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Coach Urban Meyer said through the season that Beck has become more central to the Buckeyes’ play-calling.
OSU had one of its ugliest offensive showings in a decade in Saturday’s loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes produced five — count ’em, five — first downs and 132 total yards.
So who came to the interview room to explain what happened on offense? Quarterback J.T. Barrett owned it. Tailback Ezekiel Elliott was there, too.
And Beck? Surprise, surprise, he was nowhere to be found. In fairness, he isn’t an interview room regular, but it would have been the time to step forward and deflect the grilling his star players faced.
Maybe Beck was busy starting his job search. He’s also Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach. The regression by two stars at that position, Barrett and Cardale Jones, won’t fly with a guy as results-oriented as Meyer.
Also, pay attention if Meyer plays Elliott this week after his Heisman Trophy candidate pouted and acted out during the game and trashed the game plan afterward.
We’ll see if Meyer read his own book that he recently toured to promote during an open date: “Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season.” It’s touted as “remarkable lessons in team building.”