With Pitt traveling to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes, I had a chance to get some insight on the game and their program from Ross over at SB Nation's Iowa affiliate, Black Heart Gold Pants. Below are his answers to my questions and be sure to head over there and check out my answers to his questions as well.
After leading Iowa to a comeback victory against Pitt last year, quarterback C.J. Beathard still only played sparingly going forward and wasn't able to seize the starting job. Was that a surprise to fans considering he provided a much-needed spark in that game?
ROSS: Yes and no. Yes, it was a little surprising because he played pretty well and wasn't able to get a lot of opportunities. No, it wasn't all that surprising because the common perception was that Rudock was the more conservative option, which fits Kirk Ferentz's M.O. much of the time. The perception last year was that Rudock had a relatively low ceiling but a high floor, while Beathard had a higher ceiling but a much more unclear floor -- he was more prone to mistakes and turnovers and his considerable physical gifts evidently weren't enough to outweigh the potential for mistakes in Ferentz's eyes. It was a decision that led to a lot of consternation among Iowa fans, but it's also water under the bridge at this point -- it may have taken longer than many fans would have liked, but Ferentz gave Beathard the keys to the car after the bowl game and Iowa hasn't looked back since. The early returns so far have been very promising and we're really excited to watch him for the next two years.
Starter Jake Rudock later transferred to Michigan after he found out he wouldn't be the starter this year? How big of a shock was that to the team and was it completely out of left field?
ROSS: Last season it was a pretty commonly held belief among Iowa fans that one of them would be gone by the 2015 season; most observers were leaning toward Beathard being the one to head elsewhere, since he was on the second line of the depth chart and he (via his father) made some rumblings during bowl preparation that the situation last year wasn't very satisfying. But Ferentz threw a curveball in January, releasing a post-bowl game depth chart (the first time he had ever done that) that had Beathard atop the depth chart and Rudock as second-string. At that point everyone pretty much knew Rudock's days in Iowa City were numbered -- why would a senior QB who had already graduated stick around to handle clipboard duty? It was just a matter of finding a new destination for his final year of eligibility. I think Iowa fans were probably a little surprised that it ended up being Michigan (and who knows if Iowa would have tried to bar him from going there if Michigan was on Iowa's 2015 schedule), but I think most fans wish him well. He was a nice guy and a great representative for Iowa, but it was time for a change at QB.
Iowa's run defense has looked pretty stout this season and I believe they were in the top ten in terms of rushing yardage defense. Is that a product of the competition or were they expected to be that good against the run?
ROSS: They're 8th in the nation in rush defense so far (giving up 49 ypg), which is pretty stellar. I'd say a lot of that is the function of their competition -- they did face a good running back in week one (Marshaun Coprich), but he couldn't get much going behind an FCS offensive line. Iowa State didn't even really try to run the ball very much and when they did it went poorly. Pitt will be the biggest challenge Iowa's rush defense has faced by far. Iowa was 66th in the nation in rush defense last year (168.3 ypg), although I think there was hope among Iowa fans that they'd be better than that this year. They lost two pillars of their run defense in defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, but the hope was that improved play elsewhere (particularly at defensive end and linebacker) would make up for their absences -- and so far that hope has been borne out by the results. But Iowa plays Pitt and Wisconsin in the next three weeks -- we'll know much more about how good Iowa's run defense truly is after after those games.
Long-time Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has had his share of success but has the recent string of mediocrity been enough to make him a serious candidate for the hot seat this year?
ROSS: Yes and no. Yes, I think he's feeling more actual pressure than he's felt in the past to produce some better results. But also no, because I'm still not really sure what sort of record it would take for Iowa to completely cut bait and move on to another coach. 3-9? 4-8? 5-7? 6-6? It's really hard to say, in part because Iowa has never fired a football coach in my lifetime (Hayden Fry retired after the 1998 season). But the pressure on Ferentz was (and is) real and it's a function of his results (increasingly mediocre, especially against rivals -- Iowa went 0-4 in trophy games last year, which was especially galling for Iowa fans), sagging attendance figures (they've been declining for the last few years and season ticket renewals dropped noticeably this year), and a more manageable buyout figure (it's not just expensive, rather than absurdly expensive). That said, he's also gotten off to the perfect start to cool some of the flames under that hot seat. There's still more -- much more -- to be done this season, but this has been a very good beginning to the season.
Who's your pick to win the game on Saturday?
ROSS: I'm feeling good about Iowa after Saturday's rivalry win over Iowa State. Pitt is a better opponent, to be sure, but Iowa is playing with a lot of confidence after their first two games and I think they're going to be even more fired up to play a night game (Iowa's first since 2012). I think it will be a close game for a half, but Iowa will pull away in the second half by grinding out some long drives and wearing down the Pitt defense. I'll go Iowa 27, Pitt 17.