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Interviewing the Enemy: Q&A with Black Heart Gold Pants

Northwestern will face a familiar foe with a new signal caller.

Northwestern breezed by Maryland in Week One and has its first real test of the season this Saturday on the road in Iowa City. Peyton Ramsey and the Wildcats will face the Hawkeyes in a classic Big Ten West matchup — and one that could have significant implications in the division race later this season.

After starting the season 0-1 for the first time since 2013, Iowa is desperate for a win against the ‘Cats to turn their season around early. Northwestern will look to send Iowa into a 0-2 hole and build upon its fierce start.

To get scoop on the 2020 Hawkeyes, we chatted with Jonah Parker of Black Heart Gold Pants to find out what went wrong against Purdue and how Iowa plans to bounce back in Week Two.

INU: What are your impressions of Spencer Petras, and what are your expectations for him moving forward? Will he be a CJ Beathard/Nate Stanley type?

BHGP: Through one game, it feels like Spencer Petras is a victim of the success Graham Mertz had on Friday night last week. On the whole, he had a very OK first game. He completed 22-of-39 passes for 265 yards with no turnovers. For an Iowa team to rush for nearly 200 yards and have a QB put up those kinds of numbers, Hawkeye fans would typically be very happy, and we would almost certainly be talking about a win.

We are not. Instead, Petras is being criticized for his 2-for-13 start where he clearly was a bit nervous in his first start. He missed open receivers, fired fastballs that didn’t need fired and missed a few key reads down the stretch. But he didn’t lose Iowa the game and in most seasons, his first game would have been wholly sufficient to earn a beat down of a cupcake FCS opponent in Week 1 and build upon for the remainder of the season and his career. Because of the loss, his shortcomings are being amplified.

In terms of what he brings to the table, he’s got all the physical tools. He’ll remind of Stanley with his big frame and his even bigger arm. He got on the board in Week 1 with a patented Stanley QB sneak for a touchdown. Longer term, he should develop into a really good starter for the Hawkeyes and appears to be someone who will have mastery over the offense sooner than later. He broke a slew of passing records previously held by No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff at his high school and certainly has the pedigree. The question is how long it takes him to settle in.

INU: In Saturday’s matchup, the Hawkeyes had many self-inflicted wounds including 10 penalties for 100 yards and two fumbles. What does Iowa need to do to improve its composure heading into next weekend?

BHGP: The Week 1 loss to Purdue is one of the more frustrating ones in recent memory for Iowa specifically because of those miscues. The Hawkeye program is built on discipline and out-executing the opponent. They did not on Saturday, and it cost them the game.

For the vast majority of the matchup, Iowa looked to be in control. They averaged 5.4 yards per carry and racked up 195 yards on the ground. But two of their best drives of the day ended with fumbles at the Purdue 10-yard line. The 10 penalties for 100 yards is the third most in the Ferentz era and several of them were drive killers.

With the crazy year and lack of spring or fall camp, expect this to be an uncharacteristically undisciplined Iowa team, though I would not count on turnovers to keep points off the board quite as directly as they did in Week 1.

INU: Despite having a strong defense in 2019, the Hawkeyes had no answer for David Bell, who had 13 receptions for 121 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. Do you foresee these problems with the secondary in particular continuing into next week, and what do the Hawkeye defensive backs need to do to resolve them?

BHGP: The Purdue Boilermakers are Phil Parker’s kryptonite. Parker always puts together a very good Iowa defense but hasn’t found an answer for the Boilermakers since Jeff Brohm took over. The Iowa defense gave up 24 points to Purdue despite the absence of Rondale Moore, starting RB King Doerue and their playcaller with Brohm himself absent.

Purdue did an excellent job scheming guys open in the Iowa zone but also benefited from a number of miscues, particularly between linebacker Barrington Wade and safety Dane Belton. Both were getting their first starts in those positions and despite overall solid play from both, the miscues cost the defense points.

Even if those two in particular can get things cleaned up, this is a defense with a lot of new pieces. While there is some talent in those new roles, there are likely to be some major growing pains along the way and most Iowa fans don’t expect this to be a typical Hawkeye defense.

INU: With Iowa starting the season 0-1 for the first time since 2013, how important is their matchup against Northwestern next weekend, and how does their record impact team morale and preparation for the Wildcats?

BHGP: The Hawkeyes starting the Big Ten season 0-1 isn’t terribly new, but it is quite rare for Iowa to start the season with a loss. Coming into this year, most Iowa fans had this team pegged as a 5-3 or 6-2 team with an outside shot at competing for the West. An 0-1 start certainly complicates that, but given the recent news in Madison and the struggle the Gophers had in Week 1, that aspiration is still in front of the Hawkeyes. Getting a win in Week 2 will be critical to keep it there.

INU: How have Iowa’s challenges off the field — including the summer investigation and now the $20 million dollar lawsuit for racial discrimination filed by eight Black ex-Iowa players — impacted the team’s performance and focus, as well as fan opinions? What’s the Kirk Ferentz exit timeline looking like now?

BHGP: It’s impossible to truly know how the issues that came forward during the offseason have impacted the team, but all indications have been that it brought them closer together. Having an environment where a significant portion of the team doesn’t feel like they can be themselves isn’t healthy or sustainable and removing some of the primary causes has to be a net positive.

That said, there were allegations against two staff members who are still around, including offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and if there haven’t been changes in approach there, it’s likely we see the wounds fester throughout the season.

In terms of a Ferentz exit, I don’t think anyone truly knows. Consensus around Iowa City is the lawsuit has no impact on his timeline if things are left to the AD, who has a track record of, shall we say, mismanagement. However, it’s entirely possible Kirk decides between the COVID-19 impacts and the off-field issues he just doesn’t want to deal with non-football stuff anymore and hangs them up.

INU: Northwestern put up over 300 yards and four touchdowns on the ground against Maryland, and Iowa struggled to contain Purdue running back Zander Horvath who was another standout with 21 carries for 129 yards. Are you concerned about Iowa’s ability to defend against the run? And if so, what changed from last year and years before?

BHGP: The defense as a whole is a bit of a concern as mentioned. Defending the run against teams that spread you out rather than embrace the rock fight is particularly troublesome for Iowa. Purdue and Northwestern certainly fit that description.

The one caveat here is that the defense actually held its own quite well for a good portion of the game. Horvath gained more than a third of his total yards on the final two drives of the game and another third on a single run in the third quarter. He was bottled up relatively well for most of the game, but for a defense predicated on not giving up big plays it’s worrisome a pseudo fullback was able to get loose for a 33-yard gainer. Expect that to be a point of emphasis for Parker in preparation for this week.

INU: How have your expectations for this game changed after Northwestern beat Maryland by 40 points?

BHGP: Candidly, I think most Iowa fans are left wondering if Maryland is that bad, Northwestern is that good or some combination. The rushing numbers are certainly eye popping and have to be concerning vs. prior expectations. The way Iowa lost last week has also played a big role in deteriorating expectations for this week.

INU: What is a matchup that Iowa needs to win in order to beat Northwestern?

BHGP: We’ll have a full story up today breaking down the matchup to watch, but the two keys to this one appear to be Iowa’s defensive line vs. the Northwestern offensive line and the Hawkeyes in general vs. their mental mistakes.

We’ve already hashed out that Northwestern’s running game vs. an Iowa defensive line that couldn’t contain Horvath is a concern, but they also struggled to generate pressure without the aid of a blitzing linebacker or defensive back. Of the 20 pressures against Purdue, 15 came with the aid of a blitzer. In general, that goes against everything Phil Parker stands for and given the inexperience in the back end it could spell disaster.

And quite simply, Iowa isn’t going to win any games with 10 penalties for 100 yards OR two fumbles at the ten. The fact they were even in the game last week while doing both is a minor miracle. They gave away at minimum 6 points and likely 14 with the fumbles and penalties directly led to at least 7 points for Purdue. If they can’t figure those issues out they’ll lose handily to Northwestern.

INU: What is your game prediction?

BHGP: I’m an eternal optimist and had actually been calling for a loss to Purdue most of the offseason. The Boilermakers are a strange matchup for Iowa and have given them fits in recent years. Fitzgerald and the Wildcats fit that bill a bit as well, but I think the Week 1 issues help bring some of the shortcomings to light and Iowa figures things out. I’m expecting a close one, likely a strange one, but an Iowa W.

Iowa 27, Northwestern 24