Hawkeyes Determined to Stay Together, Finish Strong
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Saturday’s 38-36 loss at Purdue stung. It meant Iowa’s chances of winning the Big Ten West Division were slim, at best.
The Hawkeyes dropped a heartbreaker at Penn State a week earlier. These types of setbacks have sunk Iowa teams before. It also started 6-2 in 2014 before finishing 7-6.
The leadership knew it needed to come forward as soon as it returned from West Lafayette. They told the younger players that staying the course would turn things around even if a championship was all but out of the picture.
“It’s just a little more important (this week),” senior defensive lineman Sam Brincks said of leadership. “I think some young guys after two straight losses they kind of lose sight of what we’re trying to do, and that’s just go to work everyday, improve and get better.”
Iowa can finish the regular season at 9-3 if it wins against Northwestern Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, FOX) and then knocks off Illinois and Nebraska. It will be favored in all three contests.
“We just want to play our best football. It’s a testament to this team that we’ve stuck together through two tough losses in a row now. No one is pointing fingers. No one is looking to blame anybody else. Everyone has ownership in what’s happened good or bad this year,” senior defensive lineman Parker Hesse said.
Quarterback Nate Stanley figured his teammates would respond to adversity when they returned to practice on Sunday. They didn’t disappoint him.
“We need to continue the same preparation, the same attitude that we’ve had all year. It’s one day at a time and at the end of the season, everything will take care of itself. I think everybody so far this week has done a good job at keeping that in mind and preparing well. Everybody has been upbeat and excited to get back out on the field this Saturday,” he said.
During the first 19 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes won at least nine games six times. They’ve reached double figures in victories twice in the last 13 years.
Iowa still can get to 10 wins with a bowl victory. The key will be cohesion and progress with the goal of winning the school’s first championship since ’04 all but done.
“This is a time when our leaders are going to be needed the most after taking another tough loss and knowing that the West is no longer in our control. It’s going to be important for them to really kick in and make sure we finish these last three games as strong as we can,” sophomore running back Ivory Kelly-Martin said.
Ferentz has praised the team’s leadership throughout the season. He’s complimented the whole squad for its work ethic and attention to detail.
The 13 seniors are a big part of that. How this thing finishes up will be their legacy.
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“Any time you have adversity and a goal you want to accomplish and you’re so close, it hurts. But everyone goes through stuff like that in life,” Hesse said. “The people who become successful are the ones that can get up the next day and reset their mind and say I still have things I want to accomplish, I’m going to get after it today.
“So, that’s what we’ve been doing this week. We’re totally focused on Northwestern and we just want to win Saturday.”
There’s nothing they can do about what’s happened to this point. That’s important to keep in mind.
“We only have so much time left with each other. I think we’ve done a good job keeping everyone focused on the task and not sulking on what we lost, what could have happened, what should have happened,” senior center Keegan Redner said.
INJURY REPORT: Ferentz updated the health of his team Tuesday. Overall, the Hawkeyes appeared to be in pretty good shape for this point of the season.
Backup tight end and special team’s performer Shaun Beyer remains on crutches and likely will miss the rest of the regular season.
“I don’t know if we’ll get him back for the bowl game or not. We’ll just wait and see on that,” the coach said.
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Fullback Brady Ross suffered an ankle injury at Indiana that has kept him sidelined the last three weeks. He has been ruled out for Saturday as well.
“I’m guessing maybe next week, but I doubt it, so we’re probably looking at another week. It’s one of those ankles, and those are bad,” Ferentz said.
Aaron Mends, who tore his ACL in the spring, has been working to get back onto the field. The senior could return for the bowl game.
“It’s just been a long road, and it’s been a little frustrating for him quite frankly. All these injuries, you know, you just feel for the players involved because that’s not what anybody wants,” the coach said.
BACK IN BLACK (and Gold): Sophomore cornerback Matt Hankins hasn’t played since the Wisconsin game at the end of September. He suffered an arm injury and then was suspended after being cited by police for noise complaints and disorderly conduct related to a house party.
The Texas product has returned to practice this week.
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“He’s back with us and good graces, and yeah, he is healthy finally. Last week he kind of turned the corner that way, so he’s back practicing right now,” Ferentz said.
Hankins began the season as a starter after starting the last two games of ’17. Iowa has been starting two true freshmen in Julius Brents and Riley Moss since he was injured.
Purdue picked on the youngsters last week. That didn’t mean Hankins would get his job back.
“I don’t know if he’ll start this week, but he practiced (Tuesday), practiced well, and hopefully he can make it to Saturday, and I’m not saying he’ll start, but my guess is he’ll play,” the coach said.
TRUE FRESHMEN: First-year receiver Tyrone Tracy played at Purdue, his second game of the season. Ferentz said they’d try to cap him at the four contests the new NCAA rule allows before burning a redshirt.
That could change with an injury.
“He’ll probably use the four. I think he’s not in the Army yet, fully enlisted, but he’s got a foot in the water for sure,” the coach said.
Injuries at linebacker earlier this month pushed true freshman Dillon Doyle into more practice reps. The position has become healthier of late, making it likely his redshirt will be preserved.
“Dillon Doyle was in the water there swimming a little bit, and now we’ve pulled him out, and I think we’ll be able to protect him as long as we don’t have any more issues at that position,” Ferentz said.
Barring injury, Brents, Moss and fellow secondary member, Kaevon Merriweather, might be the only first-year guys not to be red shirted.
EXTRA POINTS: Ferentz spoke with the Big Ten office about concerns with officiating at Purdue…Iowa will not be wearing alternate uniforms this season…Parker Hesse, Jake Gervase, Nate Stanley and Keegan Render will be this week’s captains.