Iowa Football Notebook: Morale Remains High in Hawkeye Locker Room
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa players are quick to credit their opponents for some of their struggles the last two games. They’re also just as willing to point the finger inward.
The Hawkeyes have lost the turnover battle 6-1 in falling at Michigan and against Penn State Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. The giveaways led to 10 Nittany Lions’ points in their 17-12 victory.
Iowa is allowing sacks, committing penalties, dropping passes, making inaccurate throws and unable to run the ball consistently. It’s all very un-Hawkeye-like, despite it happening against No. 7 Penn State and 16th-ranked Michigan.
“You have to give credit to them. They made plays when it came down to it. They got after us,” Iowa tight end Nate Wieting said. “But a lot of it falls on us as well. Communication, to start off, being detailed, being where we need to be when we need to be there; having awareness as to what could happen, what could go wrong. And then going out and playing and executing at a high level.
“I think we’re really close at a lot of positions if we can hone in on those details.”
The Hawkeyes are hoping those things come together Saturday when they play host to Purdue for Homecoming. They’ll be trying to end a two-game losing streak in this series.
“Obviously we’re unhappy with the losses, but at the same time I think everybody realizes that we still have the opportunity to accomplish a lot of our goals,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Everybody is just doing a great job at pushing themselves and making sure that they stay positive and doing everything they can do be ready to play this weekend.”
That’s important as Iowa faces its first adversity after starting the season 4-0 and rising to No. 14 in the AP Top 25. Now at 23rd, there’s little margin for error.
“The first 24-48 hours, a lot of dudes are down, but when Monday practice hits, you just have to bring the same intensity you brought last week, even more coming off losses,” captain Michael Ojemudia said. “So, you bring the younger guys along because energy is contagious. If you bring that energy, then other guys can feed off of you.”
While Iowa has been stout defensively, it’s produced just one takeaway the last two contests. It began the week ranked 89th nationally in turnovers gained with seven, including four interceptions through six games.
The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten and ranked second nationally with 20 picks in ’18. Their 45 interceptions since the beginning of ’17 paces the nation.
“It starts with (opponents) taking shots. Nobody has really been taking shots on us. Whenever they start taking shots, throwing the ball down the field more, we’re definitely going to have to get the ball,” safety Geno Stone said.
Those chances should arrive this week. The Boilermakers attack teams through the air, something they’ve had success with the last two seasons against Iowa.
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“It’s a great opportunity for us just to make the play on the ball,” said Ojemudia, a cornerback. “We’re a little hungry right now because we haven’t been making as many plays as we wanted. I definitely think there’s a great motivation for the defense this week.”
Extra possessions could aid a struggling offense. It also might help keep opposing punters from pinning the Hawkeyes deep in their own end.
Against Penn State, Iowa started its 11 drives with an average field position of its own 17-yard line, 15 less than the Lions.
The offensive line will be looking to tighten up after allowing 10 sacks the last two weeks and not opening enough holes for the running backs. It will be left tackle Alaric Jackson’s third game back after missing most of the first four weeks with an injury. He’s seeing progress.
“We’ve been playing great teams. I’ve been out for a few weeks, so chemistry isn’t as tight. We’re communicating better, just doing the small things right. It will be good this weekend,” Jackson said.
REDSHIRT RADAR: It’s the second season where players can red shirt and retain a year of eligibility if they play in four games or less. Six contests into ’19, the coaches have their minds made up on some players and are undecided on others.
Ferentz revealed on Tuesday that the team is hoping to red shirt true junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin, who has appeared in four games.
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“Right now we would be smart to try to protect Ivory if we can. But we’re also trying to win this year. It’s kind of we’ll stay flexible on it. Yeah, we’d sure like to not waste a year of his eligibility if we can,” he said.
Toren Young, Mekhi Sargent and true freshman Tyler Goodson are ahead of Kelly-Martin on the depth chart.
Julius Brents and Kaevon Merriweather played as true freshmen in Iowa’s defensive backfield last season. Injuries have kept them under the four-game threshold this fall.
“The other guys right now, that’s still probably a little further down the road. We’ll see how that measures out as we go. We’ll try to be mindful of that with everybody,” Ferentz said.
Goodson leads all true freshmen in games played with six. Tight end Sam LaPorta has appeared in all but the Michigan contest. Linebacker Jack Campbell has see action in four games.
Justin Britt, an offensive lineman who has logged three games, is expected to wave the redshirt this year, according to Ferentz. The plan is to hold back wide receiver Desmond Huston, who has played in two games, the coach said.
What will happen with defensive backs Jermari Harris (two games played) and Dane Belton (one game) is up in the air.
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INJURY UPDATE: The Hawkeyes have been getting healthier. Jackson, Brents, Brady Reiff, Matt Hankins and Riley Moss all have returned in the last few weeks.
Starting middle linebacker Kristian Welch was knocked out of the Penn State game with an injury. He has returned to practice.
“(He) got nicked up a little bit, but we expect him to play (against Purdue). Hopefully, he’ll be fine,” Ferentz said.
Offensive guard Kyler Schott has missed the last three games with a leg injury.
His return is not imminent.
“It will be after the bye week. Nothing sooner than that. He has a couple more weeks to go,” the coach said.
TEAM EFFORT: Goodson was charged with a fumble on a second-half carry deep in Iowa’s end. Penn State recovered and scored a field goal.
The play was blown up by a defensive lineman who took advantage of miscommunication on the offensive line. He got there as the ball was being handed off.
“You talk about correctable things, that’s one of them right there,” Ferentz said. “It was not a smooth operation play. So he’s got some ownership. But it was not smooth. I’m not putting that on him at all. That was a team effort right there.
“Those are the kinds of things if we can’t get those things cleaned up, it’s going to be a problem as we move forward. Just nobody’s good enough to put the ball on the ground.”
EXTRA POINTS: Stanley, Ojemudia, Welch and Brady Ross will be captains again this week as they have for the previous six games…Iowa free safety Jack Koerner registered 13 tackles against Penn State, the most by a Hawkeye since Josey Jewell had 13 against Purdue in ’17…receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Bandon Smith, and Nico Ragaini share the team leadwith 24 catches apiece…The Hawkeyes are 15-5 in Homecoming contests under Kirk Ferentz.