Iowa football's road trip to Maryland has a 'different' feel, even for Kirk Ferentz

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Iowa football players won’t have time to feast on crab cakes, catch an Orioles game or tour the nearby White House. But Friday’s matchup at Maryland will otherwise have a bowl-trip feel for the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes.

Like a bowl game, this is expected to be a tight one on the scoreboard (Iowa is a 3½-point favorite) featuring teams with similar records (both are 4-0).

Like a bowl matchup, the Hawkeyes and Terrapins lack familiarity. They’ve met just once since 2015, and that was a forgettable 2018 game in which Maryland had 47 passing yards in a windy 23-0 loss in Iowa City. Now, the Terps are among the most prolific passing teams in the country.

Like a bowl, this game has a national TV spotlight. It's the only Friday matchup involving Power Five teams. College football diehards will tune into Fox Sports 1 (at 7 p.m. CT) to see if the No. 5 in the country will go down.

And for as much stability as the Hawkeye program enjoys, this game is also a novelty for the coaching staff. Six of Iowa's 10 on-field assistants haven't coached a game in College Park, Maryland.

Additionally, Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium (I had to look up the name) is one of two in the Big Ten — Ohio State is the other — that 23rd-year head coach Kirk Ferentz hasn’t experienced victory. Granted, Ferentz has had only one crack at "The Shell," and that was a 38-31 loss to a Randy Edsall-coached squad in 2014. That was Maryland's first year in the Big Ten Conference, and it had a receiver named Stefon Diggs make nine catches for 130 yards that Saturday.

Finding success in the Hawkeyes' first of two Friday games this regular season is about preparation, Kirk Ferentz and players said Tuesday.

"They're not new to the Big Ten per se, but they're new to us because we've only been there once," Ferentz said Tuesday. "It is different. It really is different, just like traveling to Rutgers (in 2016) was different."

So … what to expect?

“I have no idea,” said middle linebacker Jack Campbell, one of surely dozens of Hawkeyes that have never been to the Washington, D.C. area. “It’s going to be all new to me. But I’m looking forward to experiencing the hotel and bus ride to the stadium.”

That unintentionally hilarious end to Campbell’s quote is somewhat telling.

Because the hotel and bus are the only pregame sights these Hawkeye players will enjoy on what amounts to a brief business trip. Ferentz joked that the trip out East is hardly taxing — a direct one-hour, 45-minute flight with a team shuttle to their hotel — as opposed to his early-1990s time as Maine’s head coach when he recalled an eight-hour bus ride to Rutgers and flight "with four stops" on the way to a road game at Hawaii.

For Iowa players to become comfortable in what can be an uncomfortable or unknown setting, they can rely on several things they do know.

Since switching to morning practices in 2015, Iowa is 7-0 in regular-season Friday games.

That, of course, includes a six-game winning streak against Nebraska in the annual Black Friday tradition. Plus, Iowa went on the road in Week 4 last season and dominated Minnesota, 35-7, under the Friday-night lights.

Ferentz determined that one of the many benefits of switching the team’s off day from Monday (before 2015) to Thursday (ever since) was an increase in urgency to game preparations. That has paid off on the Nebraska weeks.

On these short weeks, Iowa’s off day gets moved from Thursday to Saturday. Plus, there are accelerated mental preparations and a mindfulness that players’ bodies have had less time than usual to recover from the most recent game.

“A lot of what we do, which is nice, is toward end of the week we keep it more mental than physical,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “Which is big, because you need to be fresh for the game.”

The Hawkeyes successfully conquered their first road test, at Iowa State.

It would be hard-pressed to top that environment in Ames, when 60,000-plus at Jack Trice Stadium were vehemently cheering against the Hawkeyes. Iowa struggled in the first quarter then pulled out a road win against a (then) top-10 opponent. Replicating that perseverance is the plan Friday.

“I imagine the environment we were in a couple weeks ago is as tough as it's going to get,” Ferentz said. “We expect this to be the same way.”

Maryland’s stadium caps out at 51,802 (a similar capacity to Minnesota’s), but there is renewed excitement for the Terrapins, who are trying to start a season 5-0 for the first time since 2001. It’s a “blackout” game for Maryland fans. (As a counter, a passionate legion of Iowa fans attending the game are urging their supporters to wear gold.)

"We’re not going to be in uncomfortable waters out there," free safety Jack Koerner said confidently. "We know what we’re going out to do. Just block out the noise and play a football game.”

They're ready for Maryland's (and everyone's) best shot.

That lesson was felt in a hard-fought 24-14 win against Colorado State. The Hawkeyes certainly were awakened by halftime of that game that they can't play below-average football and expect to win just because there's a No. 5 next to their name.

Iowa's 17-0 stranglehold of the Rams in the second half was a positive response.

"We’re going to go into every week expecting the best from each and every team. That’s the price of being such a highly ranked team," running back Tyler Goodson said. "We’re going to prepare for every game like they’re better than us. That’s our mentality."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.