Iowa takeaways: Kirk Ferentz jokes about SI cover jinx
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has heard all about the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.
“We need to do a little research and prove there is no jinx,” Ferentz said Tuesday after learning his team is featured on one of the magazine’s regional covers this week.
The cover is a picture of tight end George Kittle after his touchdown catch against Purdue last week, with wide receiver Matt VandeBerg in the background. The headline reads “Iowa Raucous,” a spin off the upcoming Iowa caucuses that have put the state in the national political spotlight.
The Hawkeyes, 11-0 for the first time in school history and ranked third in both major polls, have also earned plenty of national headlines this season.
Jinx? The last time Iowa appeared on the SI cover was after a 9-0 start in 2009. The coverboys promptly loss at home to Northwestern, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi was injured.
“We’ve already done some things nobody has done here before,” Ferentz said. “Last time we couldn’t survive. I think we lost that next week, right? So maybe we can break that one, too. That’s one more thing we can put up on the board and try to shoot for.”
The fact that the cover has Kittle, who was offered a scholarship on signing day, and VandeBerg, who was going to join the program as a walk-on before getting a late scholarship, tells a true picture of Iowa football under Ferentz.
“It’s a cool thing,” VandeBerg said. “But I don’t think it means a whole lot. This team has been able to put Iowa on the map. At the same time, we just have to go out and do our job every week.”
One matchup to watch Friday will be Iowa cornerback Desmond King against Nebraska’s leading receiver, Jordan Westerkamp.
“Nine times out of 10, I should be on him,” King said.
Westerkamp, a junior, has 61 catches for 833 yards and seven touchdowns. King leads the nation with eight interceptions. King said he comes up with a plan through film study.
“Just knowing what kind of receiver he is, focusing on his release, the kind of routes he runs and things like that,” King said.
King said the best receiver he’s gone against so far this season is Tyler Boyd of Pittsburgh. Boyd had 10 catches for 131 yards in Iowa’s 27-24 victory. King also picked off two passes intended for Boyd. King also mentioned DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue and Geronimo Allison of Illinois as the best he’s gone against this season.
“Every defensive back doesn’t want to let any receiver catch passes on him,” King said, acknowledging that it does happen. “You have to have a short memory. You can never let one play affect the whole game.”
Nebraska enters Friday’s game 13th in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 305.5 yards per game. That sounds like a potentially big game for VandeBerg, Iowa’s top receiver with 56 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns.
“Personally, I don’t change my approach,” VandeBerg said. “Numbers don’t play the game. Just because they’re giving up the most yards doesn’t mean that this game they’re going to. You’ve just got to understand that and go out and do your job each time.”
Holding on to the ball was an issue last season. This year, VandeBerg has rarely missed a catchable offering from quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“I needed to focus more,” VandeBerg said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m a reliable option. Kevonte (Martin-Manley) was that kind of guy. I was just modeling myself after him, as far as how sure-handed he was. Obviously, it’s paid off.”
Iowa linebacker Cole Fisher is from Omaha, Neb., with plenty of Nebraska football running through his family tree. His dad, Todd, and brother, Sean, played for the Cornhuskers.
“That makes it kind of personal,” said Fisher, who is Iowa’s No. 2 tackler this season. “Growing up in Nebraska, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t want to go there. I’ve sure every high school football player does.”
Nebraska never offered Fisher a scholarship. He tore his ACL in a basketball game his junior season. Several schools, including Nebraska, told him they wanted to see how he came back from the injury before they offered a scholarship.
“Coach Ferentz called right after I hurt my knee and said they still wanted me to come there,” Fisher said. “That played a huge part in making up my mind.”
Fisher is one of two Nebraskans in Iowa’s starting lineup. The other is defensive tackle Nathan Bazata, who is from Howells.
“This is just like a normal week for me,” said Bazata, who wasn’t offered by Nebraska. “One out of 12.”
Heading into an Oct. 17 game at Northwestern, Iowa had five starters out with injuries — defensive end Drew Ott, wide receiver Tevaun Smith, running back LeShun Daniels Jr. and offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger. Smith, who had missed the previous two games, did play some snaps against the Wildcats.
Iowa is in much better shape heading into the Nebraska game.
“It’s probably about as good a shape as we’ve been in all season long,” Ferentz said.
Ott is the only one of the five who won’t play against the Cornhuskers.