IOWA CITY, Ia. — How did Iowa running back Akrum Wadley spend his bye week?
“Relaxed. Slept a lot,” the junior said. “Partied a little bit.”
Hey, nothing wrong with a little escape from football. Even the head Hawk gives his stamp of approval to unplug.
“That's really important. It's certainly important in anything you do,” 18th-year Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If you're working hard at something, if it's competitive, academically, whatever it may be, it's good to step back a little bit and just get some air.”
Most college football teams get one week off from playing during the course of the rugged regular season.
Iowa’s bye came at a great time physically, but perhaps more important to the 5-3 Hawkeyes was taking a mental break — especially after the emotion of a third straight home loss, 17-9 to Wisconsin, on Oct. 22.
“Just getting our rest, getting off our feet and getting away from football,” all-America cornerback Desmond King said. “Just relaxing … making sure everybody came back fresh and ready to go.”
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Players caught up on academics — Ferentz mused that “classes weren’t canceled” last week — and watched football. Some went home over the weekend. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, who is from Tennessee, hung out in Cedar Falls with offensive lineman Ike Boettger and his family.
Players were back at practice Sunday to prepare for Saturday’s 6:42 p.m. game at No. 23 Penn State.
“It didn't look great on Sunday, I can promise you,” Ferentz said. “It looked like we had three weeks off instead of a couple days, but they fell back in line (Monday) and looked more like a football team.”
Encouraging words for C.J.
Beathard needed the break as much as anybody. The fifth-year senior hasn’t had eye-popping numbers and, along with coordinator Greg Davis, has been an easy target for criticism regarding Iowa’s inconsistent offense.
Ferentz indicated that he and his staff have been providing more encouragement than criticism to Beathard, whose efficiency rating of 130.46 doesn’t even rank in the Big Ten Conference’s top 10 a year after he was named second-team all-conference.
“I'm not too worried about him. But everybody needs a kind word every now and then. It's a good thing,” Ferentz said. “But we all realize too, this is a competitive exercise, and we're competing against good people. And all you can do is all you can do. He's certainly doing that. He's totally committed.”
Part of Beathard’s so-so 2016 campaign could be that he’s been dealing with nagging injuries. He had sports-hernia surgery in January and dealt with knee and shoulder injuries even before the punishing grind of the season began.
After the bye week?
“I feel a lot better. I feel as good as I’ve felt in a while,” Beathard said. “It was good to just relax and hang out and rest for the weekend. We’re ready to play this week.”
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No overnight fix (sigh)
One thing the bye week probably didn't accelerate: building better chemistry between Beathard and his young receivers.
That disconnect continues to be a source of frustration for those inside and outside of the program. Fifth-year senior Riley McCarron — the lone veteran in the wide-receiver lineup — said Tuesday that a rapport with sophomores Jerminic Smith and Jay Scheel and freshman Devonte Young is “not going to happen overnight.”
That isn’t very reassuring for those seeking a quick fix. Beathard has connected with that young trio for just 19 receptions for 242 yards through eight games (Smith has 14 catches, Scheel five, Young zero).
Beathard spoke Tuesday about the need to execute better, especially on third downs, as he did with Tevaun Smith, Henry Krieger Coble and Matt VandeBerg (out for the season) a year ago.
“You’ve thrown to them for a long time, and you know their tendencies, how they run routes and stuff like that,” Beathard said. “Jerminic is a younger guy; there’s a lot of younger receivers in there now. Obviously the timing isn’t where you always want it to be, but it’s definitely improving.”
Kittle and other injuries
Of Iowa’s recovering-from-injury players, perhaps none would provide as much of a boost as a healthy George Kittle. The tight end is not only Beathard’s No. 2 passing target, he’s also one of the team’s best blockers.
Kittle tried to play through a right-foot injury against Wisconsin, but was ineffective and sat out the second half. What can be expected out of the senior this week in State College, Pa.?
“He'll be two weeks down the road from then. Hopefully, a lot better,” Ferentz said. “He's been better in practice. He's not 100 percent. Nobody is right now, at least the guys that have had injuries. … As you might imagine, (Kittle) did very little with us last week; a lot with the trainers.”
Ferentz seemed optimistic that left tackle Boone Myers and defensive tackle Nathan Bazata would return. Myers missed the Wisconsin game with a lower-leg injury. Right tackle Cole Croston also played through an ankle injury against Wisconsin.
“Boone and all those guys, hopefully, they'll be ready to go,” Ferentz said. “I don't know if they'll be 100 percent, but I think it will be tough to keep them out.”
Boettger, who is listed at left guard this week but made his first career start at left tackle vs. Wisconsin, wasn’t authorized to tip Iowa’s offensive-line hand.
“We’ll see what happens Saturday. I’m still moving around during practice,” said Boettger, the only offensive lineman to play in all eight of Iowa’s games. “Guys are always moving around. I don’t think we even know what the lineup’s going to be quite yet.”
Schedule stiffens up
Ferentz was loose and witty Tuesday. He even lobbed a little shade at pundits who ragged on Iowa’s schedule prior to the season.
Now, Ferentz’s Hawkeyes — fresh off the loss to now-No. 8 Wisconsin — are looking at No. 23 Penn State, No. 2 Michigan, Illinois and No. 10 Nebraska in November. (Iowa faced just two ranked opponents, Northwestern and Wisconsin, during last year’s 12-0 regular-season run.)
“Unbeknownst to the experts … our schedule looks a little more challenging than it did back in July,” Ferentz said. “I heard a lot of judgment about how easy our schedule is. I think we've got three ranked teams on the schedule right now plus an away game. But that's great.”