IOWA CITY, Ia. — This probably sounds like a broken record by now: Don’t expect any radical changes in Iowa’s approach as the football season winds down.
“I’m confident we’re utilizing our personnel as well as we can,” head coach Kirk Ferentz affirmed Tuesday.
The 5-4 Hawkeyes’ next challenge will be the stiffest one yet, when a 9-0, No. 3-ranked Michigan comes to town for Saturday’s 7 p.m. clash at sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
The game plan? Improved execution.
Again, broken record.
But as middle linebacker Josey Jewell described what went wrong in a 41-14 loss at Penn State, it became clear that some Hawkeye defenders were trying to do stuff they weren’t supposed to do.
As a result, Penn State had five plays alone that totaled 234 yards — not the characteristic of a bend-don’t-break defense.
“People doing their own job. Staying focused on their keys,” Jewell said. “That’s a big thing we have to do this week. Stay focused on what your job is, and being able do your job at the best level you can and not try to do anybody else’s job. If you do somebody else’s job, you’re going to put everybody else out of position. If you do your own job, we’ll be fine.”
Iowa linebacker and captain Josey Jewell discusses Iowa's constantly improving leadership
Iowa’s defense is built around discipline and executing assignments.
On offense, there won't be much different, either. It’s too late in the season to implement scheme changes, Ferentz said.
“I guess I'm not aware of a lot of them that have worked (mid-season), whether it's coaching changes or system changes,” Ferentz said. “I think that's probably ill-advised. That would be my guess. At any level, I think that's probably really taking away from than adding to, unless you have kind of character issues involved, things like that.”
Ferentz was also asked if offensive coordinator Greg Davis was still calling the plays. Ferentz indicated he is.
The outlook seems bleak for right tackle Cole Croston to return. He’s been battling a lower-leg injury that’s kept him out of two of Iowa’s last three games and wasn’t listed on Monday’s depth chart.
“You know, it's day-to-day,” Ferentz said. “It's not great right now. Yeah, it's not great. We'll see.”
That means the Hawkeyes will likely give Keegan Render his third straight start at left guard. Injuries have juggled the offensive line — Ferentz’s positional area of expertise — throughout the season.
The coach cited those reasons, plus the losses of all-Big Ten players Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh, to explain a big part of why Iowa is ranked 93rd nationally in rushing and 100th in sacks allowed.
“The continuity hasn't been exceptional, and we've had some guys that have been a little bit limited physically,” Ferentz said. “So that doesn't help things.”
Look for tight end George Kittle, one of Iowa’s best blockers, to be limited vs. the Wolverines.
“He's playing as hard as he can. He's not at 100 percent right now, and that's just — it’s tough,” Ferentz said. “We have several guys like that, and I'm sure other teams do, too, so it's one of those things, but it's hard, especially when a guy is a senior.”
LEISTIKOW: Ferentz, Hawkeye players defend their heart
Waechter leaves the team
Offensive lineman Brett Waechter shared on social media Tuesday the reason why he recently left the Iowa football program.
Waechter (pronounced WAX-tur) tweeted an explanation shortly after Ferentz revealed that the 6-foot-5, 290-pound redshirt freshman — who began the season as the No. 2 left tackle — departed for medical reasons.
Waechter reported that he has struggled with repeated vomiting for the last four years, including while at Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School, and that it only got worse trying to battle through it at the Division I level.
“It is hard enough when things are going well for people, but when things don’t go well, that is when it becomes impossible,” he wrote. “My puking was what made it impossible for me. Towards the end of my time, it came to the point that I couldn’t even hold water down during practice.”
Waechter's mother, Rhonda, told the Register that her son has been diagnosed with ulcers and has lost 20 pounds in recent months. Doctors have unsuccessfully tried to treat Waechter's symptoms.
It was a sad revelation and short end to a lineman’s career.
Waechter is eligible to remain on scholarship, and because the departure is for medical reasons he won't count against Iowa's limit of 85 football scholarships.
No alternate jerseys, probably
Saturday marks the Iowa program’s second-ever home November night game.
The first, a year ago against Minnesota, saw the Hawkeyes bust out some sleek, alternate Nike uniforms with black pants and black jerseys.
Saturday’s game, like last year’s, is a “Blackout” for fan attire – but it doesn’t sound like it will be for the players.
Desmond King said he didn’t know of any alternate-jersey plans.
Added LeShun Daniels: “I’m assuming it’ll just be normal stuff. Who knows? No clue.”
Running backs’ workload
Iowa has struggled running the football in the past two games — 113 combined yards on 53 attempts (2.1 per carry) in losses to No. 7 Wisconsin and No. 14 Penn State. That is no fault of how the Hawkeyes are using Daniels and Akrum Wadley, in Ferentz’s view.
“They're certainly different types of backs, whether it's situational or series-wise. But our plan will be (to) keep playing them both,” Ferentz said. “I think they're 25 snaps apart from each other offensively right now, and I really think it's best for both guys if we do that.”
How Iowa is using Wadley (6.7 yards a carry on 99 attempts) and Daniels (5.0 on 129) has squeezed out opportunities for Derrick Mitchell Jr., who finished last season and started this one as the third-down back. Mitchell did not play against Wisconsin or Penn State.
“He's our third guy,” Ferentz said of Mitchell. “We're trying to work Akrum and LeShun as much possible, and it's hard to spread it around more than two guys, especially right now (as) those two guys are playing very well.”
Ferentz encouraged his players and coaches to vote in the U.S. Presidential election, and he said that many did during the bye week via early or absentee balloting.
“There was a time in our country where not everybody was eligible to vote,” said Ferentz, a former teacher. “So we shouldn't take that for granted. There are a lot of people in this world that don't have that option.
“We have our challenges as a country certainly, but it's still the greatest country in the world.”