Iowa football notes: Night games, media day trio, blocking tight end, maturing cornerback

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — There are four home football games that Iowa may play under the lights this fall, and if the suspense is killing you, well, you’re not alone.

“Change is tough,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Tuesday, speaking of a new stipulation in the TV contracts that allows for a delay in the announcement of kickoff times until 12 days before the game. “In the old model, we would know in April or May (about night games). I think that was easier for fans to plan.”

Of the Hawkeyes’ seven home games, the start times for three have been announced: an 11 a.m. start against Wyoming in the Sept. 2 season opener, a 2:30 p.m. start against North Texas on Sept. 16, and an 11 a.m. start for a homecoming contest against Illinois on Oct. 7. That leaves four — against Penn State on Sept. 23, Minnesota on Oct. 28, Ohio State on Nov. 4 and Purdue on Nov. 18 — that are up in the air, and could be for weeks to come.

The last night game at Kinnick Stadium produced this moment -- Keith Duncan's game-winning field goal against Michigan. Which games will be under the lights this fall? Fans won't know for months.

Barta said those decisions are out of his hands.

“I’m not going to be able to go to the Big Ten and get that differently. I don’t know that Penn State, Ohio State or Minnesota are going to be night games, but I know at least a couple of those probably are,” he predicted. “You can get your crystal ball out, pretend you’re a TV executive for a minute and decide which one of those you might pick for a night game and probably have a pretty good idea, even though you can’t confirm it until later.”

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Three seniors to Chicago

Iowa announced Tuesday that seniors Josey Jewell, Matt VandeBerg and Sean Welsh will head to Chicago on July 24 for the annual Big Ten media days gathering. Jewell also attended last year, making him the first Hawkeye in Kirk Ferentz’s 19 years as coach to go in back-to-back years.

Iowa’s contingent will meet with the media on the first day of the two-day event. Ferentz will have a news conference at 1:15 p.m. July 24. The athletes will conduct interviews at 4 p.m.

No Wadley, though

Senior tailback Akrum Wadley was not selected for the Chicago trip. He seemed slightly deflated by that news when he met with reporters Tuesday.

“I spoke with coach, and we’ve got strong senior leadership. He could’ve chosen anybody. He chose who he chose, and we’re moving on from there,” Wadley said.

“Did I want to go? I mean, why not? Who wouldn’t want to go? But it is what it is.”

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Pekar a happy blocker

Go ahead and call Peter Pekar a “blocking tight end.” The Hawkeye senior won’t be offended. He’s cultivated that role for himself carefully since arriving on campus five years ago from Greendale, Wis.

“It’s something I really put my time and effort into because I realized that’s probably my strength,” Pekar said. “I knew I wasn’t as athletic as a lot of guys, coming in. I was fine with that. Honestly, getting some playing time was my goal, and I kind of realized, as I got older — this is kind of my niche, is blocking. I don’t take offense to it. I take pride in it. That’s kind of where I carved a niche for myself, and I’m going to continue to help the team as much as I can in any aspect.”

Pekar enters the summer listed at Iowa’s starting tight end after the graduation of George Kittle — despite having only one catch for five yards last year. He said he’d like to get more involved in the passing game this season but is also concentrating on improving his run-blocking.

“I can catch the ball. It’s just there’s a lot of very talented guys,” Pekar said of a tight end group that now numbers eight. “It takes a whole team to win a game.”

Jackson becomes the mentor

Josh Jackson has gone from understudy to the old man of the cornerback group for Iowa — and it’s been a quick transition for the junior, who made his first career start in the Hawkeyes’ last game, an Outback Bowl loss to Florida on Jan. 2.

“Everybody moves on. It’s up to the next guys to come in with the same mindset to get the job done. That’s all I’m focused on,” said Jackson, a junior, after the graduation losses of last year’s starters — Desmond King and Greg Mabin.

Jackson and sophomores Michael Ojemudia and Manny Rugamba are the only three returning cornerbacks for Iowa. Some freshmen arrived last month to bolster their ranks, but it’s too soon to know if they'll make an impact.

Jackson is doing his part by being the teacher, and he said the newcomers are eager to learn.

“It’s a very competitive sport, and I think preparation is really the great determining factor between winning and losing,” said Jackson, who combines good size (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) with good speed.

Now, he just needs experience, after recording 10 tackles and four pass breakups in 12 games last season.

“You’ve got to have a short-term memory at defensive back,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to stay focused. Make plays, miss plays — but, regardless, you have to finish the game.”

Register columnist Chad Leistikow contributed to this story.

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