Iowa running back Akrum Wadley was in a positive mood entering Saturday’s game vs. Minnesota. Chad Leistikow/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — In the days after the Iowa football team let a winnable game slip away at Northwestern, the players’ response was exactly what Hawkeye fans should want to hear.
Some of their best practices of the season.
“We put together a good Monday, a good Tuesday,” said running back Akrum Wadley, who was back to his affable ways Tuesday afternoon — a notable change from his brief, despondent responses to reporters’ questions following Saturday’s 17-10 overtime loss in Evanston, Illinois. “We’ve just got to finish and put together a Wednesday and Friday.”
What do good practices look like?
“When we cut down on mental mistakes, and we start humming,” Wadley said. “We’ve got guys running around, we’ve got guys executing great and we’re all going hard.”
The Hawkeyes (4-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten Conference) enter Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. home game with Minnesota (4-3, 1-3) as a 7-point favorite.
“We’re back to business. We’re not in panic mode,” Wadley said. “But we know we’ve got to win.”
It wasn’t just Wadley, the Hawkeyes’ quotable rushing leader, saying it. Even Nate Stanley, the reserved sophomore quarterback, said he noticed an uptick — particularly among an embattled offensive line that, in conference games, ranks 13th in the Big Ten at 95.3 yards a game.
“The last two days, yeah, they’ve seen it as an opportunity to elevate the offense as a whole,” Stanley said, “to be able to establish the running game.”
Some people reading this are rolling their eyes.
Yeah, good practices. Let’s see it on Saturday.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz hears you, and he’s seen instances over his 19 years at Iowa where good practices don’t translate to games. But at least this week, after losses in three out of four, is off to an encouraging start.
“If we're going to be a good football team — which has been our goal this year — to be a good football team and win out here,” Ferentz said, “we're going to have to improve every day. We've got to treat practice like it is special because it is."
Butler bracing for return
The run game could get a boost this week. James Butler, who hasn’t played since suffering a severe elbow injury Sept. 16 vs. North Texas, is practicing and has a chance to go against the Gophers.
“He’s been practicing. He (hasn’t) dropped the ball or anything,” Wadley said. “That brace hurts, too, whoever tries to tackle him. That might work in his favor.”
That’s the primary issue of concern for Ferentz on whether Butler, a graduate transfer who amassed more than 3,300 rushing yards at Nevada in three seasons, can protect the football while wearing a cumbersome contraption.
“We probably have to hit them a little bit tomorrow and tackle them a little bit, which we normally don't do,” Ferentz said. “But just to make sure he's confident and make sure we're confident. The tough thing here is that you really aren't going to know until he gets in the game.”
What this means: Butler probably isn’t going to attempt for a medical-hardship waiver, something Ferentz had considered a few weeks ago.
Wait 'til Ohio State
For whatever reason, the idea of alternate uniforms piques the interest of certain segments of any team’s fan base.
It’s not Ferentz’s thing, but you already knew that.
Still, he is having fun with it. He's pretty sure they won't be unveiled until Nov. 4 against Ohio State.
That “Blackout” game will kick off at either 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium.
“I can honestly say, if it was this week, I'd probably know. Is that fair? Although I could be the last to know, too,” Ferentz quipped. “I'm more worried about the game than the uniform.
“It really doesn't matter what we wear. Let's score touchdowns. Let's think about that. But I get it. I'm learning.”
The next alternate-uniform drama: What will they look like?
Stay tuned. (We know many of you will.)
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says the goal is to “win out” with five games to go. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Surely Iowa must have a better plan in place for punt returns this week?
“We'll keep an open mind on that,” Ferentz said. “The other day was a tough day.”
Joshua Jackson again answered questions Tuesday about his inability to track down punts, costing Iowa significant field position. The junior cornerback took over Iowa’s punt-return duties in Week 2 but has been learning what not to do on the job. For the season, he’s only returned five punts for 36 yards.
This week brings another challenge. Minnesota has the Big Ten’s leading punter in Ryan Santoso. He averaged 45.0 yards per boot.
“We have a different gameplan of what we want to do,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he’s been studying film of Santoso to get better pre-kick positioning, so he can track down whatever kick comes his way.
“You definitely want to stay in front of it,” Jackson said. “But when you get on the run, it makes it a little more challenging. You want to try to eliminate that with better alignment.”
Iowa center James Daniels knows the run game must get better. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Barking takes a bite
One more Northwestern topic, then it's (really) onto Minnesota week.
Did Wildcats linebacker Paddy Fisher bark signals to simulate Stanley's pre-snap cadence on a key fourth-and-inches call late in regulation?
It sure looked like it on TV.
On Tuesday, Iowa center James Daniels spoke about the play. He said he heard the middle linebacker (Fisher) moments before three Hawkeye linemen jumped for a key false-start penalty that caused Iowa to settle for a field goal.
If a defensive player is caught interfering with the offense's signals, it's supposed to be a five-yard delay-of-game penalty, sometimes known as "disconcerting signals."
That's a weird term, but not an entirely unfamiliar one. Iowa's defense was whistled for the same infraction in the third quarter of the Sept. 30 loss at Michigan State.
"Their mike linebacker, he said something. I forgot what he said," Daniels said of Saturday's penalty. "In that (situation), we’re going on first sound. We’re thinking about the first sound we hear, and that was the first sound we heard. So that’s why we jumped."