Iowa takeaways: Hawkeyes' alternate jerseys are 'Awesome!' Plus, value of Jewell, Butler

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Alternate uniforms may not seem like a big deal to everyone. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has made it clear he prefers the Hawkeyes' traditional uniforms, while we're on the topic.

But player after player who was asked about the team's “Blackout” uniforms for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game against No. 3 Ohio State couldn’t help but grin.

“I love the uniforms,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “I told Coach, 'that’s the swag.'”

Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Shannon Brooks (23) is tackled by Iowa Hawkeyes linebackers Josey Jewell (43) and Ben Niemann (44) and defensive back Jake Gervase (30) and defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium.

The Hawkeyes will wear a mostly-black uniform the school unveiled Sunday night with staged photos of some of Iowa’s star players that were taken on the Wednesday of the team’s bye week.

“I got to see them a couple weeks ago,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “I was sworn to secrecy — I couldn’t tell anybody. We weren’t even allowed to take our phones in.”

Cornerback Joshua Jackson was another player who got an early glimpse. He was asked shortly thereafter about the photo shoot by curious teammates.

“All my teammates were asking what it looks like,” Jackson said.

The players seemed to like the helmets best — a black Tiger Hawk with a gold outline on one side, the player’s jersey number in black (also with gold outline) on the other.

"They look good," Wadley said.

Running back James Butler even said the new lid even feels better. The team’s been practicing with them this week.

“They’re just really soft,” Butler said. “Feels new.”

Do the one-time jerseys make a difference on the scoreboard?

Surprisingly, they might.

“I believe so, to be honest. If you look good, you play good,” Butler said. “A lot of guys are going to be feeling themselves. Hopefully, we play up to it.”

Ferentz isn't so sure about that. He played along with a string of hilarious answers to show his (fake) excitement for the alternate jerseys.

"I couldn't sleep Saturday night. I mean, I was so excited. So excited," Ferentz said. "It was even better to see the helmets. We wore the helmets in practice today. I was trying to concentrate on what we were doing, but I kept looking at those helmets. Those were awesome. Awesome!"

Ferentz then deadpanned, "I'm probably killing our recruiting effort right now."

Jewell's pain threshold

If you watched the Minnesota game, you probably noticed Josey Jewell crumple to the ground — flat on his back — after taking direct contact to his injured right shoulder while making one of his team-high 11 tackles.

“I don’t know if it was from that,” Jewell said Tuesday, “or my neck.”

It was the star middle linebacker’s way of saying he’s playing through all kinds of pain right now.

Despite missing the Oct. 21 Northwestern loss with that shoulder issue, Jewell remains the Big Ten’s leading tackler (with 80) and this week was named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker) and Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player).

“Right now, you just look at it as, ‘That’s cool.’ And you try to get back to work,” Jewell said, “and try to have it actually mean something at the end of the year.”

That means gutting it out on the field.

Iowa's Josey Jewell (43) and Iowa's A.J. Epenesa (94) tackle Minnesota's Rodney Smith during their football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Iowa City. Iowa would go on to win 17-10 to take home the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.

Jewell said the process to get him ready to play involves a lot of treatment.

His intelligence and performance in the middle of Iowa’s defense is impossible to measure. No matter what percent he is, the fifth-year senior will be out there Saturday against Ohio State.

“Once it gets to the end of the year, you’re always going to have pain,” Jewell said. “You’re never going to play 100 percent after the first week.

“I think I’ll be fine for this week. Everything’s going to be alright. It’s gotten a lot better from past weeks.”

In other injury news: Ferentz said free safety Brandon Snyder was out again this week and did confirm it was an injury to the same knee in which he had ACL surgery in April. Snyder returned for one game, Oct. 7 against Illinois, before being sidelined again. 

Ferentz vs. Meyer, Part III

Saturday marks just the second time Iowa has faced Ohio State since Urban Meyer became the Buckeyes' head coach prior to the 2012 season.

But this will mark Ferentz's third head-to-head meeting with Meyer, who was presiding over Florida when the Gators met Iowa in the 2006 Outback Bowl.

Ferentz said he didn't remember much from that 31-24 loss. But he did remember the fake punt Florida ran from its own 19-yard line in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1. It worked.

"That's a head coach's call right there," Ferentz said. "I mean, that's filed away."

Ferentz also lost, 34-24, to Meyer's Buckeyes in a 2013 meeting in Columbus, Ohio. He is 1-8 against Ohio State, the lone win being a 33-7 rout in 2004. The Buckeyes have been ranked in the top 10 in every meeting during their five-game win streak vs. Iowa.

"I'm guessing if you checked any coach's record in the Big Ten that didn't coach at Ohio State," Ferentz said, "they might have the same (disparity)."

Butler's value

Is using a one-armed running back ideal for the Hawkeyes?

Probably not, but that's the plan going forward. Ferentz said he was pleased with Butler's performance against Minnesota. Although the graduate transfer from Nevada gained 28 yards on 11 carries, he gave Wadley (16 carries, 70 yards) relief.

Butler played with a cumbersome brace around his right arm in his first game since suffering a serious elbow injury Sept. 16 against North Texas.

"He's such a quality young man, and he's a guy that I think gives us some energy and his leadership; we don't have a lot of seniors in that huddle," Ferentz said. "So you get another senior with good eyes stepping in that huddle. That's a really, really, positive thing for us."

Would Iowa be better off using a similarly sized freshman (who is healthier) in Toren Young? Perhaps. But it's clear Butler is giving Ferentz some intangibles that he likes. It's worth seeing this play out.

More on the return of James Butler:Fresh legs, balanced backfield and a big ol' brace