Iowa takeaways: Ferentz downplays NFL talk on Jackson; Kulick's big moment

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz has seen reports that Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson could be a potential first-round NFL Draft pick if he were to leave school early.

And as he did a few times with Akrum Wadley in the past year, the Iowa head coach is downplaying such talk.

“I've got to tell you, with all respect to those draft board guys, it's always interesting,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “You check the draft boards from October to draft time, you know? It's good to throw stuff out there. Luckily, they don't have to get paid for accuracy.”

Iowa Hawkeyes fullback Drake Kulick (45) celebrates after scoring a touchdown as tight end Noah Fant (87) and Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Dante Booker (33) look on during the third quarter at Kinnick Stadium.

Jackson’s national profile has gained steam in recent weeks.

Last week, he was named one of 18 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player (Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell is also on that list).

This week,Jackson earned multiple national player-of-the-week awards after his dynamic, three-interception performance in Iowa’s 55-24 win against then-No. 3 Ohio State.

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound junior from Corinth, Texas, leads the country with 20 passes defended — 15 breakups, five interceptions.

So why isn’t he among the list of 13 Thorpe Award semifinalists? That award, won by Iowa’s Desmond King in 2015, honors the nation’s best defensive back.

But hope for Jackson is not lost. A spokesperson for the award told the Register on Tuesday that there is precedent to have a finalist who wasn’t among the group of semifinalists, which were announced in late October.


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Rare glory

Drake Kulick squirted out of the backfield Saturday on a pass route. It’s something he did hundreds of times at Muscatine High School, back when he was a wide receiver.

But at Iowa, Kulick is one of the team’s two primary fullbacks.

Fullbacks rarely touch the ball. Neither he nor Brady Ross has a carry this season.

So when Nate Stanley floated him a pass toward the end zone, the fifth-year senior walk-on wasn’t about to drop it. His 2-yard touchdown catch resulted in a 45-17 Hawkeye lead early in the fourth quarter.

“When he called the play, I saw there was a lot of Ohio State fans sitting right up there pretty close to the field,” Kulick said. “So I knew if I caught it I was going to go let them know that it was now a rout. So, yeah, when I caught it, I yelled at them a little bit. I liked to see the dismay on their face.”

Kulick’s first career touchdown served a feel-good moment, too, for a guy who suffered a broken leg early in last year’s home finale against Nebraska.

“Forget about a touchdown. If (fullbacks) get to touch the ball, it's a big moment,” Ferentz said. “But yeah, then you factor in Drake's story … it wasn't that long ago when he was out there in a lot of pain.”

'Punt to punt'

You've heard of day to day. Even week to week.

Now, it's "punt to punt."

That's the way Ferentz described his situation at punter, while putting his finger in the air as if ti measure which way the wind was blowing.

After moving freshman Ryan Gersonde atop the depth chart a few weeks ago, Ferentz went back to redshirt sophomore Colten Rastetter for punts in Saturday's win against Ohio State.

Rastetter has become a rugby-punt specialist of sorts, and Gersonde has been up-and-down. Rastetter is averaging 40.3 per punt; Gersonde is at 42.5. Even Stanley punted once last week on a quick kick for 47 yards.

"We'll just kind of keep going back and forth," Ferentz said. "Try to find a winning combination."

Maybe we should call it punting by committee.

An impressive stat

Before the 2015 season, Ferentz seemed to put a renewed emphasis on Iowa's four trophy games — played annually against Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes went 0-4 in such games in 2014, something that irked Ferentz. 

Since? Iowa is 9-1 entering Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game at Wisconsin.

"It's huge," linebacker Ben Niemann said. "... You want to dominate your region of the country. Those games are all rivalry games.

"Generally, if you're successful in those, you have a chance to have a successful season."

The one blemish? A 17-9 home loss to Wisconsin last October. The Heartland Trophy currently resides in Madison. 

“We’re going to go in there hungry," Kulick said. "They have our trophy. And we don’t plan on leaving there without it.”