Iowa takeaways: Tough finishes for Boettger, Myers; Ferentz hints at lineup change
IOWA CITY, Ia. — You’ve got to feel for Ike Boettger and Boone Myers — native Iowans and self-made Hawkeye offensive linemen who have known for a while that they wouldn’t get to play another football game in Kinnick Stadium.
The Senior Day ceremony before Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. football game against Purdue won’t be what either fifth-year player would’ve wished for or envisioned.
“It’s been frustrating,” Myers said. “Stuff happens. In life, you’ve got to keep moving.”
Said Boettger: “Just taking it day by day. It’s a little tougher your senior year, I’d say.”
Between them, they have 45 career starts. As sophomores, Myers and Boettger were starting tackles for an Iowa team that won 12 games and went to the Rose Bowl.
Both spoke Tuesday for the first time to media about their senior years getting cut short — and the injuries that occurred.
Boettger ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon in the third quarter of Iowa’s 44-41 overtime win vs. Iowa State on Sept. 9. It was a seemingly harmless running play in which he crumpled to the Jack Trice Stadium grass.
“I felt like I got rolled up on,” Boettger said. “And then watching the film, nobody even touched me. It was kind of a freak thing.”
The rehab has been slow. He was essentially off his feet for two straight months, saying he's just recently been "learning how to walk again." Doctors are projecting another 2-4 months until he’s full strength. His next football will be NFL Draft preparation.
While Boettger’s injury was sudden, Myers’ right ankle injury was ongoing and painful. He gutted through Iowa’s first five games as a part-time left guard, trying to contribute when needed, but ultimately realized after the Sept. 30 Michigan State game that he couldn’t continue and had surgery.
“You know what to do. You know how to do it. You just can’t do it,” Myers said of the helpless feeling. “I thank the coaches. They let me play as much as I could. ... But yeah, there’s a point where you’ve just got to get it fixed.”
Unlike Boettger, Myers is hopeful to play in a bowl game. Iowa (6-4) has already qualified for one. He would need to be ready in about six weeks. He was in a walking boot during interviews Tuesday.
Both linemen have transitioned to coaching freshman replacements Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs.
"Knowing you’re helping those guys out for the future, there’s nothing like that," Myers said. "I’m proud of those guys.”
But it’s no doubt a bummer of a regular-season finish for a converted tight end from Cedar Falls who packed on 70-plus pounds to crack the lineup (Boettger) and a walk-on from Webster City who bypassed lower-level offers to live out his Hawkeye dream (Myers).
“It's tough that those guys aren't able to play right now and contribute,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But … if there's a happy ending to this, at least both those guys have been parts of a lot of good moments during their career."
Change at punt returns?
Ferentz sounded like a coach ready to try something new in the punt-return game, where senior Matt VandeBerg’s failure to field two punts during Saturday’s 38-14 loss at Wisconsin resulted in dozens of yards of lost field position in the crucial second quarter.
That was a recurring problem for his predecessor, Josh Jackson, too.
“Matt missed a little practice time a week ago, so that doesn't make the challenge any easier for him,” Ferentz said. “There's a real art to that, too, but it helps to be out there every day and get the practice and all that kind of stuff. We'll play it by ear right now.”
Iowa listed true freshman Max Cooper, not Jackson, as VandeBerg’s top backup at punt returns on its depth chart Monday.
Asked if that position is up in the air, Ferentz said: “Definitely, yeah.”
Could Cooper be next man in? “Yeah, he definitely is in the equation.”
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Iowa players seem to have moved on from Saturday’s humbling loss. Some are finding extra motivation.
Gaining just 66 yards — a low in the 19-year Ferentz era and one of the lowest outputs in Iowa football history — has a way of doing that.
“We played poorly,” senior fullback Drake Kulick said. “And this week we’re going to go out there and make sure we make up for it.”
Linebacker Josey Jewell said it was important to not let any of that miserable day fester.
Quarterback Nate Stanley probably is glad to be coming back to Kinnick Stadium. His homecoming of sorts went poorly, and he attributed Camp Randall Stadium’s noise and crowd of 80,462 as a factor.
“Camp is a pretty hostile environment,” Stanley said Tuesday. “That’s another mental thing that you have to prepare for. I think we obviously didn’t handle it very well.”
The sophomore completed eight of his 24 passes for 41 yards with three turnovers. He was also sacked four times for 37 yards playing in his home state.
Stanley also said the Badgers didn’t do anything special to take Iowa’s tight ends out of the gameplan. Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson combined for only one catch Saturday after scoring four touchdowns the week before in a home upset rout of Ohio State.
“They just got a lot of pressure on us,” Stanley said of Wisconsin. “Their cornerbacks and safeties are pretty good. They did a great job at playing them single coverage.”
Most of Tuesday’s questions to players and Ferentz centered on seniors.
But make no mistake, there’s a tricky opponent coming to town Saturday. Ferentz pointed out in his opening statement that the 4-6 Boilermakers gave Wisconsin all it could handle in a 17-9 loss earlier this season in Madison.
The Hawkeyes are favored by 8½ points, probably because of the perception that Purdue is without injured quarterback David Blough. But his backup, sophomore Elijah Sindelar, has played a lot this season in a time-share with Blough. In his first game as a full-time starter, Sindelar completed 37 of 60 passes for 376 yards in Saturday’s 23-13 loss at Northwestern.
“I'm sure they'd feel better having (Blough) out there, but this guy (Sindelar) is really throwing the ball well,” Ferentz said. “He runs it better than you might think he can, so he can run it and throw it. And they throw it all over the place.
“They do a lot of things that are tough to prepare for because they're very, very diverse. Not afraid to pull something out of their hat, too, at any time. So you've just got to be on edge at all times."