Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek talks about starting tackle Tristan Wirfs. Chad Leistikow / The Register
Tim Polasek is the Wisconsin native on Iowa’s football coaching staff. So he drew an interesting assignment this summer: Go back and watch film of the previous seven Hawkeye-Badger games to determine what has to happen for his team to better measure up against its chief rival for supremacy in the Big Ten West Division.
“It’s not like they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers from the '70s and we’re a college team,” Polasek said in an interview on Wednesday’s HawkCentral radio show on KxNO. “We’ve got to make some plays in some critical situations not only up front, but on the perimeter, in the kicking game, defensively, all that stuff. I don’t necessarily look at it that way, like we’ve got miles and miles to gain on them.”
Wisconsin has won five of the past seven meetings with Iowa, culminating in a 38-14 blowout in Madison last fall that was the most lopsided result in that stretch. That was Polasek’s first encounter with his home state team since becoming the Hawkeye offensive line coach.
“There’s a lot of people that I know are diehard Badger fans. And I don’t fault them for that,” said Polasek, a native of Iola. “But I’d sort of like to go home with a Hawkeye hat on and say, ‘You know what, I was part of that win’ and gave them a bad day.”
When watching film, Polasek’s attention naturally turns to his position group. He is encouraged by what he sees there and believes that if his blockers can help establish a solid ground game against the Badgers, the results will be much better than last year’s game in which Iowa failed to score on offense. Wisconsin visits Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 22 for the Big Ten opener.
“It’s not like we’re just getting knocked back on the offensive line. I think we’re moving the line of scrimmage,” Polasek said. “We’ve just got to find a way to help our offense get more rushing calls out there period. I think if we can get to a certain amount of runs, I think we can put up a decent number.”
Polasek also offered thoughts on several of his current players. The entire interview is available on a podcast at HawkCentral.com.
In what game did Hawkeyes most miss Ike Boettger and Boone Myers?
On losing senior tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers to injury last season, Polasek said his primary focus has been on the opportunity that afforded to freshman Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs to gain valuable experience. There was one Iowa loss, however, where he felt the absence of two veteran players was pivotal. “The Purdue game maybe. They were real multiple, especially on third downs and I think we had an assignment or two that we didn’t handle as well as we could have. Maybe those two guys being veterans, maybe would have played it out a little differently,” Polasek said of that 24-15 setback.
Alaric Jackson 'level-headed' but could use 'a little bit of nasty'
Polasek called Jackson a “pretty level-headed guy,” but wants to see the 6-foot-7, 320-pounder take the next step in his second year as a starter. “I think we got into some situations there that got sticky and he answered the bell. I think he went in there and did a really good job in the run game,” Polasek said of Jackson’s debut. “I really look forward to seeing how dominant of a guy can this guy become. Because he’s athletic enough, the size is there, and now can you maybe add a little bit of nasty toward the end of the play and really be a guy that finishes football plays the proper way?”
Tristan Wirfs, up to 328 pounds, 'was born to play football'
Polasek said Wirfs is up to 328 pounds in his second summer on campus. The 6-5 native of Mount Vernon responds well to strength and conditioning training. “He’s kind of one of those guys you look at it and say, ‘Man, that guy was born to play football,’” Polasek marveled. “He’s become hungrier. He’s become a better student of the game. He’s come in, he’s asked for assignments. Things to look into. Who can he study? What should he be watching?”
Keegan Render is the man in the middle. For now ...
Keegan Render, the most experienced returning lineman, continues to be the leader of the group, Polasek said, and is in line to be the starting center when summer practices begin late next month. Unless someone else shows that they can handle that position. “The real question is, is there another guy that can step in there and kick Keegan back to what some people perceive as his natural position at guard?” Polasek said. “Keegan and Ross (Reynolds) have both played winning football. Keegan is the logical answer right now. He’s the only guy that has experience playing that spot.”
Cole Banwart keeps pushing for playing time (at center?)
But Cole Banwart continues to come on strong. The sophomore has worked his way into the conversation at both center and right guard with a strong spring. “I’ve seen his body change. I’ve seen him get stronger. He just looks more like a Big Ten offensive lineman today than he did a year ago,” Polasek said of Banwart (6-4, 296). “If he can scramble. If he can be gritty on the football field, he’s going to find himself out there for some reps.”
Hawkeyes need to find ways to keep Levi Paulsen healthy
Levi Paulsen remains in the running to be a starter at right guard or a backup there and at the tackle spot after the junior missed spring with an injury. “We’ve got to do the best job we can do as a program finding a way to help him stay healthy. Whether that’s cutting back on some reps when we go to the physical stuff at practice,” Polasek said. “Every time he kind of gets going, there’s an injury that pops up.”
Three freshmen likely heading for redshirt ... with 'can't-wait mentality'
Don’t expect to see Iowa’s three newcomers on the offensive line take the field this fall. Polasek said the ideal plan is to redshirt Jack Plumb (6-8, 250), Cody Ince (6-5, 260) and Jeff Jenkins (6-4, 270). “They all have great feet. They’re all really good athletes,” Polasek said of the trio. “They have a little ways to go as far as putting the weight on. … I forecast those guys redshirting. (But) we’re going to have a can’t-wait mentality and we’re going to have urgency and there is no timeline. You need to be ready when you’re called on.”