IOWA CITY, Ia. — The much-maligned NCAA still revels in the student-athlete moniker, so perhaps some praise is heading Jake Gervase’s way after the preparation metaphor he dropped Tuesday.
“(With watching opponent’s film), it’s another whole class that you’re trying to study and prepare for, coming up for a big test on Saturday,” the Iowa safety said. “So it’s a big resource.”
Which makes this week’s Hawkeye cram sessions a bit interesting.
For the first time during Kirk Ferentz’s tenure (and likely well beyond that), Iowa’s Week 2 opponent has no Week 1 game film. Well, essentially no game film, after Iowa State’s opener against South Dakota State was canceled five minutes in because of inclement weather. The Cyclones snuck in one defensive series and a single offensive drive before lightning struck.
For foes as familiar as the Cy-Hawk participants, this unique twist isn’t likely to have an overwhelming impact on what unfolds Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. But considering how valuable players consider analyzing opponent tape in their game-week prep, adjustments have certainly been necessary in Iowa City.
“I mean, there’s always that sense of surprise, and you kind of almost take it like a first game again,” Hawkeyes center Keegan Render said. “You never know if there’s going to be some new changes, and I’m sure there will be.
“But basically, we’re just kind of going back and seeing last year’s game because we’re thinking that’s how they’re going to play (us again). Then just going forward and trying to be prepared for anything they throw at us.”
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No matter how dismissive Iowa’s situation may seem, the Hawkeyes are in a rare spot. Weather cancellations aren’t foreign concepts in college football, but they don’t occur often — especially during the opening weekend.
Over the previous 13 seasons, there have been just eight Week 1 FBS games to get either canceled or postponed and not made up later in the weekend. That includes the two last Saturday (Akron-Nebraska, along with Iowa State-South Dakota State).
In terms of altering opponents’ game prep, Week 1 terminations are really the only ones that carry some sort of impact. If storms hit any other week, teams have at least one game on film for foes to break down.
“If it happens, it happens — and you deal with it,” Ferentz said. “We've got a lot of film from a year ago with a lot of the prominent players that they have playing now. So you know, we use that film to try to study, and then conversely, they got a look at our guys and our new guys and that type of thing. I don't know if that's an edge or not. There's a lot of ways you could argue it I suppose.”
Ferentz said during Tuesday’s press conference that the closest mirroring scenario he’s experienced was one season, his Week 2 opponent played someone so terrible in Week 1 that the film was basically useless. However, a deeper dive through the Ferentz archives reveals he's actually encountered a similar situation to this week’s.
In 1992 — Ferentz’s final year at Maine — the Black Bears faced Division II Kutztown in Week 2. Maine had one game on tape, a 27-24 season--opening win over New Hampshire.
Kutztown had shown nothing. Weather didn’t play a factor, but the Sept. 12 trip to Maine was the Golden Bears’ 1992 season-opener. Ferentz’s squad emerged victorious, 10-0, for what it’s worth.
Twenty-six years later, after a sizable jump from the Yankee Conference to the Big Ten, it’s safe to say Ferentz’s resources have improved a tad in handling this oddity again.
As he, Render and other Hawkeyes alluded to, Cy-Hawk 2017 has been rolling on iPads and projectors all week — as Iowa looks to dissect every Cyclone tendency, formation and instinct imaginable from the film it has.
It’s not an exact replica, but enough pivotal pieces are back. Iowa State returns 12 starters from last year’s 44-41 overtime thriller, most notably David Montgomery, Hakeem Butler, Marcel Spears, Brian Peavy, D’Andre Payne and others.
“Whatever stuff they used that worked against us last year, I can expect to see that, because who wouldn’t use something that worked previously?” said wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who caught two touchdowns in Ames, including the game-winner.
“It helps me on gameday because when I see something — and I’ve seen it on film — it’s so much easier to react and do what I’ve been planning to do to perfection in that moment. It really helps, breaking down whatever you see on the film. And then it coming at game speed, it’s even better because it’s easier.”
There’s one obvious wrinkle the 2017 Cy-Hawk tape won’t provide. Quarterback Kyle Kempt was still a backup last Sept. 9, sitting behind Jacob Park until taking over at Oklahoma on Oct. 7.
There’s plenty of quality film on the redshirt senior — the Liberty Bowl win last December, the regular-season finale at Kansas State and of course the signature Sooner upset — and Iowa will likely lean on late-season tape to analyze Kempt the best it can.
He did lead one drive last week, capping it with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Deshaunte Jones. But it’s hard to gauge much off a handful of snaps.
Even without the cancellation, games from last season would’ve been mixed in with players’ typical workload. Just about every Hawkeye Tuesday pegged opponent’s game tape as the top resource during game prep, some saying they spend anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week analyzing film.
Call it a player’s study guide, for an exam taken in a 69,000-seat classroom.
“You’re studying for a big test,” Gervase said, “and you’ve got to be ready to go on gameday.”
Even if the circumstances are a bit different this week.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.