How can Iowa football 'win' the bye week? Hawkeye coordinators emphasize several key factors
Iowa football didn’t have the luxury of the "24-hour rule" after its 24-7 loss against Purdue on Saturday. Usually one game is immediately replaced with another and the work starts on Monday. But this week, the wait to get back to work was longer and the Hawkeyes' opponent was internal.
On Wednesday, the Hawkeyes took the practice field for the first time since Saturday as a part of their bye week schedule. The immediate question was, after a loss momentarily halted their momentum, how would they respond?
“Everyone saw what happened over the weekend, how do you respond to that?” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said Wednesday. “It was really intriguing to get back on the field today and the energy they had out there was intriguing after a game like that.”
All three of Iowa’s coordinators: Parker, Brian Ferentz (offense) and LeVar Woods (special teams) spoke about the importance of the bye week. While it’s important to keep the foot on the gas for the most important stretch of the season, the opportunity to reflect and assess is equally important.
Despite Saturday’s loss, Iowa is 6-1 and ranked No. 11 in the country. To some degree, the Hawkeyes still control their destiny in the Big Ten West if they win out their next five games.
“The first thing you need to do is evaluate and take a good, hard look,” Ferentz said. “You develop that information, spend the first few days doing that and then when you look, are there actionable steps that we can take to improve some of these things?
“And you must come up for air, you have to take a breather. That’s a seven-week stretch of games plus training camp plus, plus, plus where you’re just going as hard as you can. You need to relax and step away a little bit.”
For injured players, the opportunity to rest more than normal allows for a quicker return to the field. And health is key for the remainder of the season. On the defensive side specifically there are three key injuries to monitor: defensive linemen Deontae Craig (undisclosed injury) and Logan Jones (leg) and cornerback Riley Moss (leg). Craig was a late scratch against Purdue but is expected to be a full go against Wisconsin. Jones, a former U.S. Army All American from Lewis Central, practiced fully on Wednesday and is also cleared for Wisconsin, Parker said.
Moss, the nation’s leader in interceptions, isn’t expected to practice this week — but don’t be surprised if he suits up next Saturday in Camp Randall.
“I think he looks good,” Parker said. “Knowing him I wouldn’t bet against him. He wasn’t going to practice this week anyway, there’s a lot of wear and tear on those guys.”
A lesser load for older players means that younger players and backups get more opportunity to get reps. Especially now with only five games remaining, there’s more flexibility for true freshmen to appear on special teams and sub-packages without the worry of losing their redshirt (four-game maximum).
Among those freshmen is athlete Cooper DeJean of Odebolt, who has appeared on offense and defense in practice. Both Parker and Woods praised his athleticism and predicted playing time for him soon.
“He’s a guy that I can see as a maybe do we want to use him down the road on special teams,” Parker said. “He’s got a great skill set. Where can he take a load off of a maybe a Terry Roberts, instead of him being on the kickoff team or punt team? Where can these guys help us that have these four games of eligibility left?”
Who else among the young players is making an impression? The current linebacker corps is set but the future is bright.
“Karson Sharar, Eli Miller, Kelby Telander, Zach Tweedt, Jaden Harrell and Justice Sullivan,” Woods said. “They bring it every day on scout team and special teams, they make it really hard on us. That young group of linebackers are going to be really good here.”
The coaches’ challenge this week for the players who will make the trip to Wisconsin is balancing the time of cleaning up past mistakes and re-visiting old concepts with looking ahead to future opponents. For special teams players, the emphasis is more on themselves.
“We worked exclusively on kickoff return today,” Woods said. “I went in and re-taught and re-installed some schemes today. Just trying to nail down some details. Some are schematic, some are technique wise and some are personnel wise.”
Offensively and defensively, Ferentz and Parker are looking ahead to installing prep for Wisconsin but also for opponents afterward. In a way, it’s a "mini off-season" where there’s more time to start thinking about game planning about opponents down the road.
Wisconsin is different schematically than most of Iowa’s past opponents, but lessons learned from a spread offense like Purdue's might help against teams like Minnesota and Nebraska.
“You try to look farther down the road and say what are we going to have to do against the teams we’re playing,” Parker said. “Obviously this Sunday is an extra day (to prep for Wisconsin) that’s going to help us out but going back and saying ‘Hey, do we need something else to help us in later games?’ Just to make sure you have enough ammunition in your toolbox.”
Wednesday marked a return of normalcy for the Hawkeyes as they went back to work and left Saturday’s game behind them. How can they "win" the bye week to set up a win on the field next week and beyond? Nothing special, Parker said, just abiding by their program philosophy.
“They’re ready for a great challenge,” Parker said. “I think the kids were really glad to get back, get back to football and working on improving. I think if we just stay that course of guys just trying to improve to be better than the last game that we played then you have a chance. And I think that’s what they're looking forward to.”
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org