Sept. 30, 2003
Iowa’s lineup for Saturday’s game against Michigan hasn’t changed after a disappointing 20-10 loss last week at Michigan State, but Hawkeyes’ coach Kirk Ferentz is confident that the present team will improve.
“I think we’ve got the right guys out there, and we’re going to work to get better,” said Ferentz in his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “That’s really what we try to do every week, but certainly we have more to do on this week than any.”
No. 19 (USA Today/ESPN) Iowa hosts 11th-ranked Michigan in its homecoming and hopes to keep the Big Ten Conference title within its reach before a sell-out crowd of more than 70,000 inside Kinnick Stadium.
In order to keep the “typical” Wolverines from mauling the Hawkeyes, Iowa’s third-ranked scoring defense will have to keep quarterback John Navarre, who has 89-of-163 for 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, at bay, while working out some of its own jitters on offense.
“It’s hard to find a weakness in their football team,” said Ferentz. “Navarre is a thrower, and he’s a senior playing like a senior. It’s a typical Michigan team. They’ve strengthened themselves as a football team, and it’s going to be a great, great challenge.”
Although Navarre is a strong commander, Ferentz believes that his receivers and the offensive line are the keys to Michigan’s success.
“If you look at the supporting cast, I think that’s the secret of their success on offense,” he said. “It’s a little like us last year. They’re veteran up front and they have a lot of weapons across the board, so it’s not like any one player is having to carry the load for them.”
Ferentz pointed out wide receivers Jason Avant, Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston as players to watch.
Avant and Breaston, both sophomores, are starting at wide receiver, but Edwards, a junior, is one behind Breaston on the rotation.
Breaston is the Wolverines’ top punt returner with 15 returns for 316 yards and a 69-yard touchdown. He’s also the fourth-best receiver on the squad with 11 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. All of his touchdowns have been in the last two games.
Breaston also has the distinction of having being courted by Iowa two years ago. However, he never came to campus.
“Steve Breaston is a newcomer to the conference, but not to us,” said Ferentz. “He’s a guy we tried to recruit. I really felt he was the best player in Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. He’s one tremendous football player.”
Edwards is Michigan’s best receiver with 29 catches for 368 yards and four touchdowns, while Avant trails with 15 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown.
While the Wolverines have their depth and ability in offense, the Hawkeyes are still coming along.
Running back Fred Russell, seen here making a run against Michigan State, is a possible receiver option for the Hawkeyes
On Tuesday, Coach Ferentz confirmed that Ed Hinkel and David Walker would probably not come back into the rotation, leaving them on the sidelines with Jermelle Lewis, Albert Young and Maurice Brown, who are all out indefinitely.
That leaves last week’s lineup of Calvin Davis, James Townsend, Ramon Ochoa and Matt Melloy in at receiver for this week’s game.
After a game that saw four Iowa turnovers and several missed scoring opportunities, Ferentz said he worked with the receivers on Sunday.
“We’ll just continue to move along like we have been,” said Ferentz. “We’re just trying to be as smart as we can about what we ask them to do and give them some things that they can do well – maybe segment some things up so they can get some roles and be comfortable in what we do.
“We’re trying to carve out a niche with the younger players, so they don’t have to go in with the entire game plan on their docket,” Ferentz added. “We’re tinking around a little.”
The team of newcomers has left Ferentz pondering other options for the strongest offensive attack against the Big Ten rivals.
“I think we have to get him involved in more ways than just handing it to him.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on Fred Russell
One option included quarterback Nathan Chandler possibly throwing to running back Fred Russell.
“I think we have to get him involved in more ways than just handing it to him,” Ferentz said. “I think that would certainly help, and we had a little bit of that in the game last week, so we’re going to expand on that and keep fooling around to see if we can’t get him the balls in other ways.”
But Ferentz was sure to point out that there would be no quick fixes to his team’s offensive struggles.
“It’s like anything else,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of quick fixes for anything. It’s just a matter of working hard and meticulously. We need to try to make sure we give our guys the best game plan. There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com