Oct. 22, 2003
The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes will take on unranked Penn State Saturday at 11.11am in front of a sold-out crowd inside Kinnick Stadium.
And despite the Nittany Lions’ 2-5 record, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is preparing for a challenge.
“I think their record right now is a little misleading,” he said. “If you look at the details right now, they’ve played three Big Ten football teams, which are all excellent teams and they’ve all been basically toss-up games – a mistake here and there. They’ve had two weeks to get ready for this one, and I expect a tough game on Saturday.”
Ferentz pinpointed Penn State’s defense, which gives up 338 yards per game on average but has allowed just 12 touchdowns, as an important strength of the team.
“It’s kind of interesting to me,” said Ferentz. “A lot has been made of the rushing defense yardage they’ve been giving up. If you look at the big picture right now, they’re a little like us last year on defense. They’re giving up yards, but they’re doing pretty well in terms of points and getting the job done with wins and losses.”
Offensively, Iowa will have to prepare for two different quarterbacks in Michael Robinson and Zack Mills.
“A lot has been made of the rushing defense yardage they’ve been giving up. If you look at the big picture right now, they’re a little like us last year on defense. They’re giving up yards, but they’re doing pretty well in terms of points and getting the job done with wins and losses.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
Robinson, a redshirt sophomore, has played at quarterback, tailback and wide receiver through the course of the season and is the team’s second leading rusher with 227 yards and two touchdowns. He’s gone 54-of-124 with four interceptions for 725 yards and three touchdowns.
Mills, a redshirt junior, has missed the last two games after a knee injury on a 14-yard first down run at Minnesota four weeks ago. Through the first five games of the season, Mills was 50-of-105 with three interceptions for 496 yards and one touchdown. Mills was put on the Davey O’Brien Award watch list and was a 2002 Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.
“Offensively, they were expecting Mills to be back,” Ferentz said. “But Robinson is a guy who can threaten you in a lot of ways too. He can throw the ball very well, but he’s also a very dangerous runner.”
However, the attack that Penn State can mount against the Hawkeyes will probably be equal to the Iowa defense, which remains the strongest element of the team.
The Hawkeyes have been able to hold opponents to 296.3 yards per game, while they have outscored their opposition nearly 2-to-1.
Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway led the defense with 78 tackles apiece, and Hodge has two sacks for 15 yards. Yet, Matt Roth and Howard Hodges lead in sacks with seven for 54 lost yards and eight for 38 negative yards respectively.
But the problems that Iowa faced last Saturday at Ohio State are dominating Ferentz’s thoughts, as the Hawkeyes work to level their Big Ten Conference record. “I wasn’t surprised by much on Saturday other than our letdown on special teams,” said the coach, who had to replace his son, Brian, at center with Eric Rothwell, after a knee injury.
A high snap by Rothwell in the fourth quarter led to an Ohio State safety in Iowa’s 19-10 loss to the Buckeyes.
But Ferentz is confident that Rothwell will grow into his new role.
“Eric’s a quality guy, and we’ll continue to work,” Ferentz said. “If you examine the circumstances [behind the safety], I think common sense would say it would happen. Just think about it, we’re down seven points with 80 yards to go against a very good defensive team with some guys who probably aren’t as experienced as you’d like.
“I knew all week [problems] were possibilities. I banked on it. But you’re not banking on breakdowns on special teams involving veteran guys that have done the same things well. They’ve executed before, and that’s where the focus has to be,” added the coach.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com