Ferentz Takes on Football Frontiers

Oct. 28, 2003

By and large, the 2003 season has been quite a success so far.

Iowa has outscored its opponents nearly two-to-one. The Hawkeyes have only two losses, and those are to the defending national champions and the team atop the Big Ten Conference standings. Furthermore, Iowa has 1333 rushing yards compared to just 589 from opponents courtesy of a stellar Iowa defense and running back Fred Russell.

But there are some football frontiers the Hawkeyes have yet to tame.

The first and foremost is the series of injuries that have afflicted the Hawkeyes. It’s no secret that Iowa’s been on quite a tumultuous run of bad luck, the litany not needing to be read yet again. However, the team has persevered and moved on.

And on Saturday when the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes take on unrated Illinois inside Kinnick Stadium, they’ll have to again.

Missing from the team’s line-up will be James Townsend and Eric McCollom for certain. And this early in the week, coach Kirk Ferentz only said that some of the rest remain “in limbo”.

Jared Clauss and Grant Steen are in the “maybe” column along with Erik Jensen, George Lewis, Jermelle Lewis and Ed Hinkel.

“I think all the guys in that group have a chance to play,” said Ferentz at his Tuesday press conference. “I don’t know if it’s a good chance or a fair chance. We’ll know that in a couple of days.”

So, it’s “next man in” time for the Hawkeyes.

Mike Follett, a 6-foot-5, 252-pound sophomore, will take over for Jensen at tight end, while Matt Neubauer will jump up to fill Clauss’s position at defensive tackle leaving the added opening at tackle to Derreck Robinson, who made a solid appearance in last week’s 26-14 victory over Penn State by taking out quarterback Zack Mills for a 3-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

But one bright bit of news from the injury front is that senior wide receiver Maurice Brown is likely to take a few snaps on Saturday, the first time he’s been in a game since Sept. 13.

“Part of the reason we’ve been able to move forward is that our guys who haven’t played much are doing a phenomenal job for their experience level. We have some guys doing some great things this year.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

“I think Mo Brown will probably be able to get his feet wet a little bit,” Ferentz said. “He’s progressively gotten better. I think he improved at the end of last week. He worked a little bit on Sunday, and we plan on phasing him in this week. If the week goes well, there’s a chance he’ll be out there to play on Saturday. I doubt he’ll take many snaps, but a little to get him going.”

With Brown’s progressing recovery, the Hawkeyes have another option for a passing game that was seriously disabled after his injury. In fact, it wasn’t until Iowa’s match-up with Ohio State on Oct. 18 that Ramon Ochoa surpassed Brown as Iowa’s leading receiver, despite having missed a month of action.

“It gives us an experienced player, which would be a welcome relief,” said Ferentz. “But I say that with all due respect. Part of the reason we’ve been able to move forward is that our guys who haven’t played much are doing a phenomenal job for their experience level. We have some guys doing some great things this year.”

Another frontier yet conquered by the Hawkeyes over the last five years is the defeat of Illinois.

So far, Ferentz and his crew have yet to see a win against the Illini, since returning to the program following the 1998 season.

But that fact is not one to worry about. Iowa hasn’t played Illinois since a 31-0 Illini win at Champaign in 2000. Moreover, Illinois has recorded just one win this season and it wasn’t against a Big Ten opponent.

Yet, Ferentz knows the game would be an important one to win. If he comes out victorious, the only team in the conference that he wouldn’t have recorded a victory against is Ohio State.

And more importantly, if a win is listed in Hawkeyes’ column on Saturday, Ferentz will have a winning record (29-28) for the first time in his Iowa career.

“We’ve had two phases so far,” said Ferentz. “We had the first 20 games where we got kick pretty hard. And since that time, we’ve been a team that other teams have to practice for at least and get ready for when they play us. To me, there have been two phases to what we’ve done. I’m certainly enjoying the second phase a lot more.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com