Improvements Sought Before MSU

Sept. 29, 2004

The Hawkeyes have had a rough two weeks.

They’re batting .500 through four games. They’ve fallen off the national polls. Injuries continue to mount, including the temporary loss of a key senior free safety in Sean Considine.

But Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and his team have been pleased with the small improvements they’ve seen in their coaching and play.

“We competed better and prepared better (against Michigan),” Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “That being said, we obviously didn’t play well enough to win. I think the mistakes and the key point of the game were pretty well documented on Saturday. We just didn’t do enough things well. We’re going to have to continue to reduce penalties and turnovers. If we can do that right there, that will help an awful lot.”

As for turnovers, the coach was blunt: “We’re maybe trying to do some of the things that we’re not veteran enough to do. Some of that is inexperience; some are breakdowns with us not being as precise as we should be in our execution. Whatever the reasons are, until we get them cleaned up, we’re not going to win consistently.”

With penalties, Ferentz was blunter still: “There was a penalty on special teams where a player had been warned and then on the next time got called for it. That’s a concern. That’s coaching. We communicated it, but we didn’t communicate it well enough for the players. Those are the things we have to get straightened out, or we’re going to have a problem.”

With a running game that’s produced 340 yards on the year, more of the same: “We haven’t had a lot of clean holes. We’ve been down that road before too. We had a ton of clean holes in 2002, and that’s why most of those guys are in the NFL right now. We’re at that point and I think we have to realize, that we’re not at the point we were at in 2002. We’re not built that way. I do think we’re going to improve.”

And that’s it. Improvement was the name of the game Tuesday, and no doubt the key note in this week’s practices going into Saturday’s homecoming game against Michigan State at 11:10 a.m.

For turnovers, including two interceptions by quarterback Drew Tate, Ferentz praised the first-year starter’s abilities: “In Drew’s case specifically, he’s really shown enough where I think we’re alright with the mistakes he’s going to make. And he’s going to make some. Considering what he’s been through the last two weeks, he’s probably not going to have it any tougher in his career. And the way he’s handled it, I admire what he’s done.”

Tate took hard knocks mentally and physically against Michigan last week, including a facemask that looked to have taken off his head as well as his helmet.

“He got whacked pretty good in all areas,” Ferentz said. “I have great respect for his toughness. If there was any question about that, he answered that one. I think all of us were concerned on that play, and it looked like it could have been pretty bad. But he was up and at them, and he was a little sore on Sunday but he was better on Monday. He’s ready to go.”

Outside of his toughness, Ferentz says that Tate has the ability to learn from his mistakes.

“The bottom line is that he made some fantastic plays out there. That was really great to see. That was a positive. To get the tight end really involved in our offense really helps us. That’s one of the solutions to our problem: to spread the ball around and get it to more people. It was great to see that, and he made some tough catches.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on Tight End Tony Jackson

“One good thing is that the coaches go away each night knowing he’s going to learn from his mistakes,” Ferentz said. “Chances are pretty good that he’s not going to make that mistake gain in the near future. I think we’re going to see continued improvement out of him. That’s the way he’s built. When he makes a mistake, it really hurts him. It really bothers him, which is great.”

For penalties, which took 48 yards away from the Hawkeyes last week, Ferentz was happy with the progress and the aggressiveness of the players.

“The penalties the other day were better,” he said. “I thought they were better. There are some penalties that we’re just going to have to live with. I’m OK with that. I always have been. There are still some things that have to be cleaned up.”

For the running game, Ferentz said this of the offensive line: “I think we’re making progress.”

And there’s also junior Marques Simmons, who has risen up the depth chart following the season-ending injuries of Marcus Schnoor and Albert Young. And with a 6.4-yard average run over two games and eight carries for 51 yards, the backup running back can help ease some of the pressure on starter Jermelle Lewis.

“We plan on playing him against Michigan State,” Ferentz said of Simmons, “and we’re going to have to write in ink how we’re going to do it – to make sure he gets in there a little bit. I think he’s earned that right. He certainly was very good against Arizona State, and that was really the first time we had to see him play since he hurt himself and missed some time in camp. He got more confidence in himself in Arizona, that’s for sure.”

But it wasn’t all improvement on Tuesday. Some things are going just fine. Take, for example, three-time letter winning tight end Tony Jackson.

The senior came into this season with just seven receptions in his first three years at Iowa, but he walked away from his home state last week with career numbers against the Wolverines. He collected four receptions for 61 yards, including a 24-yard catch on the first play. His performance also earned him his first captain position of the year.

“The bottom line is that he made some fantastic plays out there,” Ferentz said. “That was really great to see. That was a positive. To get the tight end really involved in our offense really helps us. That’s one of the solutions to our problem: to spread the ball around and get it to more people. It was great to see that, and he made some tough catches.”

There’s no doubt the Iowa team has had to endure some metaphorical tough catches recently, but its clear that the coach still believes the Hawkeyes’ fantastic plays will emerge.

Safety Sean Considine, linebacker Mike Humpal and tight end Mike Follett are all off the depth charts for Saturday’s homecoming game against Michigan State. Offensive lineman Todd Plagman and wide receiver Matt Melloy are questionable for the game, as well as possible right guard Brian Ferentz. Backup quarterback Jason Manson is also back to practicing with the team and will dress out again for MSU.

On defense, Abdul Hodge and Matt Roth will lead the swarm. On offense, tight end Tony Jackson and Pete McMahon will be the captains.

Barry Pump,