'A Great Challenge'

Nov. 17, 2004

Iowa vs. Wisconsin Live Game Coverage

You can count on it – no matter who the opponent. Every week Head Coach Kirk Ferentz says the same thing: “We have a great challenge this week.” This week, you got the impression he really means it.

No. 17 Iowa will host ninth-rated Wisconsin at 3:32 p.m. CST Saturday before another sellout crowd inside Kinnick Stadium – setting a season attendance record at the 75-year-old venue.

The game will be the first in the Heartland Trophy series, and it will also be a chance for the Hawkeyes to even the historic series between the two schools to 39 wins apiece dating back to 1894.

But there are some bigger and timelier ramifications to Saturday’s matchup.

If the Hawkeyes can pull out their seventh-straight win this season, and Michigan loses at Ohio State, they will hold a share of the Big Ten Conference title for the first time since 2002.

But three straight wins over Wisconsin, including a close 27-21 contest last year in the fog at Madison may be a little “too Hollywood” for Ferentz.

“It was really a special day for a lot of people, and if that opportunity presents itself again it would be wonderful,” the coach said recalling last year’s game that catapulted his team to the Outback Bowl, “but it’s probably too Hollywood. For that to happen twice in three decades would be pretty unbelievable.”

Ferentz says he hasn’t even given much thought to the possible league title.

“This year especially I haven’t done a lot of long-distance thinking,” he said. “I think all of us have been in the mode of looking right in front of us. Maybe that’s the way we’ve been able to survive, so all of this has caught up real quickly, so I frankly haven’t spent much time thinking about the ramifications with the title.”

The last time Iowa hosted a near top-10 team inside Kinnick was last year’s homecoming against Michigan, which was ranked 11th at the time – a game the Hawks won 30-27. And the coach said this time round is no different.

“I think all of us have been in the mode of looking right in front of us. Maybe that’s the way we’ve been able to survive, so all of this has caught up real quickly, so I frankly haven’t spent much time thinking about the ramifications with the title.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz

“I think we realize that it’s going to take our absolute best,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to take a great, great effort like (against Michigan) for us to have a chance in this ballgame. That’s where we’re at right now, and we’ll see where we’re at afterwards. I don’t think a lot of our guys are looking big picture right now.”

The coach did say the final score of the Michigan game, which will be known by kickoff at Kinnick, will be posted in the locker room.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Ferentz said. “I imagine they’ll all be curious and they’ll find out anyway. Players are going to find out, so probably it’ll be good to be on the board in the stadium.”

Outside of the motivation that score could provide the Hawks, the coach paid homage to the fans at Kinnick Stadium as the ultimate home-field advantage. With a win, Iowa will have won 18-straight at home.

“When it’s all said and done, it comes down to us playing well at home, and our fans have been a tremendous boost,” Ferentz said. “I think Kinnick is like the old bandbox gyms where the stands are right up next to the playing court. I think it’s very similar situation with the proximity of our fans. It’s a tough place for our opponents, and they’ve really got to be focused.

“I can’t say enough about the energy level they bring into the stadium, or what it’s done for this football team,” the coach added.

For the first time in weeks, Coach Ferentz gave an injury report that was “fairly decent.” Of the recently injured, Sam Brownlee, Mike Elgin and Lee Gray will be ready to go on Saturday. The only question mark, says the coach, is Marques Simmons, who is still recovering from an ankle sprain.

“He has not done anything since being injured,” Ferentz said, “and on Sunday was not even close to 100 percent. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not going to be too optimistic on that front.”

Saturday’s game at Kinnick will be the last home game for 15 seniors, and Coach Ferentz named his captains accordingly. Jonathan Babineaux, Matt Roth, Sean Considine and Pete McMahon will lead the swarm and represent Iowa at the coin toss.

The dental school car parks will not open until 11 p.m. on Friday evening due to the basketball games that will be played that night. The men host Western Illinois at 8 p.m. and the women host the first round of the KCRG-Hawkeye Challenge earlier that evening, so the parking will be reserved for those events earlier in the day.

The Hawkeye Express’ first whistle will blow at 12:15 p.m. and continue to 3:15. Service from the stadium will start at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Fans are advised to get to their spots as early as they can and expect delays, as there will be six events altogether in a 48-hour period between Carver-Hawkeye Arena and Kinnick.

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com