Aug. 28, 2007
IOWA CITY — Stress from the past week and anxiety from a pending season-opener couldn’t rob Kirk Ferentz of his sense of humor Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
The head football coach at the University of Iowa suspended two wide receivers last week after an investigation into misuse of a credit card. This Saturday Ferentz and his Hawkeyes travel to neutral site Soldier Field in Chicago to play a Northern Illinois team that finished 7-6 last season and is a perennial threat in the Mid-American Conference. Neither of these factors could keep the ninth-year coach from bringing chuckles from the crowd at his weekly media gathering in the Jacobson Football Building.
Ferentz was asked what the atmosphere would be like for the players from Chicago who were returning to the area. He responded with an anecdote from his childhood.
“I remember playing a baseball game in Three Rivers when I was a kid,” Ferentz said. “That was a real thrill, too. Of course there were like five fans there when we were playing.”
There will be several thousand more fans at Soldier Field on Sept. 1, and according to UI sports information director Phil Haddy, a majority will be supporting the Hawkeyes. Haddy said that “on the low end” there will be 40,000 UI fans in attendance and that one Hawkeye supporter “bought nine suites in Soldier Field himself.” Although Haddy would not say that it was an Iowa home game, he did admit that “there are going to be probably more Iowa fans there than any other.” (Soldier Field has an official seating capacity of 61,500).
An actual game is something most, if not all, of the Iowa players are itching for after three weeks of camp.
“The guys did a real nice job of keeping their focus where it had to be. We moved on as a team, as a staff. All that being said, we brought some things upon ourselves. We had a media feeding frenzy last week and we opened the door for it. We’re anxious to get into a game week routine, but if we do something that’s not what it’s supposed to be, we open the door for more distractions and hopefully we put that behind us.”
UI Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
“Clearly we’re anxious to get going,” Ferentz said. “The team was happy to break camp and get their sites toward the season. The nice thing about three weeks of camp — we had a good time to really meet with the players extensively. We had a lot of good meeting and practice time.”
Injuries will prevent at least three Hawkeyes from participating against Northern Illinois. Defensive tackle Karl Klug, who was listed on the two-deep released last Friday, had “minor” foot surgery and Ferentz expects him to miss 4-6 weeks. He said it would also be “unrealistic to think” that receiver Paul Chaney, Jr., or offensive lineman Dace Richardson would play this weekend.
Although the Hawkeyes and their fans are counting the days until the season-opener, Ferentz emphasized that there is still plenty of work to complete prior to kickoff.
“We have some work to do this week, no doubt about it,” he said. “We’re anxious to get started with our game preparation. We’re anxious to kick the season off and I think it will be an exciting trip. It won’t be as hostile an environment as we’re typically accustomed to when you travel, but nonetheless, it’s going to be a road trip. That’s a challenge we’ll have to handle as well as the opponent.”
Northern Illinois is coached by Joe Novak, who enters his 12th season with a career record of 61-66. Last season Iowa built a 17-0 lead and held on for a 24-14 decision over the Huskies in historic Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes have won the previous six meetings against Northern Illinois, a program that has posted seven consecutive winning seasons and has made three consecutive postseason appearances.
“It’s a program that I think obviously had traditional success,” Ferentz said. “Give Coach Novak an awful lot of credit. He built an outstanding program and had continued success. Joe went in there with a great plan and he rode it out and the administration rode it out with him and it’s really paid dividends for them.”
The Huskies have become well-acquainted with teams from the Big Ten over the years, having played 30 games against nine different teams from the league. Northern Illinois will play Iowa and Wisconsin this season after battling the Hawkeyes and Ohio State last season and Michigan and Northwestern two years ago.
“You’re looking at a team that’s hardly going to be impressed playing a Big Ten school,” Ferentz said. “They played us tough last year for four quarters. They’ve played at Ohio State, they’ve played at Michigan. We know it’s going to be a challenge. They have a very well-coached team and a very aggressive team. We know they’re going to hustle and play hard.”
Iowa has won its last six season-openers by an average score of 41-6. The last season-opening loss happened to be the last regular-season game the Hawkeyes played on a neutral site — 27-7 against Kansas State in the Eddie Robinson Classic on Aug. 26, 2000.
Despite Iowa’s respect for the Northern Illinois program, Ferentz said that for the majority of the preseason, the focus for the Hawkeyes has been on themselves, not an opponent.
“The big base concern is how we play and how we respond,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully we’ll do a good job when we get out there.”
Iowa hopes that added attention for special teams in meetings and on the practice field will lead to improvements in those phases during games. When asked about the inexperienced offensive line, Ferentz said that the “guys have practiced well.” He said veterans Seth Olsen (right tackle) and Rafael Eubanks (center) have elevated their play. Kyle Calloway (left tackle) and Julian Vandervelde (right guard) are also listed as starters. The left guard position is still up for grabs between Andy Kuempel, Travis Meade and Dan Doering.
“All three of those guys are competing,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t nailed anything down yet.”
“That’s one position that’s really cloudy right now,” Ferentz said. “Nobody’s really moved ahead or distinguished themselves in the race.”
Last season Christensen completed 23 of 35 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. During his lone start (against Northern Illinois), he was 19-of-30 for 256 yards and two touchdowns.
“Jake has practiced very well,” Ferentz said. “I think he’ll play real well, not only in this ballgame but for the whole season. We’re counting on that.”
A reporter wondered if preparing for the season-opener would take the team’s mind off the recent off-field distractions.
“The guys did a real nice job of keeping their focus where it had to be,” Ferentz said. “We moved on as a team, as a staff. All that being said, we brought some things upon ourselves. We had a media feeding frenzy last week and we opened the door for it. We’re anxious to get into a game week routine, but if we do something that’s not what it’s supposed to be, we open the door for more distractions and hopefully we put that behind us.”
Ferentz said that he “hasn’t heard much of anything” about recent developments concerning Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman.
“I’m hopeful that they are (in class), but we haven’t been able to locate either one the last two days, so we’re not quite sure where they’re at,” Ferentz said.
Between 10-12 freshmen could see playing time this season, primarily on special teams and in back-up roles. Ferentz said that the team has had several “pleasant surprises,” including Klug, Eubanks, Calloway, tight ends Brandon Myers and Tony Moeaki and defensive end Chad Geary.
UI team captains for the game will be running back Albert Young, representing the offense, linebacker Mike Klinkenborg and lineman Bryan Mattison, representing the defense and Daniel Olszta, representing special teams.
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