Oct. 12, 2007
IOWA CITY — Familiar surroundings. Familiar food. Familiar colors. Familiar playing surface.
The University of Iowa football team returns to the familiarity of historic Kinnick Stadium Saturday for an 11 a.m. date with the nationally ranked Fighting Illini of Illinois. The game will be televised live by ESPN2 and will be the Hawkeyes’ 27th consecutive sellout.
Iowa has been dominant at home during the last five seasons, having won 28 of its last 33 games played in Iowa City. They’ve also been vulnerable of late, with four of those five defeats coming in the last two seasons.
Is it important – and beneficial – for the Hawkeyes, who are searching for their first Big Ten Conference victory of 2007, to be at home playing before their fans and inside the facility that has been so good to the UI in recent seasons?
Consider this comment from Scott Chandler, the Hawkeyes’ starting tight end a year ago who is now a member of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. It’s lifted from a blog that he is participating in that appears on the world wide web site of the Big Ten Network. The long, tall Texan takes a view of a home game and flips it onto the shoulders of the visiting team:
“I think everything starts with attitude. If your attitude is positive and good, your work ethic is positive and good. There are no problems with this group’s attitude and work ethic. And because of that, we have a pretty good opportunity to improve day over day, week over week, and have good things happen. There’s no easy path…you just keep working.”
“And I don’t think anyone truly realizes how tough it is to play on the road. I know I didn’t really realize it coming into college. Our first Big Ten road game (when I played at Iowa) was at Michigan State and I remember saying, `I don’t understand how anyone can EVER win on the road.’ It’s so loud. And that’s something people take for granted, in the Big Ten and in the NFL.”
Yes, there’s no doubt that playing at home in familiar surroundings is a benefit for the home team. And, playing on the road, is a hurdle for the visiting squad. However, good teams find a way to win at home and on the road. And, according to UI Coach Kirk Ferentz, Illinois is a good team.
“It’s no fluke that they’re 3-0 in the league or that they’ve won five straight,” Iowa’s head coach said Tuesday during his weekly visit with the sports media.
“They’re playing well. They have a lot of momentum. We have another task, another challenge in front of us and we’ll take it on head on.”
Ferentz is seeking consistency on offense to match the consistency he’s seen all season in his defense. A little consistency will lead to a little success. A little success will build confidence for more success.
There have been flashes of brilliance – a nifty 8-play, 86-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter of last week’s game at Penn State is a pretty good example. However, too often there’s a pass completion for four, a run for another four followed by a sack for a loss of five.
“Up and down. You know, up and down,” Ferentz said when asked about progress. “I don’t think it’s as bleak as it may appear, but, that being said, we’ve got a lot to work on.
“We protected and completed passes and then a couple times ran with the ball after a completion. Our execution was cleaner. We can’t endure negative yardage plays. You’ve got to have an experienced ball club to do that. We’ll help ourselves the most by not hurting ourselves.”
Execution is, in great measure, a function of repetition. Play after play. Practice after practice. Week after week. On the field, in the weight room. Discpline. Focus. Commitment. On game-day, it’s also a function of environment – you know, “Home Sweet Home” when the Hawkeyes have the ball and need a quiet environment, and something entirely different when the other guy has possession.
Kinnick rocks. It rolls. It’s loud and proud and Saturday will be dark as Iowa celebrates its third annual Blackout Saturday. Many a visiting team have left the playing field of the UI’s prized football facility with ears ringing from an afternoon filled with 70,000 fans of the Hawkeyes attempting to make their lives miserable – just like Scott Chandler felt when he left the playing field after his first Big Ten road game at Michigan State.
“There’s no better fans in the country than ours,” Ferentz said Wednesday night during his weekly radio show. “They are passionate. They care. They are invested in the program. And they come to Kinnick ready to be fully engaged.”
Ferentz reiterated the same for the 2007 Hawkeyes. They remain engaged. They remain energized. They remain focused and committed.
“I think everything starts with attitude. If your attitude is positive and good, your work ethic is positive and good. There are no problems with this group’s attitude and work ethic,” said Iowa’s veteran head coach.
“And, because of that, we have a pretty good opportunity to improve day over day, week over week, and have good things happen. There’s no easy path…you just keep working.”
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