More success is on the way for the Hawkeyes

Nov. 20, 2007

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY — In the wake of a 28-19 home finalé loss to Western Michigan, hope still lingers for the University of Iowa football team and fans alike. There is reason to be optimistic — after all the Hawkeyes are a young squad, full of first-timers.

The Western Michigan game was a setback and a postseason game is uncertain and unlikely. Iowa (6-6 overall, 4-4 Big Ten Conference) will have to wait to hear from bowl sponsors and hope that the seniors can get one last crack to be in the win column. The Hawkeyes will take a week off for Thanksgiving break and get back to work the following Monday.

“I don’t want to let this one loss diminish any of the positive things that happened in the last six weeks,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Hopefully we can find ways we can improve. It is our job to try and find things we can do better.”

Iowa has done a solid job of protecting the football all season long. Against Western Michigan, the Hawkeyes turned the ball over three times with two interceptions and one fumble. Sophomore quarterback Jake Christensen threw just four picks all season before Saturday and has 17 touchdowns on the year.

“It wasn’t the biggest factor in the game, but it played into the game no question,” Ferentz said. “We go through the season doing a pretty good job of protecting the football and getting the takeaways, than we don’t have a takeaway and we did turn it over. We made it easier for them to get points as a result of it.”

Christensen has done a good job leading the offensive side and with all of the offensive injuries Iowa has sustained, it is hard to be disappointed with a .500 record, especially after seeing the Hawkeyes go from a 1-5 record down the stretch last year to 3-2 this year, with the only losses coming against Purdue and Western Michigan. With a 6-6 record last year Iowa went to the Alamo Bowl where the Hawkeyes lost 26-24 to the defending national champion Texas Longhorns.

The hope you smell drifting throughout the air are the 2008 Iowa Hawkeyes. Regardless of a bowl game, Iowa has a young team that has seen a lot of playing time, especially on the offensive side.

One rising star is junior tight end Brandon Myers who took over for the injured Tony Moeaki midway through the season. It could have been a messy situation for the Hawkeyes if Myers would not have elevated his game. On Nov. 17 Myers showed again why he is a legitimate threat when he caught six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown that pulled Iowa within one score at 25-19. On the season Myers has 21 catches for 208 yards and a team-high five touchdowns.

“I think I have had more of an opportunity to make plays,” Myers said. “When a guy like Moeaki goes down, obviously somebody has to step in. It’s tough when somebody of that caliber goes down. I just had to do whatever I could to help the team.”

With running backs Damian Sims and Albert Young along with fullback Tom Busch all graduating, Iowa may look for Christensen to go to the air more in the future, and why not when the Hawkeyes will have Andy Brodell and Moeaki back in action in 2008. A Moeaki-Myers combination will look a whole lot like it did last year when Iowa had the split tight ends of Scott Chandler and Moeaki. A duo like that would take a lot of pressure off Christensen.

“I thought he (Myers) played really well (against Western Michigan),” Ferentz said. He is one guy to me that stood out a little bit. We saw last December he is one of the several guys that took a positive step as a player even though he wasn’t on the field a lot with Tony (Moeaki) and Scott (Chandler) out there. There is no doubt about it he has really come on, he is a talented guy, he has worked hard and I felt he played very well tonight. We hope to have a great tandem there with those two guys next year.”

For most of the season, the cast of receivers have all been freshmen. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos became a household name when he stepped in for the injured Brodell. A lot of pressure was on James Cleveland, as he was the No. 2 wide-out to begin the season and he has done a solid job to be a leader to the receivers.

Other youngsters that are getting better are on the special team’s side of the ball with kicker Daniel Murray and punter Ryan Donahue, both freshmen. Donahue broke an Iowa record Nov. 17 when he punted for the 86th time during the season. Donahue is also second in Iowa history with an 82-yard punt. Murray has proven to be a solid kicker as well, converting 16 of 18 PATs and 7 of 10 field goals.

The Hawkeyes have improved since the beginning of the year and will continue to build on that success. Iowa will look for yet another bowl bid, if not, things certainly look good next year.

“We were 8-0 in the conference in 2002,” Ferentz said. “We would love to be 8-0 every year but the reality is that is not how it works typically, at least it hasn’t in this conference. So you deal with your situation and hope you are moving forward. I think we are moving forward and that is the positive news. We certainly hit a pothole (against Western Michigan) but we are moving forward to me, in comparison to a year ago.”

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