Sept. 30, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The physical tools are there. Now the University of Iowa will rely on leadership and character in an attempt to register its first Big Ten Conference victory of the season Saturday against Michigan State. Kickoff from Spartan Stadium in East Lansing will be at 11 a.m. (Iowa time)
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz wouldn’t go as far as calling the Hawkeyes and Spartans mirror-images, but he does notice similarities. The most obvious is that both teams set the tone offensively with a bruising running game — Michigan State’s Javon Ringer leads the conference in rushing yards per game (179.4) and Iowa’s Shonn Greene is second (133.0).
“There are some parallels,” Ferentz said. “They play with tight ends on the field, fullbacks, all that kind of stuff. They certainly are committed to running the football and they do a great job.”
Ferentz was quick to point out a difference — at least at this stage of the young season.
“They have more wins that we do,” he said.
Michigan State is 4-1 overall and has won four games in a row, including a league-opening 42-29 win at Indiana on Sept. 27. The Hawkeyes are 3-2 overall, 0-1 in the Big Ten, following a turnover-plagued 22-17 loss at home to Northwestern. Ferentz acknowledged that losing back-to-back games can lead to outsiders losing faith in a promising conclusion to the 2008 season. But he sees two huge intangibles that are in Iowa’s favor — leadership and character.
“We’ve got good character and we’re getting good leadership,” Ferentz said. “Those are two things that give you cause for optimism.”
There are also plenty of tangibles on display at practice and in games that leave Ferentz confident.
“There are things we’re seeing on tape and on the practice field that we’re optimistic about. I’ve seen things pan out pretty well, I’ve seen things pan out sort of well and then things haven’t panned out. But I certainly think we have more potential than we had in 1999 (1-10) or 2000 (3-9). I think we have more potential than we had last year (6-6). If we do our jobs this week it ought to be a real good football game.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
“There are things we’re seeing on tape and on the practice field that we’re optimistic about,” he said. “I’ve seen things pan out pretty well, I’ve seen things pan out sort of well and then things haven’t panned out. But I certainly think we have more potential than we had in 1999 (1-10) or 2000 (3-9). I think we have more potential than we had last year (6-6). If we do our jobs this week it ought to be a real good football game.”
In 2004, Iowa had two losses during its first five games and went on to finish 10-2. In 2001 and ’05, the Hawkeyes were 3-2 heading into week six and finished 7-5 both times.
Last season Iowa erased a 14-point third-quarter deficit and defeated Michigan State 34-27 in double overtime inside Kinnick Stadium. It marked the sixth straight time that the Hawkeyes had defeated Michigan State in Iowa City. The Spartans have won three in a row in East Lansing.
Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (10.2 points per game), pass efficiency defense (nine interceptions, three touchdowns) and fewest penalties (33.8 yards per game). The Hawkeyes are second in first downs (21.2) and third in pass defense (182.0) and total defense (282.4). Michigan State has allowed just one sack this season (for nine yards) and the Spartans are second in the conference in punt returns (13.1), turnover margin (plus-5) and fourth-down conversions.
Ferentz praised Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, insisting that Iowa can’t load up to stop a ground attack featuring Ringer. For the season, Hoyer has completed 46.5 percent of his passes for 192.2 yards per game and three touchdowns.
“We have two challenges this week,” Ferentz said. “Playing on the road first of all, then secondly, playing a very good team — a well-coached team and a team that’s having good success.”
Injury-wise, Ferentz said that the Hawkeyes are in “fairly good shape.” Greene will practice today and play at Michigan State. The only Iowa player that might not be ready to go is running back Paki O’Meara, who Ferentz called a `longshot’ to play.