Oct. 7, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — If you’re looking for a team moping around and psychologically drained after three consecutive near-miss football losses, you won’t find one here. There is still plenty of optimism inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex, where a glance at the remaining games shows a season that is half full, not a season that is half empty.
“Our attitude is outstanding and the guys are playing with really good effort and they are practicing well,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’re doing everything they can to ensure that we’re going to have a good season and that’s why I feel pretty good sitting here today even though we’ve lost three straight.”
That confidence doesn’t suggest that there will not be tough times ahead. The next hurdle is Saturday, Oct. 11, against Indiana with an 11:03 a.m. kickoff (Iowa time) at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Iowa enters the game 3-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten Conference. Indiana is 2-3, 0-2.
“We’re playing a team that is very dangerous and a team we haven’t had much success against the last couple of years,” Ferentz said. “(Quarterback Kellen Lewis) is a very, very dangerous player back there. He was a dangerous athlete a couple of years ago and now he’s a dangerous quarterback. He’s a guy that throws the ball well and a very explosive runner of the football. And then (running back Marcus) Thigpen is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, player in our conference and very, very dangerous.”
Like the Hawkeyes, Indiana has also dropped its last three games — 42-20 against Ball State, 42-29 against Michigan State and 16-7 at Minnesota. The Hoosiers rank third in the Big Ten in total offense (421.4 yards per game) and they are fourth in rushing offense (209.0). During the first two league games, Thigpen leads the Big Ten with 216 all purpose yards per game and 24 points (12.0 per game). Left defensive end Jammie Kirlew leads with 6 ½ tackles for loss and he is third with 2 ½ sacks in conference games only.
Iowa holds a 38-27-4 advantage in the all-time series, but the Hoosiers have won the last two games — 31-28 in 2006 at Indiana and 38-20 in 2007 during Iowa’s homecoming. Lewis completed 19 of 26 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns last season at Kinnick Stadium.
“We just want to win. That’s really all we worry about and all we need to worry about. There’s a lot of football ahead of us. We have half our season still in front and as we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
Points should be more difficult for the Hoosiers to come by Saturday. Iowa leads the Big Ten (and is second in the nation) in scoring defense (11.2 points per game), second in rushing defense (98.8) and third in pass defense (182.3). The Hawkeyes are third in the league (and 21st in the nation) in total defense (281.2). While Iowa is tops in the league with fewest penalty yards per game (33.2) and second in first downs (125 overall, 20.8 per game), there is no secret where the Hawkeyes will look to improve against the Hoosiers — coveting the ball and converting in the red zone. Iowa is eighth in the Big Ten in turnover margin (minus-2) and 11th in red zone offense (73.1 percent).
“The red area ties in with turnovers and in our last two games we’ve opened with pretty good drives and turned it over both times,” Ferentz said. “We have to finish drives and get the ball in the end zone. If not, we have to give our field goal kickers a chance to get it done.”
Indiana’s defense sacked Iowa nine times for 38 yards a year ago. The Hawkeyes still won the yardage total (428-395) and snapped 18 more plays.
Not only will Saturday’s game at Indiana conclude the only two-game road trip of the season for the Hawkeyes, but it will also the 150th game for Kirk Ferentz as a head coach. He is 76-73 for his career, including 64-52 in 10 seasons at the UI.
The Hawkeyes look to get `over the hump’ in Ferentz’s sesquicentennial outing as a head coach. He said the team will `keep it simple’ again this week.
“We just want to win,” Ferentz said. “That’s really all we worry about and all we need to worry about. There’s a lot of football ahead of us. We have half our season still in front and as we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen.”