Nov. 18, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Several times during the season, University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz emphasized how much he enjoyed working with the current group of Hawkeyes. Although the season will now officially include a postseason competition, the final regular-season game will be Saturday, Nov. 22, against rival Minnesota in the Metrodome.
“Some years are more enjoyable than others,” Ferentz said. “It’s not always the tangible measurements that make it that way. This has been one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had. It gets back to the people I’m with.”
How does one season stick out above any other? For one, Ferentz said, an unnamed teammate stayed behind so senior offensive lineman Austin Postler could accompany the 69 other players on the final `Friday hotel trip’ of his career. Then there was senior defensive tackle Mitch King, who badgered his position coach all week to start senior Anton Narinskiy during his final home game last week against Purdue.
“That’s not for Hollywood and stuff like that,” Ferentz said. “These are guys just doing things because that’s how they feel. The camaraderie, the concern about teammates, things like that, have been really exemplary. That makes it enjoyable and those are things you can sense when you’re around this group.”
Both Iowa and Minnesota are seeking their eighth win of the season (kickoff is 6:03 p.m.). The Hawkeyes are 7-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big Ten Conference. Iowa has won two games in a row and four of its last five. The Gophers have lost their last three games with two straight setbacks at the Metrodome (24-17 to Northwestern and 29-6 to Michigan).
“Minnesota is an excellent football team,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think it should be a huge surprise. If you look at the team that we played last year in our next-to-last ballgame, they came in with one victory and played us right to the end and played the heck out of us. We were fortunate to win.”
Minnesota’s offensive strength revolves around the quarterback-receiver combination of Adam Weber and Eric Decker. Weber is second in the conference in passing yards per game (223.5) and total offense (241.6); Decker leads the league with 74 receptions in 10 games and is second with an average of 89.2 receiving yards per game.
“Weber is really playing well and Decker has been a really good player ever since he started playing a couple years ago,” Ferentz said. “He’s really an excellent football player. Weber was good a year ago in our opinion. You can just see him making that climb. That’s the kind of climb we’re hoping to see Rick (Stanzi) make here as we move along.”
“That’s not for Hollywood and stuff like that. These are guys just doing things because that’s how they feel. The camaraderie, the concern about teammates, things like that, have been really exemplary. That makes it enjoyable and those are things you can sense when you’re around this group.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
The Gophers are second in punt returns in the Big Ten (10.9 yards per return), third in red zone offense (tied of 18th in the nation) and pass offense (224.5 yards per game) and tied for second with 29 quarterback sacks.
Turnover discussion will come to the forefront this week as Iowa and Minnesota prepare to play for the 102nd time. The Gophers lead the Big Ten and are tied for fourth in the nation with a plus-15 turnover margin. During Iowa’s seven victories this season, the Hawkeyes turned the ball over a combined nine times (1.3 average per game). During four losses, Iowa had 12 turnovers (3.0 per loss).
“There’s no magic formula,” Ferentz said. “It’s a matter to me of concentration. We have to be at a sharper level because if there’s a team that’s opportunistic in the take-away department, it’s Minnesota. We better be ready to go this week.”
If the annual battle for the bronze statue Floyd of Rosedale isn’t motivation enough for these two rivals, it will also be the final collegiate game played in the Metrodome. Minnesota leads the all-time series 59-40-2 with the Hawkeyes winning six of the last seven. The last win by the Gophers happens to be the last time the game was played in Minneapolis — a 34-24 decision on Nov. 18, 2006.
The Iowa-Minnesota game will be No. 169 for the Gophers in the Metrodome. Minnesota has amassed a record of 87-79-2 in 27 seasons in the facility. Next season the Gophers will move into 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium. Iowa is 7-6 in games played at the Metrodome.
Ferentz is 2-2 as head coach in games played inside the Metrodome. He has fond memories of the 2002 (45-21) and 2004 (29-27) victories, as well as the pain of the 10-point loss in 2006.
“The wins have been good,” Ferentz said. “The first loss that sticks in my mind — ’84 (23-17 when Ferentz was an assistant under Hayden Fry). Right behind it would be, really go ahead of it, would be 2006. Talk about feeling bad after a season.”
With a win Saturday, the Hawkeyes will secure possession of all three traveling trophies. They defeated Iowa State 17-5 on Sept. 13 for the Cy-Hawk Trophy and they bettered Wisconsin 38-16 on Oct. 18 for the Heartland Trophy.
“I don’t get too attached to objects typically,” Ferentz said. “But rather what the object stands for, that’s more important. That’s what trophies are all about — it means you won the last contest. So we’re thrilled to have all three of them right now. Obviously if we don’t do our job Saturday, we’re going to lose one of them. We’re going to have to play at our best.”
For the eighth consecutive week the Hawkeyes will send King, Rob Bruggeman, Shonn Greene and Matt Kroul as team captains. Concerning the injury report, Ferentz said offensive lineman Andy Kuempel will miss the game and tight end Tony Moeaki is “50-50.”
Greene was named Big Ten Player of the Week for offense for his performance against Purdue on Nov. 15. The only player in the country to eclipse the 100-yard mark for 11 consecutive games, Greene gained 211 yards against the Boilermakers on 30 carries with two touchdowns. He also won the award Oct. 20 following Iowa’s 38-16 win against Wisconsin.