Sept. 1, 2009
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — While much will undoubtedly be made of who won’t be in the offensive backfield when the University of Iowa opens the season Saturday against Northern Iowa, Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz is more curious to see how the two-headed, three-headed or four-headed `running game by committee’ fares against a brawny in-state opponent.
On Tuesday Ferentz revealed that sophomore Jewel Hampton, the team’s leading returning rusher (91 carries, 463 yards, 7 touchdowns), will miss the entire season because of a knee injury. He will redshirt. In his place, the leading back candidates are junior Paki O’Meara (21-62-2), redshirt freshmen Jeff Brinson and Adam Robinson and freshman Brandon Wegher. Only O’Meara has played in an actual game and the majority of his experience has come on special teams.
“Paki has played well for a couple years now,” Ferentz said at a press conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. “We had our last big scrimmage a week ago Friday night and I thought that was his best performance as a Hawkeye, so we were happy to see that. Adam is a guy that caught our eye last year at this time during camp and he very quietly has emerged and done a nice job. At this point, that’s our one-two tandem and then we’ll see what happens after that. I don’t know if it’s going to be a two-man, three-man, four-man, but we’ll do whatever it takes to be effective out there. I am comfortable. I think the guys have practiced well and I’m optimistic they’ll do some good things as we move forward.”
When Iowa and Northern Iowa meet Saturday for the 15th time since 1898 (Iowa holds a 13-1 edge in the all-time series), the Hawkeyes will have 213 coaching victories at Kinnick Stadium. Ferentz will be on the sideline with 70 wins for the UI (including an 8-2 mark in season-openers). Also in attendance will be Hayden Fry, who coached the Hawkeyes to 143 victories from 1979-98. Fry will be recognized on Fryday, Sept. 4, as part of Fry fest, which will include the unveiling of Hayden Fry Way in Coralville.
“We’re excited about the game, too, but for coach Fry to be back in town and be recognized in such a nice way and a well-deserved way,” Ferentz said, “I think all of us are extremely excited about that. I don’t think I have to talk about the impact that coach Fry has had on our football program, the University and the state overall.”
Fry was head coach when Iowa and Northern Iowa resumed their rivalry in 1995 after an 81-year hiatus. Iowa won that game 34-13 and followed with a 66-0 win in 1997 and a 45-21 decision in 2005. The 2009 Panthers return 14 starters from a team that went 12-3 and advanced to the Football Championship Series semifinals.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be a two-man, three-man, four-man, but we’ll do whatever it takes to be effective out there. I am comfortable. I think the guys have practiced well and I’m optimistic they’ll do some good things as we move forward.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz
“We’re playing a team in Northern Iowa that’s had very, very strong success for a long time,” Ferentz said. “They were good in the ’80s when I was here and certainly have continued to do very, very well ever since coach (Mark) Farley has been there. We expect quite a challenge. They’re an excellent team.”
Making the in-state contest even more intriguing is the potential matchup between Northern Iowa’s explosive offensive (nine starters returning) and Iowa’s stingy defense (eight starters returning). Last season the Hawkeyes were second-best among Football Bowl Subdivision teams by allowing just 17 touchdowns and fifth-best in defensive points per game (13.0). Northern Iowa scored 54 touchdowns a year ago and stood third among FCS teams with a 29.2 scoring average.
“If you look at them, they’re almost a flip of us in some ways,” Ferentz said. “They’re more veteran on the offensive side of the football — a lot of guys back — a lot of good players, fast, dangerous receivers. Their line is veteran and certainly the quarterback (Pat Grace) has done a great job. Grace has been a very good player for them both in the running game (618 yards, 11 touchdowns) and throwing game (2,041 yards, 14 touchdowns).”
Serving as captains for Iowa will be senior linebackers A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer on defense and senior tight end Tony Moeaki and junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi on offense. In other injury news, junior special teams standout Jayme Murphy’s career came to an end last week after having back surgery. Aside from Hampton, the only other Hawkeye not expected to see action because of injury against Northern Iowa is junior offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde.
Iowa has won eight consecutive home games, including 46-3 over Maine last season. The Black Bears open with the loss in Kinnick Stadium and ended their season nearly three months later with a 40-15 loss against Northern Iowa in the UNI-Dome.