Sept. 25, 2009
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Editor’s Note The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Official Sports Report, an e-newsletter delivered daily to friends of the UI and fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes. To subscribe to this free service, click HERE.
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Let’s shift the focus from the moment for a moment.
They call `em “trap games,” and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes will have one staring them in the face when they board the team plane very late Saturday night after what figures to be one heck of a college football game in Beaver Stadium between Kirk Ferentz’s squad and the nationally ranked and still-mad-as-heck-for-what-you-did-to-us-last-year Nittany Lions of Penn State.
Arkansas State, Saturday, Oct. 3, at 11 a.m. inside historic Kinnick Stadium.
This one has all the trappings of a so-called trap game — a talented and explosive nonconference opponent sitting between two important conference games against teams with name recognition and, more than likely, national rankings. The two pieces of bread on this particular trap game sandwich also bring to the table all the extras that come with prime time national television…lots of cameras, lots of interviews, lots of excitement on campus, and lots of hype.
It’s a week of preparation during which the coaching mantra, “One week, one game, at a time” is put to a stern test.
“I just mentioned it. I think they are aware of it,” Ferentz said – with tongue planted firmly in cheek – late last Saturday afternoon when asked if he mentioned this Saturday’s date with Penn State to the team after the Hawkeyes notched victory No. 3 of the season.
He did. Of course he did. And, of course, he didn’t have to. The guys in black and gold have known for months where they would open the 2009 Big Ten Conference season. They’ve also had a pretty good hunch that the game would carry some significance: When your goal is to compete for a league championship, every game against a league opponent is important regardless of the location, time of day or what the top 25 polls say.
Focus will be a challenge for the Hawkeyes this week not because of the opponent. No, the challenge for the coaching staff this week will be all the other “stuff” that began happening last Saturday night because of the opponent and because of the real and inflated “magnitude of the game.”
Next week? That’s a different story.
Next week the challenge of maintaining focus and attention to detail will be a by-product of the opponent and, to a certain extent, the outcome of Saturday’s game against the Nittany Lions – victory or loss. Fortunately for the Hawkeyes and their fans, an exceptionally experienced coaching staff will keep the squad “on task.” That ability is evident in another comment made by Ferentz last Saturday.
Next week the challenge of maintaining focus and attention to detail will be a by-product of the opponent and, to a certain extent, the outcome of Saturday’s game against the Nittany Lions – victory or loss. Fortunately for the Hawkeyes and their fans, an exceptionally experienced coaching staff will keep the squad “on task.”
“We will worry about those guys sometime tomorrow…five o’clock or somewhere in that ballpark. Right now, we’ll just enjoy this one and maybe dissect it tomorrow. Then we’ll move on.”
Read between the lines. It says, clearly, we operate one day at a time, one game at a time. We are committed to our routine. We stay on task.
Also, if you haven’t noticed, the head coach of the Hawkeyes is about as even-keeled as they come, save for a holding penalty or two over the years that wasn’t called by the guys in stripes. That’s not to say that Ferentz doesn’t light a fire when he feel he has to. I’m sure he has and will continue to do so, when necessary. But it seems pretty obvious that his calm in the eye of the storm breeds confidence among all around him which, when paired with talent and a solid game plan, leads to victories.
The Hawkeyes also benefit every week from strong peer-to-peer leadership. One of the characteristics of Iowa football teams under Ferentz has been, many more times than not, strong leadership — whether that came from the team’s “Leadership Council” or from the ranks.
The 2009 squad appears to be in that mix.
“I think we’ve got great character on this team, good leadership. I think everybody is invested and every day has been pretty enjoyable, outside of the injuries,” Ferentz told the media assembled yesterday at this weekly press briefing.
By the way, just in case you were wondering, Arkansas State is a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The Red Wolves are 1-1 entering their home game against Troy on Saturday afternoon. Arkansas State opened the season with a 61-0 victory over Mississippi Valley State in Jonesboro before travelling to Nebraska, where they were dealt a 38-9 loss.
Arkansas State has a pair of seniors– running back Reggie Arnold and quarterback Corey Leonard that provide the spark to its offense. Arnold, a 5-foot-9, 200-pounder from Little Rock, Ark., knows how to carry the rock. He’s averaging eight yards per rush this season and has gained more than 1,000 yards in each of his first three years at Arkansas State. Arnold also knows where the end zone is — he’s found pay dirt 25 times, five times already this season. He was also productive against the Huskers: 14 carries, 83 yards, one touchdown.
Leonard has tossed for more than 6,000 yards and 41 touchdowns for ASU. His best season was last season when his completion percentage, yards passing per game, and yards gained per completion reached a career-highs. He also tied a career best with 16 touchdowns against eight interceptions, a number that he cut in half from the sophomore year when he threw 15 picks.