Upperclassmen Provide the Push

Nov. 16, 2011


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Whether or not the University of Iowa football team can win a Big Ten Conference title carries little importance to the Hawkeye players at this moment. What’s done is done, and after Iowa was eliminated for a chance at the outright conference title last Saturday, the only thing the Hawkeyes can do now is move forward.

“We still have a lot to play for,” senior offensive tackle Markus Zusevics said. “We’re not the type of guys that will just let down because we’re out of the Big Ten title chase. We’re going to finish strong and play to the best of our ability.”

The Hawkeyes (6-4 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) need to play to be near their best to win on the road Saturday against Purdue (5-5 overall, 3-3 Big Ten). The Boilermakers defeated Ohio State in overtime last weekend in West Lafayette, Ind.

For the upperclassmen, this is the time when their leadership is needed most.

“We need strong leadership from the seniors,” senior cornerback Shaun Prater said. “As seniors we all try to pick it up and make sure we tell the guys, `Hey, we have to play perfect. We have to play disciplined,’ so we won’t have any errors on the road.

“I kept preaching to the guys when the game was over on Saturday that we must win on the road now. We have to sell out for these last two games. We have to do whatever it takes. We have less than two weeks left, so we just have to give it everything we have.”

Playing on the road has been taxing for the Hawkeyes this season. Iowa is 0-3 away from Kinnick Stadium so far this season with losses at Iowa State, Penn State and Minnesota. The coaches and players feel there is no secret remedy to winning on the road; it is simply a matter of improving performance.

“We’ve had three road trips and we have been outplayed all three times, pure and simple,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “So it’s a challenge for us to ramp up our level of performance.”

Junior quarterback James Vandenberg agrees.

“We have not played our best football in the three phases on the road this year and that’s the gist of it,” Vandenberg said. “That’s the bottom line. We have to play a lot better on the road. I don’t think it’s a mindset issue. I think it’s a `playing good’ issue.”

Despite a difficult loss to Michigan State on Nov. 12 and the challenge of consecutive hostile road games staring the Hawkeyes in the face, the team’s mentality remains driven.

“It’s still full speed ahead,” senior defensive end Broderick Binns said. “We still have a season left. It wasn’t our last game of the season last week. We have to come back, rally together and come out and try to win two games.”

Judging by the attitude of the Hawkeye players, the Boilermakers can expect a locked-in and focused Iowa team Saturday.

“We know that we have two more games that we can win,” Vandenberg added. “And we’re going to do everything in our power to get that done.”

Kickoff in West Lafayette on Saturday is at 11:01 a.m. (CT), and will be televised on Big Ten Network. Tom Hart and Derek Rackley will be calling the action.