If the Sooners Open the Door...

Dec. 28, 2011

Media Day Press Conference (Dec. 28) | Video at Press Conference (Dec. 28)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Kirk Ferentz gathered with media Wednesday, he referenced two postseason games in University of Iowa football history: the 2005 Capital One Bowl and the 2010 Insight Bowl.

In the first, the Hawkeyes competed with a depleted running back corps; in the latter, they were up against a talented team from the Big 12 Conference that featured a gun-slinging quarterback.

Iowa (7-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten Conference) and No. 19 Oklahoma (9-3, 6-3 Big 12) meet in the Insight Bowl on Friday, Dec. 30, with a 9:05 p.m. (CT) start at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

“It’s almost scary how similar the circumstances are,” Ferentz said between 2010 Missouri and 2011 Oklahoma. “Missouri was a top ranked team (No. 12), very athletic, very talented, very well coached, outstanding quarterback — came in with 38 sacks — very similar to Oklahoma.”

The 2011 Sooners were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, their quarterback (junior Landry Jones) has thrown for 4,302 yards and 28 touchdowns, and in the sack category, they are plus-28 (37 for, nine against).

“We better be motivated, and to have a chance we’re going to have to play our absolute best in all three phases,” Ferentz said. “We can’t open the door anywhere and expect to have an opportunity to win the football game.”

In turn, if Oklahoma cracks the door a teensy bit, the Hawkeyes need to smash it down and barge inside.

“If they do make a mistake on defense, we have to capitalize, likewise on the offensive side of the ball,” UI center James Ferentz said. “When they do make one, we have to be ready to capitalize. The opportunity might not come, or it might come just once during the game. Either way we have to be ready to jump on it.”

Ferentz and the majority of UI starters spent part of their morning Wednesday at the Camelback Inn, answering questions from national, regional and local media. Ferentz, who has a 6-3 record in bowl games, emphasized that for the Hawkeyes to win Friday, they need to be at their best and force a mistake or two. The Sooners are minus-3 in turnover margin this season (28 to 25).Iowa turned the ball over 12 times and forced 10 turnovers.

“We haven’t always (capitalized on our opponent’s mistakes) this year,” Ferentz said. “That’s been costly to us in some of our losses. When we had opportunities, we haven’t always cashed in. Friday night, if we’re going to have an opportunity, we better be ready to go if the door opens at all.”

Ferentz said injuries and behavior issues are part of college football, and successful programs overcome that adversity and find ways to succeed. When there is a vacancy on the depth chart, the beauty of college ball is watching a reserve seize the opportunity and excel.

“It’s a chance to get out on the field and show what you can do,” Ferentz said. “Whoever’s on deck has to play; that’s how we’ll approach it. Our guys have practiced well.”

One of the most consistent areas for the Hawkeyes this season is an offensive line that helped them average 213.9 yards through the air and 144 yards on the ground. A marquee matchup Friday will be Iowa’s All-Big Ten Conference left tackle Riley Reiff against Sooner All-American defensive end Frank Alexander.

“Any time you can play against a good player, it gets you going inside,” Reiff said. “It will be fun.”

Ferentz said the UI offensive line needs to block harder and longer than usual to have success against Oklahoma.

“It’s going to be critical that they lead our team Friday night,” he said. “They can’t do it all, but they have to do their job — part of the `next man in’ is everybody else has to grab on a little bit, and help out, and do a little more than they were doing before.”

Hawkeye defensive lineman Lebron Daniel is motivated playing against such a formidable foe in Jones.

“We’re going to pin our ears back and go,” Daniel said. “Playing a guy like Jones is very exciting. We’re ready to get after them.”

When Jones isn’t throwing the ball up and down and from side to side, he will probably be handing off to running back Roy Finch — all 5-foot-7, 166 pounds of him.

“He’s very shifty, so you have to gang tackle,” UI linebacker Christian Kirksey said.

“Use great leverage to tackle this guy,” Hawkeye cornerback Shaun Prater said. “Break down, bend your knees, have perfect balance, keep your head up — don’t just go in with your head down and try to knock the guy out.”

The Hawkeyes have flourished when playing as underdogs during bowl season. UI junior cornerback Micah Hyde — defensive MVP of the 2010 Insight Bowl — said the team is again confident.

“Going into every game your confidence is high,” Hyde said. “You’re expecting to win. As a competitor — like all of us are — we go into every game expecting to win; we don’t expect to lose by 17 points or whatever the spread is. We go into every game trying to compete and win the ball game.”

Hyde was a hero last postseason, returning an intercepted pass 72 yards for a touchdown to give Iowa the lead for good. Is Friday’s dream the same for the reigning MVP?

“I would love to have another pick-six to win the game, but I’m just here to help the team,” Hyde said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team — I just want to go out there and try to help them.”

Fans should find it interesting that the games that resemble Iowa’s current personnel situation most both ended in Hawkeye victories. Iowa defeated No. 11 LSU, 30-25, in the Capital One Bowl and the Hawkeyes downed No. 12 Missouri last year in the Insight Bowl, 27-24.

A good omen?

We’ll find out Friday.