Oct. 23, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three days after experiencing what Kirk Ferentz called a “thorough beating” at the hands of Penn State, the University of Iowa head football coach said his team has switched focus to Northwestern.
The Hawkeyes (4-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) travel to Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 27, to take on Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) with an 11 a.m. (CT) kickoff from Ryan Field. The Wildcats’ Homecoming game will be televised by ESPN2.
“What we’re focused on is what is in front of us right now,” Ferentz said. “We’ll go back to work and see if we can come up with enough points and yardage to be successful this week.”
Northwestern bolted out of the gate with five straight victories before losing at Penn State, 39-28, on Oct. 6, despite leading by 11 points with 15 minutes to play. The Wildcats became bowl-eligible the following week, winning 21-13 at Minnesota. Last Saturday, Northwestern led Nebraska, 28-16, with 8:31 left in the game, before losing, 29-28.
“We’ve put (the Penn State loss) to bed Sunday and moved on now,” Ferentz said. “We need to get ready for a very good Northwestern team. They are playing extremely well; the two losses they’ve had have been excellent teams, and they had fourth quarter leads in both of those. They’re a good football team, and like always, very good players, very well coached, and pose a lot of problems for you.”
Iowa won, 41-31, last season inside Kinnick Stadium; before that, the Wildcats were riding a three-game winning streak with victories by five, seven and four points.
“We’ve put (the Penn State loss) to bed Sunday and moved on now. We need to get ready for a very good Northwestern team. They are playing extremely well; the two losses they’ve had have been excellent teams, and they had fourth quarter leads in both of those. They’re a good football team, and like always, very good players, very well coached, and pose a lot of problems for you.”
UI head football coach
The Hawkeyes will keep tabs on Northwestern’s Venric Mark, one of the most explosive players in the Big Ten. Mark has rushed for 910 yards (an average of 113.8 per game) and nine touchdowns, caught 15 passes and a touchdown, returned 13 kickoffs for an average of 16.5 yards, and returned 10 punts for an average of 25.1 yards and two touchdowns.
“He is a dynamic player,” Ferentz said. “He is a guy that you better have accounted for, no matter what the phase of the game is. If he is the one on the field, you need to really try to keep him contained, because he’s a very tough player to defend.”
The Wildcats lead the conference in punt return average (20.8 yards per return), first downs per game (22.2), and field goal percentage (92.3).
Iowa hits the road with a depleted offensive line. Ferentz confirmed Sunday that left tackle Brandon Scherff is lost for the season; on Tuesday he said Andrew Donnal would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Scherff and Donnal are both sophomores.
The Hawkeye offensive backfield could see a boost with the return of running back Damon Bullock. Bullock started the first three games of the season, averaging 93.3 yards a game. He suffered a concussion against Northern Iowa on Sept. 15 after picking up 77 yards on 13 carries.
“He is cleared to practice full speed this week, but we’ve got to get him into the game Saturday,” Ferentz said.
Mark Weisman, who leads the team with 640 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, was limited against Penn State because of an ankle injury. He should be more effective after another week of healing.
“He’s further ahead than last week, and hopefully he can do a little bit better this week,” Ferentz said.
A majority of questions from reporters Tuesday were about production the Hawkeyes have received from the quarterback. Senior James Vandenberg has completed 55.8 percent of his passes, for 189 yards a game, with five interceptions and three touchdowns.
“We’re trying to make a habit of getting our best guys on the field, the guys that we feel give us the best chance to win,” Ferentz said. “Most of my decisions are made on what’s best for our football team, be it the offense, defense, special teams, collectively. If it comes to a point where I change my mind, we’ll change. We try to figure out what’s best for us at any given point and go from there.”