By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — After sweeping all three nonconference football games, University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz knows the significance of the Big Ten Conference opener Sept. 23.
“If you’re going to start, you might as well start at the top and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Ferentz said Sunday during his weekly sit-down with hawkeyesports.com. “We’re playing what appears to the strongest team in our league (No. 4 Penn State), so it will be a good measuring stick for us.”
Iowa will be without senior running back James Butler through the game at Northwestern on Oct. 21. Butler has gained 158 rushing yards before being injured in the third quarter of Saturday’s 31-14 victory over North Texas. All other injury news appears positive.
“For sure, I think James will be out through the bye week,” Ferentz said. “It will be a couple weeks before we get him back. I think everybody else has an opportunity to be ready by midweek if not sooner. We’ll know more in a day or two, but I feel optimistic right now.”
Butler and senior starter Akrum Wadley both had premature exits from the North Texas game. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Toren Young and true freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin. Young carried the ball 19 times for 78 yards and Kelly-Martin had 11 attempts for 74 yards and touchdown runs of 2 and 6 yards.
“That was one of the good developments to come out of the game,” Ferentz said. “To Ivory and Toren’s credit, they have been practicing well, they were ready to go, and jumped in and did a nice job.
“Both give us a spark; they are different style runners and they play off each other a little bit, too. They missed a couple reads, but for the most part, they did a nice job. Ivory’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter was a beautiful run and indicative of the kind of back he is.”
LOOKING BACK AT NORTH TEXAS
“North Texas came in to play, we anticipated that, and to their credit, they did a nice job. They have an offense that is a challenge; they are a high-tempo offense. Their quarterback is an efficient, nifty player, clever with the football, and a good thrower. They had good receivers and that running back was a player, too.
“We played a lot better in general in the second half. We did a good job offensively, but the defense was out first, so it set the tempo. One thing we have done well is cover kickoffs right from the get-go. Our defense did play much better in the second half — they kept the lid on things and the offense was able to take three straight possessions and sustain drives and come out with touchdowns. That pretty much put the game out of reach at that point. The first half was a lot of back and forth, give and take and we have to clean up penalties and missed assignments, but I think we played better in the second half.”
ON QUARTBACK NATE STANLEY
“Nate’s progress in three weeks — we aren’t out of the woods yet, he isn’t perfect by any stretch — but he is vastly improved from his first outing.”
“Even in the first week we had some long drives, we only had one in the first game but the last two weeks we have had not only good scoring drives, but long, productive scoring drives. That’s good to see.
“We were a little off kilter in the first half yesterday playing a 3-4 defensive scheme; they did some things moving around on us that gave us trouble early, then we settled down and got a line on what they were doing. Glad to see the team play through our bumps again; they kept swinging the bat and we got better as the game went on.”
MORE ON PENN STATE
“Pretty much we will have to play a flawless game, we will have to play our best football. We have done some good things in three weeks, now we really have to put things together and tighten stuff down, hopefully we can do that. We will need our best, most experienced players to step up big and we’re counting on that.
“We are going to have to get continued contributions from some of the younger guys. Some of the things we have seen these first three weeks are encouraging, now we have to start honing things down and making sure we are ready for conference play.”