By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There are two objectives for the University of Iowa football team this week: prepare for Northern Iowa and improve.
“The challenge is to get ready for them, but for us to get better as a football team,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday during a conversation with hawkeyesports.com. “Those will be the two things we focus on this entire week.”
It will be the second road game of the season for Northern Iowa. The Panthers were off Sept. 8, a week after losing at Montana, 26-23. Iowa is 2-0 after Saturday’s 13-3 victory over Iowa State in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series.
Iowa and Northern Iowa last played in 2014 with the Hawkeyes winning, 31-23. One of the most memorable meetings between the teams was 2009 when Iowa blocked field goals on back-to-back plays to win, 17-16.
“If you look back at the last three games we have played with Northern Iowa, they have all been close, highly-contested games,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us; they are always well-coached and have a talented team.”
For a second consecutive weekend, a sellout crowd of 67,510 will fill Kinnick Stadium.
“We had a great environment yesterday, the crowd was unbelievable,” Ferentz said. “Right from the start they were great and they were great in the fourth quarter. Now UNI comes to town, so it should be a great crowd again.”
Ferentz provided an injury update on two season-opening starters who did not play against Iowa State. Linebacker Kristian Welch was cleared to play Friday, but the staff wanted to hold him out if possible. Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin “is improving; better today than he was Friday,” Ferentz said. “We’ll see what it looks like during the week. Overall, we’re in good shape and hopefully if not everybody, most of the guys will be ready Saturday.”
Defense dominated the most recent Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series game, highlighted by Iowa holding Iowa State to 188 yards, forcing a fumble, and sacking the quarterback four times.
“One thing that continues from week one is we played hard in the first game and stayed together and we did that again yesterday,” Ferentz said. “Clearly we were playing better on the defensive side yesterday, especially in the first couple quarters.”
Ferentz was encouraged by Iowa’s production in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes compiled 102 yards, converted three times on third down, and kept possession for 10 minutes and 28 seconds.
“After halftime we settled down and made adjustments,” Ferentz said. “In the second half we played better offensively, highlighted by a 13-play, 83-yard drive. That was a pivotal point for us to have the ball 10 ½ minutes in the fourth quarter.”
After two games, Iowa averages 311.5 yards and 23 points per game.
“The improvement we saw with the offense was encouraging,” Ferentz said. “We have a good group of guys out there working, it is just we aren’t quite in sync. That is not always easy to attain offensively, but I’m confident we will get there as long as the guys keep pushing hard.”
Ferentz highlighted a 30-yard throw-and-catch from Nate Stanley to Brandon Smith on the left boundary in the fourth quarter, Mekhi Sargent capping the 83-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, youngsters Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa on the defensive line, and Djimon Colbert for a five-tackle day at linebacker.