By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The last two results by the University of Iowa football team tell you all you need to know about life in the Big Ten Conference.
On Nov. 9, there was a 24-22 loss at No. 16 Wisconsin. Seven days later, there was a 23-19 win over No. 7 Minnesota inside Kinnick Stadium.
“The last two weeks, in a snapshot, encapsulates a big challenge of going to a place like Wisconsin, having a disappointing, tough loss at the end, then a long bus ride home. It’s a hard thing to deal with,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday. “You have to turn the page and go back to work or it will affect you the next game. Then you play a top 10 team and beat them on your home turf.”
Ferentz said the challenge for the Hawkeyes this week will be reverse of what it was a week ago. Iowa is coming off an emotional high and must prepare for Illinois, a team Ferentz calls the most improved in the nation.
“As bad as we felt last Sunday, everybody is feeling better (this Sunday), but the trick is when Monday morning starts, we have to get our focus 100 percent on our next opponent — and improving,” Ferentz said. “Our team did a good job of that last week. They not only game-planned and got the picture on Minnesota, but they also worked on things we didn’t do as well last week or the last 10 weeks.”
“Yesterday panned out the way we wanted; we wanted to get off to a fast start. Minnesota has done a good of that all season. That’s why it was important to score touchdowns when we got down there, and we did that three straight times. Defensively, we held them to a couple field goals. To have that cushion at halftime was a big part of the game.”
YARDS AFTER CATCH
“The yards after catch was big. (Freshman) Tyrone (Tracy, Jr.) did a good job of that all game; (freshman) Nico (Ragaini) converting the catch he made inside the 5-yard line into a touchdown — he finished that play well.
“(Junior) Ihmir (Smith-Marsette) has been playing well, and we have (junior Brandon Smith) close to being back now.”
“Minnesota got its yardage yesterday, but it wasn’t able to run the ball with much consistency. That was a big key to our plan — easier said than done. (Senior linebacker) Kristian (Welch) was a big part of that.
“I thought the defense did well stopping the run and coming up with six sacks. That was a big component to the game.”
UP NEXT: THE ILLINI
“They have to be one of the most improved teams in the country, not just in our conference. You could see that coming; they have a quality coaching staff with coach (Lovie) Smith there. He was committed several years ago to playing young players and now those young players are grown up.
“This past month they have played good, winning football. They are playing with great momentum — it will be a big challenge for us.
“Senior sendoff is a bittersweet day. You’re proud of what the guys have done to become seniors in our program and all the hurdles they have gone over, so it’s a credit to them. They have run the race and run it well, and this group is representative of the kind of guys we hope we’re sending off to the real world.”