Sunday Conversation with Coach Ferentz

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa took advantage of two early Northwestern turnovers, turning each mistake into a Hawkeye touchdown, but second half turnovers eventually led to a 21-20 loss to the Wildcats. Iowa has lost its opening two games by a total of five points.

“The point about the close losses was our main point to the team today,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “It’s Big Ten play. Historically we have played a lot of close games, so the challenge for us right now is to find a way to get over the hump and make the outcome go a different direction – in our direction. It gets down to being a little more detailed and doing everything collectively a little bit better. We had a better week of practice. I thought that showed Saturday. We showed improvement yesterday, just not quite enough to beat a team that we knew would play well. They make you beat them.”

It was a tale of two halves for the Hawkeyes. A flurry of scoring by Iowa highlighted the first quarter compared to three costly turnovers in the second half, with Northwestern scoring the only points of the half with a third-quarter touchdown.

“I’m not sure we knew we’d get off to a good start like that, but it materialized, and our guys played good situational football, especially in that first half,” Ferentz said. “Terry Roberts came up with a fumble recovery off the muffed punt, which was a big play, and we were able to cash in with a touchdown. Shortly thereafter we get the ball back in good field position and drive it down and get a score. A lot of really good team football, especially in that first half.”

Despite the second straight narrow loss, Ferentz saw more positives in his young team. In his first career start and first action of the season, sophomore linebacker Seth Benson led Iowa with 13 tackles, including 10 solo stops. Junior tackle Daviyon Nixon was a bright spot for the second straight week, totaling 11 tackles, including three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Veteran linebacker Nick Niemann added 10 tackles and junior Jack Koerner grabbed his first interception of the year.

“Seth came off the bench and did a nice job for his first game, was really active and productive,” Ferentz said. “Daviyon has had two really outstanding efforts. He was involved in a lot of tackles yesterday. Maybe the most impressive play was where he pursued hard to the sideline. There is a 300-pound guy going full speed pursuing the football. When you see things like that, it is really encouraging. It gets contagious for the rest of the team. I’m happy thus far with what he’s doing, a lot of good things, not only in production but also bringing energy to the field.”

On a very blustery day that saw wind gusts of up to 30 miles per hour, Iowa specialists also performed well. Senior All-America kicker Keith Duncan connected on field goals of 22 and 47 yards (into the wind), while freshman punter Tory Taylor averaged 49 yards on his four punts, including three kicks inside the 20. And, senior Caleb Shudak had a near miss from 52 yards when his attempt at the end of the second quarter bounced off the right upright.

Duncan has made all four of his attempts this season and seven straight overall dating back to last year. With his eight points Saturday, Duncan now has 200 career points to rank 11th in career scoring.

“Both our place kickers have done a good job,” Ferentz said. “The 47-yarder Keith made was a tough one. He came through. Caleb was trying to play the wind and the wind actually didn’t blow the kick the way we thought it would right at that specific time, so he ended up hitting the upright. But again, a good effort by him. He has practiced well, so it doesn’t come as a surprise with those two guys.”

“Tory has stepped in and done a really nice job for a guy who’s never played football in his life,” Ferentz said. “Yesterday was a tough challenge because of the wind and weather conditions. Then you add in Roberts – he has been a standout on not only the punt coverage, but also kickoff coverage. In all phases of special teams, he is really working hard. After two games he’s emerged in my mind as our leader of the guys out there.”

For the second straight week, the Hawkeyes scored 20 points. Quarterback Spencer Petras complete 26-50 attempts for 216 yards and his first career touchdown pass, but was also guilty of the three interceptions.

“Spencer has done a lot of good things,” Ferentz. “You keep in mind this is his first year starting. Unlike most guys in the past that have played here, he didn’t have the luxury of being in spring practice, so this is learning on the job if you will.

“There were times yesterday it reminded me a little bit of when James Vandenberg played against Northwestern when Ricky Stanzi was injured in 2009,” Ferentz added. “They threw a lot of stuff at him and he struggled with that, but then came back that next week and played a great game at Ohio State, gave us a chance to win that game. This is all on the fly learning for Spencer. He is learning; he’s doing a lot of good things out there for us. I am really confident he is going to keep getting better. Yesterday was a good learning experience for him, especially that fourth quarter.”

Iowa is at home for the second straight weekend, hosting Michigan State (1-1) Saturday. Game time is 11 a.m. (ESPN).

“It seems like forever since we played Michigan State, and they have a new coaching staff so it’s a whole new round of research for us as a staff,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got two games from this year to have some idea what they look like and their personality. That’s a fresh challenge.”

“One thing we have to do this week is match up against them. The other thing we have to do is make sure we focus on our improvement and take another positive step. That will get us over the hill here and get us in the victory column, that’s certainly what we need to do right now.”

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