Sunday, September 22, 2013

Leadership helping Iowa rebound from disappointing run under Kirk Ferentz

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- This is the type of broken record Hawkeye fans like to hear: veteran members of the University of Iowa football team continue to shine as the team takes a 3-1 record into its Big Ten Conference opener Sept. 28 at Minnesota (4-0).

Heading into 2013, senior leadership was going to be an important formula to taking steps forward, after a disappointing season in 2012. Leadership is always an important element of a good football team.

On Sept. 21 during a 59-3 win against Western Michigan, Iowa scored on a field goal by senior Mike Meyer (the 50th of his career), two touchdowns by junior wide receiver/punt returner Kevonte Martin-Manley, two touchdowns by senior cornerback B.J. Lowery, and another interception in the end zone by senior free safety Tanner Miller.

"Our older guys have done a good job helping us," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday in an exclusive interview with "Tanner Miller came up with another interception in the end zone, B.J. with the big runbacks, Kevonte isn't a senior, but he is a veteran for us. For us to have a good football team, our experienced guys have to step up and do things like that. That's a healthy sign."

Two areas that stuck out to Ferentz on Saturday came on third downs and involved plays by the Hawkeye special teams. Iowa converted 9-of-15 times on third down and held Western Michigan to 1-of-14.

"That's something we have been doing well; the offense has been consistent in four games and that was our best defensive performance by far," Ferentz said. "A lot of that is doing a good job on first and second down. It was great to see the (defensive) guys get off the field like they did (Saturday). It was good team defense, coverage, and pressure up front. We made their quarterback uncomfortable. All those things working together help a football team win."

On kickoffs, Iowa averaged 32.5 yards on two returns; Western Michigan averaged 18.7 yards on seven returns. On punt returns, Iowa had six for an average of 32 yards per return.

"That's a pleasing aspect for us. I thought we made strides at Iowa State, but yesterday it was good to see," Ferentz said. "Kevonte's plays were obvious, but the rest of the story is we had a lot of guys working hard blocking for him. We had a near return for a touchdown on a kick return, (Macon) Plewa on the short kick he returned (36 yards). Guys are getting more comfortable with what we're trying to get them to do and (assistant coach) Chris White has done a great job. Our coverage on kickoffs was easily the best we have had this year. It impacted field position. I'm happy we're making strides there and playing with good effort. Hopefully we can keep building; we're going to have to if we're going to have a good team."

The Hawkeyes had an opportunity to play several players a significant number of snaps against the Broncos. One was junior wide receiver Damond Powell, who caught two passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.

"(Damond) just joined the program in August and he has been practicing well, particularly the last couple weeks," Ferentz said. "We see him improving and becoming more comfortable. For him to be on the receiving end of a couple long receptions has to build his confidence and build his teammates' confidence in him."

Iowa hits the road for the second time this season. The Hawkeyes had a good experience with their first road trip, defeating Iowa State, 27-21. Iowa defeated Minnesota 31-13 last season at home, but has yet to win at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes lost 27-24 in 2010 and 22-21 in 2011.

"We haven't had much success up there. We're playing a team that is off to a great start, they have a lot of players back from last year and they have an excellent coaching staff," Ferentz said. "It will be a big challenge

Iowa did win the last game Minnesota played in the Metrodome, but those days are history in the Battle for Floyd of Rosedale. The games are now played outside at TCF Bank Stadium on campus.

Teams are typically not as good as their best win, but they are typically better than their worse loss.  Like the Iowa State series, Iowa has lost some very close games with Minnesota lately. But, the series is competitive and like the Iowa-Iowa State game, Iowa enters with three wins out of the last five played.

Iowa was 0-2 in the last two games played vs. Iowa State and Western Michigan.  Iowa took care of business and pulled out a win. Does Iowa make it a trifecta at Minnesota?

We shall soon see on Saturday at Minnesota.  Continuing strong play on offense, on defense and on special teams was a good formula in Week 4 for Iowa.

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