As the Hawkeyes move into preparations for No. 4 Penn State, so will we. Coach Ferentz and a handful of players spoke to the media on Tuesday. Here are the main takeaways from what they said.
1. The Hawkeyes understand the magnitude of the game, but it’s not a distraction
Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium will be a unique experience. Iowa has only taken part in a top-five clash six times in its storied history and it’s been a while. The last one? a 12-10 victory for No. 1 Iowa over No. 2 Michigan in 1985. The sponsored man himself was at that game. He was an offensive line coach under Coach Hayden Fry at the time.
“I tried to tell our guys yesterday, the energy, when you walk in the stadium, it’s rare,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
It’s valuable advice from one of the few men in the country who have experience in that situation.
“When you’re growing as a kid, these are the games you want to play in,” senior defensive end John Waggoner said.
The players are listening to coach, but not the hype.
“You can’t really listen to that stuff,” Waggoner said. “Everyone is telling you how good you are, but at the end of the day, you’re only as good as you play.”
Spencer Petras said he’s going as far as staying off his phone this week. Even simple text messages are just getting a like of acknowledgment. But even with all that, they know what’s at stake with this game.
“It’s probably the biggest one I’ve ever played in,” junior Sam LaPorta said.
2. A dynamic Penn State passing attack is the biggest challenge
It’s no secret the Nittany Lions LOVE to throw the ball. They rank 26th in the country in passing offense and a big reason for that is the play of senior quarterback Sean Clifford. He ranks in the top 20 in passing yards, touchdown and quarterback rating.
“He’s a great quarterback, who puts the ball in only places his receivers can get to it,” junior safety Kaveon Merriweather said. “He probably a little more calm in the pocket. He also has the ability to escape the pocket as well. We have to make sure we keep him in the pocket.”
The biggest worry for the staff, though? Senior receiver Jahan Dotson. He leads the team with 446 yards and six touchdowns. When asked what impresses him most about Dotson, Coach Ferentz used one word: “everything.”
“There’s no wasted movement,” he said. “He’s concise. Everything is really sharp. I have to think the pro guys watching him, have to like him. He’s a really decisive player. He’s a talented player, but he’s a good football player. He plays hard.”
They also have four other players over 100 yards receiving.
3. The offense’s confidence is continuing to grow
Before Friday, the Hawkeye offense showed flashes of what it could be. The offensive firepower was on full display in the 51-point explosion Friday.
“We got a lot of receivers playing really well right now,” Petras said. “Tight ends, fullbacks, running backs, everyone. That just comes from the work we’ve put in as a unit going back to January.”
As celebrated as the Iowa defense has been, the Penn State defense has been nearly as good statistically. They ranked third in the nation, right behind the Hawkeyes in scoring defense. They’re allowing just 12 points per game.
It’ll be a good test for the offense to see how far they’ve come and how far they have left to go.
“I feel like our consistency is a little bit better,” LaPorta said. “I feel like we’re not going backwards as much.”
4. Expect to see more freshmen on field going forward
Fans saw Arland Bruce score last week in College Park. The week before against Kent State, Keagan Johnson was a huge spark for the offense, while Connor Colby also got a start. They’re all freshmen.
As you can tell by the everything, Iowa is more of an old school program. They still use a fullback, after all. So it’s an interesting (and fun) development in the way Coach Ferentz runs his program.
“I’ve definitely jumped into that school of thought,” he said. “I’d just assume players that are playing are going to leave after three… Also the world we live in right now, kind of like the transfers, all that, that’s just not the way people think anymore. You have to change your thinking with what’s going on.”
5. QB sneak = fun
It’s the most unstoppable play in Madden and Friday proved it to be true in real life too. There were QB sneaks from Petras more than a few times, getting him two touchdowns. The fans definitely like it and the players do too.
“Whenever we get that called, I think everyone enjoys it,” Tyler Linderbaum said. “I feel like that’s what Iowa football is all about. Getting down and dirty. Nothing is better than a QB sneak, right?”
“No it doesn’t hurt,” Petras said of having fullback Monte Pottebaum plow into his back. “Especially because it works.”
It’s obviously been incredibly effective. Though according to Petras, there’s no special technique. So it’s got to be because of the offensive line.
“I shouldn’t really get any credit for those things,” Petras said. “It’s all Pot and the guys up front. I just take the snap and try to go forward.”
“I remember going back to the USC game, we ran three, four in a row,” Linderbaum said. “Some were for six yards. It’s stuff like that that you love about football. ‘Keep running it again’ kind of mentality.”