The No. 2 Hawkeyes turn their attention to Purdue this week. Coach Ferentz and a handful of players spoke to the media on Tuesday. Here are some key takeaways from what they said.
1. The Hawkeyes appreciate the No. 2 ranking, but aren’t resting on it
It wasn’t super shocking when the Hawkeyes moved up to No. 2 in the polls after a win over No. 4 Penn State and a loss from then-No. 1 Alabama to an unranked opponent. They’re not taking it for granted though.
“It means all the hard work we put in during the off-season is being recognized,” senior guard Kyler Schott said.
It’s the highest the Hawkeyes have been in the polls in the Kirk Ferentz Era. That doesn’t matter to them yet and certainly not a distraction.
“Our record is pretty meaningless,” Spencer Petras said. “Being 6-0 doesn’t help you on Saturday. It’s good to feel good about it right afterwards, and that’s the best we can be, but, we’re still playing a football game on Saturday and our record is irrelevant.”
Sitting that high in a competitive conference, they’ll have a target on their back for likely the rest of the season. They’ve taken every team’s best shot so far and have come out the other end winners. It comes from the week-to-week mentality they’ve maintained and continue to preach.
“It’s part of the thing and part of the territory, if you do have success there’s going to be more attention,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think they understand that and get that concept. That’s really what it all gets back to is just trying to do your best to get ready during the course of the week.”
2. They’re preparing to face yet another top passing attack and pass-catcher
It seems every week the Hawkeyes are tasked with trying to contain yet another top passing attack. This week is no different with the Purdue offense coming to town.
“They love the big pass play, that’s kind of the heart and soul of their team,” senior safety Jack Koerner said.
The Nittany Lions rank 10th in the country in passing offense. The numbers are gaudy, but that’s nothing the Hawkeyes haven’t seen before (Maryland, Penn State, etc.) They’ve stifled those offenses and landed the starting quarterback on the bench one way or another.
The difference with Purdue is that they have David Bell at wide receiver. He has a history of success against the Hawkeyes.
“We haven’t done a good job in two years,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know, I haven’t gone back, I don’t want to depress myself and look at how many catches he’s had in two years but it’s significant.”
Coach isn’t going to like the answer. Bell has torched Iowa for 26 catches, 318 yards and four touchdowns in two games. He’s comes into this game in the midst of another strong season, with 439 yards and four touchdowns.
“David Bell is one of the best players that I’ve seen in quite some time,” Coach Ferentz said.
The good news is the Hawkeyes have had success defending other top pass catchers this season. Last week they held Penn State stud Jahan Dotson to just eight catches for 48 yards on 17 targets.
3. The offensive line and running game is coming together
It’s been a process getting the offensive line up to speed this season, but that’s something the staff knew going into the season.
“Our biggest areas of question and concern were the front lines on both offense and defense,” coach Ferentz said.
There’s been plenty of moving parts up front and it hasn’t looked pretty at times.
“I wasn’t real pleased with what we saw three weeks ago as far as just the way we were approaching things,” coach Ferentz said of the rushing performance against Colorado State.
But now, Kyler Schott is back from injury and looking better every week. Tyler Linderbaum continues to be an anchor (and Heisman contender?). Others like freshman Connor Colby continue to get more reps. That means the chemistry is trending up.
“The o-line is working together better,” Schott said. “We’re starting to become a more cohesive unit and we’re starting to work together more, because at that position, if one guy is off, it could screw up a whole play.”
This past week, Tyler Goodson was able to find room to run against a stout Penn State front. He finished with 88 yards on 25 carries. It’s nothing flashy, but it was a significant step for the rushing attack against a good defensive unit.
“They are a great defense and to know we can block one of the better defenses pretty decently like we did, just gives us more confidence moving on,” Schott said.
4. They aren’t worried about their recent history against Purdue
The Boilermakers have had the Hawkeyes’ number since Jeff Brohm took over. They’re are 1-3 against Purdue in the last four years. According to Ferentz, “It’s not good.”
Most people would likely agree with him on that, and the losses have come in a number of ways.
“It’s cool, because every one of those games has been different,” Petras said. “In 2018 we put up a lot of points and last year our offense struggled. The game we did win, it was a team win. Our defense played well offense, played well.”
And for that and a number of other reasons, they’re not too worried about the history. A lot has changed, even since last year’s 24-20 loss. Neither Jack Campbell nor Seth Benson played in that game at all, and Jestin Jacobs saw limited action. It was also Petras’ first career start.
“You learn you can do it, you can play in the Big Ten,” Petras said of the game. “I can make plays at that level. Obviously I’m a lot happier with how I’m playing now than after that game.”
Though the teams are different and the records aren’t too close either, they do know what Purdue brings every year.
“I think every game’s been a different story, but the common denominator is they play hard and they play well,” coach Ferentz said.
5. Coach Ferentz is all about that Dough
After Saturday’s win over No. 4 Penn State, senior corner Matt Hankins was asked if the secondary had a name yet.
“The Dough Boys, we about that paper,” Hankins said. “We’re trying to get to the money. The ball is the money.”
If the ball is money, then this secondary is Jeff Bezos. They lead the nation with 16 interceptions.
So naturally, media had to get Coach Ferentz’s thoughts on the new name.
“I didn’t know that,” he said. “No, so I’ll have to visit with him about that, but I’m all for it, if they keep playing like that, I’m all for it. But they’re going to get a workout this week, that’s for sure.”