Hawkeye(HQ) Headlines: 5 things before the B1G Championship

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Zach Charbonnet #24 of the Michigan Wolverines scores a touchdown past Jack Koerner #28 and Michael Ojemudia #11 of the Iowa Hawkeyes of the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on October 05, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

 

Iowa is off to Indy for the first time since 2015 and again they’ll face a team from Michigan. Coaches and players met with media to talk about the opportunity they didn’t know they would have, even after beating Nebraska. Here are some key takeaways from what was said.

1. Petras is QB1 again

Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla? That’s been the question the Hawkeyes have been pondering the last few weeks. Quick recap: Petras got hurt at the end of Iowa’s 27-7 loss to Wisconsin, tried to go against Northwestern, couldn’t, in comes Padilla who led the Hawkeyes to a 17-12 win in Evanston. Padilla started the rest of the regular season, even when Petras injury situation improved.

“It’s never fun to not play,” Petras said. “When you’re hurt, it’s a little easier. For the Illinois game, I felt like I was back to 100 percent. It’s a different kind of feeling.”

By all accounts from his teammates, Petras has been an excellent teammate while he’s been on the sidelines.

He finally got back on the field last Friday, starting the second half in place of Padilla, and helped the Hawkeyes to a come-from-behind 28-21 win.

“It was a gut feeling,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We just went with it.”

Tuesday, Ferentz announced it will be Petras starting Saturday’s Big Ten Championship.

The stats don’t always look pretty, but one number that does look good for Petras in his two seasons as the Iowa starting quarterback, no matter how you look at it, is wins. Iowa is 13-4 in games Petras has started in his career.

The offense might not be carrying them to victory in some of those games, (they did beat Iowa State with just 173 yards of total offense after all,) but they’ve always found ways to win during his time under center, a la Penn State.

“He’s done a lot of good things for over two years, and we haven’t forgotten about that at all,” Ferentz said.

That’s not to say Padilla hasn’t done the same thing in his short Iowa career. He’s also 3-0 as a starter. But this is obviously the Hawkeyes’ biggest game of the season, and Petras has far more experience. When facing a defense that’s been as dominant, especially up front, as Michigan’s has been lately, that past playing time is Coach Ferentz puts a lot of value in.

“I think his experience certainly helps,” Ferentz said. “He’s played more than Alex. That’s a benefit, potentially. And he’s been knocked around. He’s had success and been knocked around, too. And just kind of built a resumé, if you will. That’s got to help. It’s still going to be a real big challenge. These guys are really good on defense.”

2. Comfortable as underdogs

Not many people are picking the Hawkeyes to win this weekend, and Vegas has the Hawkeyes as 11-point underdogs. That’s nothing new to them.

“We’re used to it,” Tyler Goodson said. “This team always seems to be the underdog. Don’t know why. This team always has a winning record.”

They went through it in 2019 when they played USC in the Holiday Bowl. It’s a moment Petras remembers very well.

“There’s that graphic from whatever pregame show that had everyone in the world picking USC because we’re just a bunch of slow guys from the Midwest,” Petras said.

Iowa won that game in a 49-24 blowout.

It’s happening all over again year, and while they may not understand it, it’s a place where they’re the most comfortable.

“Going up to get ranked No. 2 and everything, that’s not something we’re comfortable in,” senior defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg said. “We’re really comfortable being underdogs.”

3. O-line needs to have a good day

The offensive line play is going to be paramount for the Hawkeyes this weekend. Not that it hasn’t been every other week, but this week they get the pleasure of facing the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. He completely wrecked the Ohio State game last week, finishing with seven tackles and three sacks.

“I don’t know what you do to neutralize him,” Ferentz said. “He doesn’t stop. And that’s part of the reason he’s so good. Plus he has a good skill set. He has a motor that’s really impressive.”

And his running mate David Ojabo on the other side, has also been a problem this year. The two have combined for 23 sacks on the season.

“The guy on the other side is, I don’t want to say equally dangerous, but it’s pretty close,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know how often we’ve faced a team that has two guys outside like that that can be as disruptive as they are.”

In fact, the whole front seven is big.

“They look like a pro defense,” Ferentz said.

So running the ball, which is something the Iowa wants to do effectively every week, will likely be harder than most other weeks. Last week Ohio State had a season-low 64 rushing yards against Michigan.

“We’ll have to bang away at it, see what we can do,” Ferentz said.

“It’s going to be a tough sledding game,” Goodson said. “Their defense is strong up front and so heavy on the d-line. So I know it’s going to be tough sledding. I’m going to have to get in there and get extra yards.”

Dropping back to pass can also be a risk if they’re not ready. Remember those 23 sacks?

“The biggest thing would be in the drop back pass game,” Petras said. “It’s not gonna be a Big 12 football game where the quarterback can sit back there for four and a half seconds and just do what he wants with the ball in his hand.”

4. Secondary getting healthy

Mixed news in the secondary. The good news: the secondary is about as healthy as it’s going to be for the rest of the season. According to Coach Ferentz, Terry Roberts is set to come back in some capacity. Whether it’s at corner or on special teams remains to be seen.

If he’s not 100 percent, Jermari Harris has been playing in his spot, and held his own.

“Jermari has done a good job,” Ferentz said. “He went from being a young kid who has never played and now he has a couple games under his belt.”

The bad new: Matt Hankins is done for the rest of the year.

5. Continuity is key

The coaching carousel has been spinning fast this off-season. Lincoln Riley to USC, Brian Kelly to LSU. No job is safe.

It’s given the Iowa program a new appreciation for their coach, who’s been at the helm for 23 years now, even when the NFL rumors swirled. He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

“I’ve been fortunate, totally coincidentally, to land in a place that kind of meshes with the way I like to look at the world,” he said. “A fluke. Took one guy who never should have interviewed me to hire me, not only interview me, but hire me in 1981. Who would have thought it and here we are.”

It’s given the program a sense of stability many around country lack and it’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful the last couple decades. But it isn’t simply his presence, but a skill he and the rest of the program have worked on over the past 23 years. Also give a huge assist to the Ferentz’s hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, who he’s admired for years:

“I have long admired the Rooneys, the Rooney family, and I’ve met one or two of them, but I’m not personal friends. But anybody I’ve known through the years who has worked in that organization, always picked their brains about why does it work, and what’s it like internally. Bottom line, there’s a good chain of command, there’s good communication, this is my opinion, between the head coach the general manager and the ownership.

And that sounds really basic and pretty undramatic, but it’s so uncommon in probably a lot of corporations, just, quite frankly, not just football. And so at least I think that — I don’t want to speak to any of the guys that coach there — I’m guessing when they went to work there they knew what the expectation standards and what they were going to accomplish and also knew they were going to be supported. And in this world of microwave decision-making, they don’t abide by that philosophy.”

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