Hawkeyes still have plenty of motivation
Iowa started the month with a shocking 55-24 rout of No. 3 Ohio State. It followed with disappointing losses to Wisconsin (38-14) and Purdue (24-15).
With one game left in their regular season, the Hawkeyes (6-5, 3-5 Big Ten) are aiming to end November the right way.
“It would give us some good momentum going into hopefully a good bowl game,” Iowa junior defensive back Jake Gervase said. “But at the same time, it’s a trophy game, so we’re playing for a trophy on the road. It’s going to be a tough environment to play in, but we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Running back Akrum Wadley said the team is getting back to fundamentals in an attempt to finish strong. Defensive end Parker Hesse said the roster is filled with guys excited to play football regardless of what’s on the line. Running back James Butler predicted the Hawks would move on from the results of past weeks.
“Talk about November football forever, I think it’s a very important month in college football,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said during his Tuesday press conference in Iowa City. “And our goal right now is to finish the month the way we started it, and that’s on a positive note.”
Ready for Nebraska
There is plenty of appeal to facing Nebraska, Ferentz said. The Black Friday time slot makes it special. The Heroes Trophy makes it important. The chance to build a bowl résumé makes it valuable.
“And then certainly Nebraska has got a lot to play for also,” Ferentz said. “They’re a storied program in college football. They’ve got a lot of pride, and we expect nothing but their best shot on Friday.”
The Iowa coach noted the effectiveness of Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee. He praised special teams members such as punter Caleb Lightbourn, kicker Drew Brown and returners De’Mornay Pierson-El (punts) and JD Spielman (kickoffs).
Nebraska’s defense will “present a little bit of a challenge for us with a 3-4 scheme,” Ferentz added. He later said the Hawkeyes aren’t exactly licking their chops despite the Huskers giving up an average of 301 rushing yards in the last three games. After all, Iowa has run for a total of 107 the last two weeks.
“Nothing’s been easy for us,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t done anything consistently as well.”
Signing day speculation
Ferentz said he is optimistic and hopeful Iowa can secure its full recruiting class in December, which marks the NCAA’s first early signing period for football.
If certain prospects elect to wait until February to decide, the coach said, that might be a red flag for both parties.
“If they choose not to sign in December, then that just tells us maybe that there’s a little pause in their thinking and in turn it will cause a pause in our thinking,” Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes currently have 14 known commits. Their recruiting class is ranked 54th according to 247Sports.
» Iowa has two Nebraskans on its roster, and both are key contributors. Senior defensive lineman Nathan Bazata (Howells) — who will be a captain Friday — has 34 total tackles to rank eighth on the defense and has a safety this fall. Sophomore tight end and Omaha South grad Noah Fant has a team-high eight touchdowns, totaling 370 receiving yards on 25 catches.
» Ferentz said Iowa’s punting and punt return game are both in flux as the team searches for a consistent answer on both units. The Hawkeyes rank 98th nationally in punt returns (5.27 yards per attempt) and 102nd in punting (39.66). They’ve used underclassmen Colten Rastetter and Ryan Gersonde at punter.
“Right now neither guy has taken charge of it,” Ferentz said. “So we’re just going to kind of go back and forth here and see what takes place.”
» Ferentz was unimpressed that linebacker Josey Jewell wasn’t among the five finalists for the Butkus Award. Jewell has 117 tackles through 10 games to lead the Big Ten and rank fourth nationally.
“I’ll say this: Josey is not only one of the best linebackers we’ve ever had here, but one of the best football players we’ve had,” Ferentz said. “... I think the fact he’ll be a three-time captain says pretty much the whole, states it all.”