IOWA CITY — You kept kind of waiting to watch Josey Jewell trick coaches and trainers — hey, is that a baby wolf? — jump on the field at Northwestern last weekend and pull the football baby out of the burning goal posts.
As the national anthem began, Jewell was right next to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“Coach, is that a baby wolf?”
But no, nothing that dramatic or cool or fun. Jewell’s shoulder really wasn’t ready for last week’s game. He couldn’t pass the medical clearance test and the decision was made Friday.
No need for the “baby wolf” trick this week. Ferentz said his senior linebacker will be in this week for the Gophers (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten).
“We knew it could go either way,” Ferentz said. “The thing we wanted to do was be smart and just try to talk to him about giving up one week to have the rest of the season as opposed to putting himself at risk.”
And that was the end of the conversation.
“Didn’t expect him to accept it or like it, but that’s really kind of the thinking behind it,” Ferentz said. “Bottom line, he just wasn’t strong enough on Saturday.”
Jewell should return. You saw sophomore cornerback Manny Rugamba returned to the lineup after missing most of the last two games. Running back James Butler, who’s been out since Sept. 16 with an elbow injury was medically cleared last week and was in uniform for Northwestern. He also wore a giant brace on his right elbow. The big “wait” on him is how the brace affects ball security. Ferentz said Butler would go through contact in practice today and then they’ll see.
It’s a pretty big “they’ll see” for Butler. As it stands right now, he would potentially be eligible for a medical hardship waiver. He played in just 25 percent of the season. His injury happened during the first half of the year. He hasn’t redshirted. If a player sees a single down in the second half of the season, the conversation is over. With the elbow brace for a running back, Iowa could potentially make a case for the injury being “incapacitating.”
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The reality is if he plays again, he’s all in as a senior this season. With Butler going through a contact practice on Wednesday, that seems to be where this is heading.
“The tough thing here is that you really aren’t going to know until he gets in the game,” Ferentz said. “Then we don’t have that. Once he goes in the game, it’s over from the NCAA side, based on what I’ve experienced personally. So, we’re not going to bank on any leniency in terms of how they interpret his eligibility moving forward.”
Butler has been one hit to the running game that hasn’t been mentioned a lot. He certainly was in the plans. To recap, he came to Iowa (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) in July as a graduate transfer from Nevada. As a prep at St. Francis High School and as an Illinois kid who was recruited by Iowa, he’s said being a Hawkeye is a dream come true.
Butler had 36 carries in the first three games. He clearly was in the plans. Since the 5-9, 210-pounder was injured, his replacements, freshmen Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, have produced just 56 yards on 13 carries. Maybe they’re in the circle of trust, but the carries haven’t come with that.
And then you have the question on how effective senior Akrum Wadley is as a “wear them down” back running between the tackles at 190-ish pounds.
The offensive line is bearing the brunt of this. The Hawkeyes are 12th in the league with 131.5 rushing yards a game and 13th with 3.54 yards per carry. No one saw this coming. Also, no one saw senior offensive tackles and three-year starters Ike Boettger and Boone Myers losing the majority of the season because of injury (Achilles and ankle, respectively).
“Yeah, we’ve been really hard on ourselves,” junior center James Daniels said. “Saturday, we couldn’t run the ball and we lost. We know that if we’re not able to run the ball, it doesn’t matter what our defense or passing game does, we know for Iowa football our pride is to be able to run the ball. If we can’t do that, we won’t be very successful.”
Myers was the other injury news. After Northwestern, the conversation shifted from when he could return to if he could.
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“Yeah, it really is,” Ferentz said on the “if he could return this year” part. “It’s just a matter of kind of pushing forward here. I’ll probably have more on that by the end of the week, quite frankly, but it’s been tough. It’s really been hard.”
In other slightly more uplifting news, this doesn’t appear to be the week the Hawkeyes will wear alternative uniforms, something Ferentz mentioned this summer and said would happen. Kickoff against the Gophers is 5:30 p.m., so it’s a logical stage for them. Iowa also plays host to Ohio State on Nov. 4. That game will kickoff at 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., the Big Ten announced Monday.
Ferentz made it sound as if the alternative uniform is being reserved for Ohio State. The head coach would know.
“I can honestly say, if it was this week, I’d probably know,” Ferentz said. “Is that fair? Although I could be the last to know, too.”
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