IOWA CITY — The Iowa football team has no problem ironing out some wrinkles.
No, we’re not talking about the dress shirts they wear pregame. This is about what the Hawkeyes are going to see from Purdue on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilermakers run their own variation of the Wildcat — Coach Darrell Hazell made it clear Monday theirs is the Amtrak — with senior wide receiver Bilal Marshall taking snaps.
As much as unique formations are about taking advantage of defenses for big gains, they’re also about forcing opponents to take time to get specific with their preparation, and take them out of their normal routine.
Iowa, under Coach Kirk Ferentz, is all about routine. He said Tuesday at his weekly media availability that it’s not just the wildcat — sorry, Coach Hazell, the Amtrak — but all manner of outside-the-box plays that eat up preparation time. Being efficient working through that is what becomes paramount, and he said Iowa has done that with Purdue prep.
“You have to spend time on it, no question about it. That’s why people do that stuff. Then the down side, if you’re doing it, you have to take time out,” Ferentz said. “We’ve all got the same amount of time to get ready for a game. Kind of the same way, what do you want to spend your time on getting good at?
“You’ve got to cover it. The muddle-huddle or whatever you want to call it, the fake extra point stuff. You’ve got to rule that out. You’ve got to go through it and all those crazy things. So, yeah, it takes time.”
At one point in college football, the Wildcat formation was taking the game by storm. But since the late 1990s, when Bill Snyder and his Kansas State program gave the formation its birth, and then the mid-2000s, when it made a bulldozing resurgence, defenses have caught on.
Purdue doesn’t run the formation a ton, but Hazell said the limited success they saw with Marshall running it against Illinois was enough of a seed for future success. Instead of installing new defensive formations or changing normal keys that take time to perfect, defenses stay base and deal with an off-the-wall play by being system sound.
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That’s the way the Hawkeyes approach it anyway, and Ferentz said the hope is a team’s defensive system is “solid in its foundation where you have ways to rule things out.”
“Obviously we’re going to have to be ready for that. We’ve worked on it some this week, but it presents a new challenge,” said linebacker Ben Niemann. “We’re definitely going to have to be ready for it.
“Obviously if you prepare for it, you hope they do it. I don’t think you put all your eggs and time in one basket and say, ‘Oh, we’re just going to work on the wildcat all week.’ There’s other stuff we’re working on that they do; it’s not like they just run that.”
There’s no magic bullet for stopping the wildcat (Amtrak) if you’re the Hawkeyes, listening to Ferentz and his players tell it.
Ultimately, they said, it comes down to being in position to defend, period. Being prepared to defend an offense with athleticism at every position — a mobile quarterback in David Blough, running backs Markell Jones and Brian Lankford-Johnson in particular — means buying into what Ferentz has been selling as the Iowa football way for nearly two decades: do your job.
“(If I’m) somewhere I’m not supposed to be, that messes up the guy behind me or the guy next to me,” said defensive end Anthony Nelson. “Then they’re trying to do something to cover for me that they’re not supposed to do, but have to do, because I’m not in my spot. Being where I’m supposed to be and having the trust that everybody knows I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be helps everyone out a lot.”
BACK TO WHERE HE STARTED
Saturday will mark something of an anniversary for Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard.
It’s not the same date or weekend, but it was two years ago at Purdue that Beathard made his first start for the Hawkeyes in a 24-10 win at Ross-Ade Stadium. A duel with Jake Rudock, an undefeated regular season, a Rose Bowl berth and 4-2 start to 2016 later, Beathard makes his return to where his starts started.
When asked Tuesday about what he remembers from that game, Beathard chuckled at his initial memory.
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“Well, I remember my first drive was a pick-six. I remember that,” Beathard said. “But after that I remember we got a win and it was nice to get it in my first start of my career. I was young, definitely not as experienced in that game. A year and a half under my belt has definitely helped and will help.”
Beathard is 17-4 as a starter at Iowa, taking over the job full-time last season. He’s thrown for 1,087 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions this season at 60.26 percent completion.
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