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IOWA CITY — Iowa football players feel like they’ve seen North Dakota State before.
They haven’t seen the Bison specifically, of course, as the last time the schools played was 1947. But when the Hawkeyes watch the film, the style they see from their green and gold counterparts looks an awful lot like some other teams they’ve seen.
Big Ten teams, that is.
“They’re almost like a Big Ten opponent. We’ve got to be ready for them to run right up the gut,” said linebacker Josey Jewell. “They’re close to maybe a Wisconsin, some of their runs. They could compare to anyone, really. We have to be ready for a lot of things.”
There’s one for Wisconsin. Anyone else?
“They play hard, they play physical. To me their style of football reminds me of the last two teams we played at the end of the season last year, Michigan State, Stanford,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz. “So it’s a different kind of challenge for us.”
Make that two Big Ten teams and a Pac-12 team — one that burned the Hawkeyes pretty badly, in fact.
“These guys play like a Big Ten team,” said defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. “They’re kind of similar to what we do here (at Iowa). They’re a very disciplined team. They come out ready to play football.”
Style, discipline and physical play dominated the conversation Tuesday at the Hansen Performance Center.
A typical FCS opponent would require a certain level of vamping from coaches to get their players in a mindset that a team down a division can truly match up. But it’s plainly clear the message that’s been sent from Iowa coaches to these players, and what the players have figured out for themselves.
NDSU is not your typical anything.
“We haven’t looked at this at all like an FCS opponent,” said quarterback C.J. Beathard. “For all we know, they could be an FBS opponent. They play like a Big Ten team. They’re physical; well-coached. They’ve won five FCS national championships. We know they’re a good team. We’ve seen it on tape. We have a lot of respect for them.”
The Bison line up in multiple tight end sets, use fullbacks, run the ball to set up play-action and are varied in who touches the ball on offense. They’re not afraid to go head-to-head with anyone, either. The NDSU linemen — on both sides — don’t need gimmicks to make things happen against high-quality opponents. Ferentz said there’s no “trying to run around and slip people, finesse them.”
Like Johnson said, in a way, it’s almost like the Hawkeyes are going against themselves in practice. It’s certainly something of which NDSU head coach Chris Klieman is aware. He said Monday “the physicality that we’re going to face is what really kind of makes us a little leery on how well we’re going to match up.”
Iowa’s offensive line averages 6-foot-5, 300 pounds and the Hawkeyes’ defensive line 6-foot-4, 275. Compare that to NDSU’s, which averages 6-foot-5, 311 pounds on the offensive line and 6-foot-3, 266 pounds on defense. Given sack numbers (Iowa has three total, two allowed; NDSU six total, three allowed), that all looks … pretty close.
Ultimately, though, NDSU’s players are not Big Ten players. They may resemble what Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State do, but they’re not at those schools for a reason. With respect of NDSU’s ability in mind, for the Hawkeyes it’s down, simply, to preparing.
“The big thing is it’s a little change-up from what we faced the last two weeks. It’s another kind of challenge for you. No different than if you play a team like this and then switch to a tempo team or whatever,” Ferentz said. “It’s a new kind of preparation. It’s something we’re going to have to try to get down in three days’ practice.”
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