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Iowa tasked with resilient Rutgers

Hawkeyes recognize attitude, mentality shift in Scarlet Knights, who hadn't had those traits in the past

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IOWA CITY — Resiliency is one of those intangibles coaches like to talk about.

How a team reacts to adversity; how the players execute when things haven’t gone their way, shows their intelligence and fortitude. Iowa heads to Piscataway, N.J. to face a team in Rutgers that has shown resiliency it hasn’t shown in a few years.

The Scarlet Knights trailed Howard 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and won 52-14. They trailed New Mexico 21-7 at the end of the first quarter and won 37-28. Iowa faced a resilient team in North Dakota State last Saturday, and the Bison’s answer to trailing the Hawkeyes was that of Rutgers in Weeks 1 and 2.

Quality of opponent aside, making a comeback or circling the wagons despite negative circumstances is a skill that can be measured. The Scarlet Knights have been outscored 59-14 in first quarters this season and are 2-1. Shutting out the “momentum” boogieman and playing with poise is what won Rutgers those two games, and is what Iowa — which has a 35-10 edge in first quarters — has to be prepared for.

“That’s a testament to their attitude — if they get down in a game, it doesn’t stop their game plan; they keep fighting,” said defensive end Parker Hesse. “Obviously that’s a challenge. It’s something we need to embody — getting stronger throughout the game, too.”

Rutgers head coach Chris Ash loves that about his team — and who wouldn’t?

There were more than a few times in recent years where things were truly hopeless week-to-week for the Scarlet Knights. But throw in another one of those age-old coaching favorite things — a “culture change” — and here they are. Ash said, “I like our desire to continue to fight, regardless of what we’re faced against and the challenges that we’ve put ourselves in,” which suggests he knows as well as anyone his staff and his players are responsible for executing properly.

That’s where Iowa comes in, trying to wreck that positive vibe. The Hawkeyes (2-1) showed their own bit of resiliency against NDSU, retaking the lead after an early C.J. Beathard pick-six, but saw that evaporate in a well-documented sluggish second half.

Ash faced off against Iowa more than a few times at his various stops and his admiration for head coach Kirk Ferentz and his process was clear in his remarks Monday. Whether the Hawkeyes are motivated to make up for last week or not (let’s be honest: they are), Rutgers’ resiliency will get a major test.

“Iowa’s going to be hungry whether they won or lost. That’s just the way Kirk coaches,” Ash said. “They’ll move on to the next one. They’ll be prepared for the next one. It doesn’t matter to me if they won or lost.”

As much as a culture change and buying into what coaches are teaching matter, having the horses to ride matters just as much.

Rutgers was able to capitalize on their resiliency thanks, primarily, to a dynamic playmaker in Janarion Grant. Grant, a senior, has scored seven touchdowns this season — in four different ways. He has a 69-yard punt return TD, a 21-yard passing TD, a 58-yard rushing TD and an 84-yard kickoff return TD. His 562 all-purpose yards lead the Big Ten and are fourth in the nation through the first three weeks. Oh, and his 4,158 career all-purpose yards is currently the most in the Big Ten, too.

He’s the proverbial straw that stirs the drink, and Rutgers uses him every way they can. The Hawkeyes are well-aware they have to be ready for anything from No. 1.

“He’s a fast guy; he can get the edge on you and can cut back from there,” said linebacker Josey Jewell. “Really, corralling him and stopping the run is going to be big for us.

“We’ve got to be ready for anything on the field; for different reads. We’ve got to hone in on the film and be ready for this week.”

Rutgers may still have a long way to go, and that Iowa is such a heavy favorite is reflective of that. Stats, lineups and film show Iowa has the edge in most areas to be able to stamp out any kind of comeback effort that might arise.

But Ferentz has been through what Ash is going through right now. He’s built from the ground up — as any Hawkeye fan who paid to go to Kinnick Stadium in 1999 would attest — and can recognize a program taking the right steps.

Becoming resilient is a pretty important one.

“It really (has) looked like a whole new operation,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s really the story of the last two games. They’ve fallen behind in both of their games at home, have battled back. They’re playing with a good attitude, playing hard, and doing the things you have to do to be successful.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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