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IOWA CITY — In his opening remarks at his weekly news conference on Monday, North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman heaped some significant praise on the Iowa football team.
The Bison have faced and beat five straight FBS opponents — four of which since he’s been in Fargo, N.D., as an assistant or head coach. Even with wins against Minnesota, Kansas State and Iowa State, as well as five straight national championships, Klieman said none of those teams they’ve faced compare to what NDSU goes up against on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Kinnick Stadium.
“Our kids will have to play exceptional football for us to compete and be successful,” Klieman said. “Make no mistake, since I’ve been here in (my) five years, this is the most complete team the Bison will face.”
Klieman cited Iowa’s fronts, the pressure they stop and bring on both lines, the way they deploy tight ends and fullbacks, and most of all, the time the Hawkeyes have spent in their system and the efficiency with which it's run.
How physical the Hawkeyes are and how the Bison will match up to that is among Klieman’s top concerns — something he said opponents usually have to worry about when facing the Bison.
“The first two opponents they’ve played have not held up. That’s alarming to us because they’ve played some decent football teams that haven’t held up,” Klieman said. “So how are we going to be able to hold up with our front seven?”
Hearing words like that from an opposing coach — especially one as successful as Klieman — made some eyebrows raise on Iowa players Tuesday at the Hansen Performance Center.
Without being too full of themselves, a few Hawkeyes agreed with Klieman. Defensive back Desmond King said someone outside the program could make that evaluation because “we like to play as a team, that’s what I would say — everybody doing their job, playing as a unit. I guess that’s what makes us look like a complete team. We’re trying to keep the big plays and mistakes out of the way.”
Quarterback C.J. Beathard agreed with Klieman, too, but said there’s nothing finished yet.
“It’s great to hear when other coaches are saying good things about your team. That’s better than them saying how bad we are,” Beathard said through a smile. “I think it’s a fair assessment. I’ve only been a part of five Hawkeye teams, and it’s hard to say how good this team is this early in the season, but I know we have the ability to be really good. It’s just a matter of how we play week-in and week-out.”
The prevailing response certainly was gratitude for the respect from a team’s opposition. Despite that, there was, from the majority of Iowa players, a denial of sorts. Linebacker Ben Niemann turned the idea away immediately, saying there’s not been enough time or games played to know.
They don’t want to rest on anything done already.
“I don’t know for sure about it, I guess, but we’ve tried to work our best on the field all year here, through the offseason, trying to get better,” said linebacker Josey Jewell. “The offense is good, defense is good, we just need to improve on some small things. Hopefully game by game we get better.”
BUY A DOG SLED
Iowa and North Dakota State come across one another along the recruiting trail, both Ferentz and Klieman said this week.
While NDSU comes south quite a bit seeking talent, they also have the pick of the talent in their home state — guys like Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and Bismarck, N.D., native Carson Wentz, for example. Talent like that staying in North Dakota gave Ferentz some pause about whether or not he should send Iowa assistant Reese Morgan up there.
“We do (cross paths with them). We haven’t ventured that far north,” Ferentz said, before joking: “(We) may have to get Reese a new car or dog sled to help him out.”
Ferentz said Tuesday it’s impressive what kind of athlete NDSU expects to get, and that’s why the Bison have been so successful for the last several years. NDSU goes into South Dakota and Minnesota quite a bit, as well as Iowa, and Ferentz and his staff take notice.
The Bison put high-level players on the field, and the Hawkeyes are well-aware.
“If North Dakota State is looking at them, that does get my attention because I think they’ve done a wonderful job, not only guys in Iowa, but in the Midwest,” Ferentz said. “You just look at their roster. They’ve pulled guys from ‘Big Ten states’ that are really good football players.”
EVERYONE BUT THE CENTER
Iowa center Lucas LeGrand got his first start against Iowa State, and is very likely to be back out there with the No. 1 group again on Saturday.
He impressed his coaches, at the very least, with how he handled being thrust into the starting role as late as he was. Ferentz said Tuesday “maybe didn’t know enough to be nervous, I don’t know.”
LeGrand, though, picked out a few of the little things that he wants to improve on. He mentioned eliminating mental mistakes, staying within himself and not doing too much. The mental mistakes portion was highlighted by one of the more amusing referee penalty calls heard in a while. On a false start, head referee Mike DeFee announced, “False start, everybody but the center.”
LeGrand admitted it was his mistake, and certainly heard the call over the PA.
“Yeah, I listened to the call; I heard that one,” LeGrand said through a laugh. “That’s one of those mental mistakes, obviously; shouldn’t have happened. Brian (Ferentz) gave me some grief about that during film on Sunday. We watched it over a few times. I’ll just have to get better and not screw that up again.”
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