116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa senior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin knew what question he would address when the media swarmed him on Tuesday.
Through three games, Kelly-Martin has fumbled the ball three times, once against Indiana and two times against Kent State.
Couple that with overcoming a torn ACL injury this offseason, it has not been the start Kelly-Martin envisioned. But there’s a reason he was voted team captain last week by his peers before the game: he’s a leader who is going to show he’s strong enough to persevere.
“I’m looking forward,” Kelly-Martin said. “Luckily, I’ve been able to play a lot of good football in my days and I know my ability.”
Kelly-Martin watched from the bench as redshirt freshman Gavin Williams entered the game on the 95-yard, 20-play drive after his second fumble. It was one of those positives to an otherwise unfortunate situation — a younger player saw time on the field.
Williams caught an 11-yard pass up the middle from quarterback Spencer Petras on second-and-11 at the Kent State 20-yard-line to give the Hawkeyes first-and-goal at the 9. He followed up with a 2-yard run to the Kent State 7 before tight end Sam LaPorta finished the rest of the way catching two passes to capture a 16-7 Iowa lead.
Those moments on the field are what carve Iowa’s next-man-in mentality and it’s not an intangible concept to young players.
“When his number was called, he really pulled through for us,” Kelly-Martin said. “Gavin reminds me a lot of me — he’s really booksmart on the game of football. He’s able to see things a lot of the same way I see things. He’s a guy who loves to compete.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz attributed Kelly-Martin’s first fumble against Indiana as a shaking-the-rust-off-an-injury type of error. This was different, and ball security has been a focal point at practice, where Kelly-Martin has done well.
Every Wednesday, the offensive unit does a series of ball-security drills against the first-team defense, where players will follow the ball carrier and try to rip the ball out up to 10 seconds after the whistle is blown.
There are other factors, too, which can be harder to control or replicate in practice.
“That's part of the film review: one of those two plays the guy got a helmet on a ball and that's tough,” Ferentz said. “Not excusing it, but it's a tough situation and the other one I was glad he was able to get up and walk away from. It was really a crazy play, and just a bad time for him at that point.”
Then it comes down to how a player reacts to adversity — that short-term memory, which is something Kelly-Martin has built through his years of experience.
Younger players, especially on the offensive line, are working on that week to week. It’s the No. 1 lesson that senior guard Kyler Schott has tried to teach to a budding line, as he’s sat out during fall camp and the season’s first two games due to injury.
“Don't let one play really ruin your whole practice, because you can see that with young guys sometimes. They'll have one bad play and they won't forget about it, and they’ve got to,” Schott said. “I’ve just been preaching — you’ve got to flush it, you’ve got to move on, go to the next one.”
It takes repetition and experience, but short-term memory isn’t just important for moving on from mistakes or adversities; it’s also important for focusing on the next game.
Petras said he wasn’t interested in addressing questions about the Kent State game Tuesday. He preferred to focus on competing against a Colorado State defense that, for the first time in two weeks, won’t feature a three-man front and held Toledo, a team that gave Notre Dame a run for its money, to just six points and limited the starting running back to 1.9 yards per touch.
“The more you do it, the better you get at just realizing that all you can control is the current moment,” Petras said. “Whether the past was good or bad, it doesn't matter. Let's focus on the next play.”