Iowa Football

4 games between Iowa and the Big Ten championship game

Hawkeyes' injury situation isn't optimum, but it's 4 games to Indianapolis

Iowa fans reach to touch the Heartland Trophy after the Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., in 2015. (The Gazette)
Iowa fans reach to touch the Heartland Trophy after the Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., in 2015. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Let’s just leave this here and go on with our regular Tuesday discussion.

“The stakes are definitely up this week,” senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “Coach (Phil) Parker (Iowa’s defensive coordinator) said earlier this week, ‘If you knew at the beginning of the year that you have four games to make it to the Big Ten championship, what would you do for it?”

Once in a while in these run ups to the “big one,” you’ll hear a real situational read on what’s up.

You might not have guessed it talking with Iowa players Tuesday.

“We’re just looking at it as a trophy game,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “It’s another trophy game, so there is more emphasis on how big it is. It’s another Big Ten game in the West Division. We’ve not been worried about the West Division standings. We’ve just been going out with the idea that it’s a trophy game.”

Are you guys treating it like the biggest game of the year?

“No, because every game is the biggest game of the year,” Smith-Marsette said.

It’s “downplay mode.” It’s as legit of a play call during the talking portion of the week as an inside zone will be on Saturday.

Everywhere but the Hansen Football Performance Center, the No. 18 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) road tripping to No. 13 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) is the biggest game of the year in the Big Ten West.*

*That doesn’t include Minnesota, but that’s coming.

This is the Hawkeyes’ first trip back into Camp Randall since 66 yards of total offense in 2017.

“The noise level is insane,” Smith-Marsette said. “You have to play through that. Don’t let the crowd get into it. Keep them out of it, that’s going to be a factor. The fourth quarter is something big for them. They’ve got the little jump song. We just have to maintain through that part.”

The injury situation isn’t optimum for the Hawkeyes.

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Middle linebacker Kristian Welch and tight end Nate Wieting, both seniors, are likely out this week. “They haven’t done much so far (this week), so I’m not optimistic we’ll have those guys as the game gets closer,” Ferentz said.

Welch suffered a stinger injury against Penn State and has missed the last two games.

“Some injuries are a little bit more predictable, stingers aren’t, and it’s just a matter of regaining strength and being able to maintain it,” Ferentz said. “He plays in a position where he’s apt to get hit pretty frequently. If he was a placekicker, we’d have a better chance, but right now I don’t know that it’s realistic he’ll be able to play this week.”

Redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle will get the call, with true freshman Jack Campbell perhaps getting a look. That’s how it played out vs. Purdue, but Doyle took the majority of the snaps at Northwestern after an early mistake by Campbell.

“This is going to be a unique test for two young players to be involved in playing against a team like this,” Ferentz said. “This is a really physical, veteran team that knows what they’re doing.”

Wieting suffered some sort of “strain.” He missed the Northwestern game Hawkeye fans got to meet true freshman tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught a pair of passes for 43 yards.

“I’m not sure Sam knows what the heck is going on anyway, so it’s just as well,” Ferentz said. “I’m joking about that, he’s doing OK. We’ve got his head spinning a little bit, but he’s doing a good job.”

Iowa will have guard Kyler Schott back for this game. Ferentz said he has a chance to start at right guard. Schott, a 6-2, 290-pound sophomore from Coggan, impressed enough in the opener to earn the next two starts. He suffered a foot injury in practice and missed the five games.

“We plan on playing him, and he’ll play extensively if he’s able to do so,” Ferentz said.

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It’s OK to ignore the stakes. At 3-2 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes and Badgers are playing Saturday to keep alive Big Ten championship game hopes.* It will be a game of heavy formations and heavy rewards, including the 72-pound Heartland Trophy.

“Wisconsin is the team in front of us right now, so the stakes are really high,” Ojemudia said.

*Minnesota is the other team with B1G West title hopes and all of it will play out in the next four weeks starting with the Hawkeyes and Badgers this weekend.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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