Iowa Football

Iowa football Quick Slants: Hawkeyes say they're still together after back-to-back losses

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Amani Hooker (27) runs with an interception during the second half of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Amani Hooker (27) runs with an interception during the second half of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, November 3, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — They’re saying all the right things. Not that it means bupkis.

Though a shot at the Big Ten Conference championship game is gone, barring some sort of minor miracle, the Iowa Hawkeyes insist they have a lot to play for the final three weeks of the season.

There’s a better bowl to shoot for, one that isn’t on a frozen field in New York City. There’s possibly 10 wins.

There is swatting away Northwestern, a perpetually pesky opponent.

“Obviously it’s tough almost having your goals taken away from you,” said Iowa defensive lineman Parker Hesse. “But everyone here is together. We’re still excited to show up and practice every day. Everyone is flying around this week in practice. It’s something where there is only one way to do it, and I think everyone on the team understands that.”

This is where a team leans on guys like Hesse. He’s a senior (one of only 13), a fighter, a leader.

He knows his importance this week and the rest of the way. Not just on the field.

“Coaches set the culture, but what happens on a day-to-day basis on really good teams is based on the players,” he said. “As a senior, and with other experienced guys, we just want to make sure we stick together and play as good as we can.”

There was some lamenting Tuesday, as you’d expect. These guys know they could have beaten Purdue last weekend, Penn State the weekend before and Wisconsin back in late September.

But it didn’t happen, and you can’t fixate on it not happening.

“I think I’ve told you guys (before) that life’s not always fair, but football is,” said Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. “The ball just didn’t bounce our way. We’re three possessions away from (being undefeated), but you can’t look back and say that. There are a lot of things we could do. We just need to find a way to get it done, go over the hump.”

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“We’re right there,” said Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley. “The three losses we’ve had, at some point or another, we’ve been in control of the game. We’ve controlled our own destiny. It’s just pulling together and making those plays when they count, whether it be one more stop or one more drive.”

They insist they’re still all in.

“We just want to play our best football,” Hesse said. “It’s a testament to this team that we’ve stuck together through two tough losses in a row now. But no one is pointing fingers, no one is looking to blame someone else. Everyone has ownership in what has happened good or bad this year. We just want to go out this week and put together 60 minutes of good football and play together.”

Blackout game

Iowa fans are encouraged to wear black clothing for Saturday’s game.

It’s also Military Appreciation Day, with several festivities planned. Military members and veterans can purchase game tickets for $50 ($25 for youths) for themselves and family members at hawkyesports.com/tickets.

This is available Friday and online only, with a special promo code of TICKETSFORHEROES18 needed.

Josey Jewell returns

Denver Broncos linebacker and former Hawkeye all-American Josey Jewell will be recognized Saturday for winning the 2017 Lott IMPACT Trophy. The annual award goes to college football’s best defensive player in character and performance and is named after Pro and College Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.

Jewell will be honored on the field and presented with the trophy, a ceremonial ring and a $25,000 check that will go to the UI General Scholarship Field.

Injury update

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said backup tight end Shaun Beyer remains out “for the next couple of games” with a leg injury. Ferentz said the former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep also is iffy for the team’s bowl game.

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Fullback Brady Ross won’t play Saturday as he continues to nurse an ankle injury. Cornerback Matt Hankins is back “in good graces,” Ferentz said, after missing last week (along with teammate Trey Creamer) because the pair was charged two weeks ago with excessive noise during a house party they hosted.

Hankins, who has had issues with a wrist injury, started Iowa’s first four games at left corner.

“I’m not saying he’ll start, but my guess is he’ll play (against Northwestern),” Ferentz said.

Dominating the rest of the West

Northwestern is 5-1 in the Big Ten West Division, thanks primarily to a 3-0 record against West teams. The Wildcats have beaten Purdue, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Northwestern has won nine straight games against West Division opponents and 12 of its last 13. The lone loss in that span came Sept. 30, 2017, against Wisconsin, 33-24.

The Wildcats could clinch the West with a win Saturday and losses from Wisconsin (against Penn State) and Purdue (against Minnesota). A 2-1 record in its final games also gets the job done.

Northwestern finishes up at Minnesota and at home against Illinois.

Penalty talk

Northwestern leads the country in fewest penalties, a total of 26 for 245 yards. That’s 27.2 yards per game.

The Wildcats did not have even one penalty in their game last week against Notre Dame. Iowa ranks ranks 10th in the Big Ten (or fifth, depending on how you look at it) with an average of 52.1 penalty yards per game.

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Ferentz said “we conversed” with the Big Ten presumably about some late fourth-quarter penalties last week against Purdue, but the coach would not elaborate other than say everyone was moving on.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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