Iowa Football

Iowa plays host to Iowa State on Saturday

Hawkeyes working on linebacker and wide receiver

Northern Illinois Huskies cornerback Albert Smalls (1) intercepts a pass intended for Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) during the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Illinois Huskies cornerback Albert Smalls (1) intercepts a pass intended for Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) during the first quarter of their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Well, at least we all don’t have to worry about suspensions anymore.

Everyone is in for Saturday when the Cyclones (0-0) travel to Kinnick Stadium for the annual matchup with the Hawkeyes. Iowa’s four suspended players — offensive tackles Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson and defensive tackles Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore — are on the depth chart and will be in the game.

For Iowa State, defensive tackle Kamilo Tongamoa, defensive back De’Monte Ruth and offensive lineman Julian Good-Jones (former Cedar Rapids Washington prep) also are off suspension.

Iowa’s suspended players didn’t even get a chance to see their coach break the school’s career wins record. The Hawkeyes’ 33-7 victory over Northern Illinois last week moved Ferentz to 144 wins as Iowa’s head coach, one ahead of Hayden Fry, his predecessor.

Instead of watching a little bit of history, Iowa’s suspended foursome had eight hours of community service on Saturday, going along with the four they had last Friday.

“Really happy with the way they’ve handled it,” Ferentz said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “Obviously wish they hadn’t been in that situation, but I think they’ve handled it the way we would hope, and what’s most important now is they continue to do that.”

Wirfs and Jackson are listed as the starters. Jackson had a cast on his left hand around media day (Aug. 11). Ferentz said he’s good to go. Ferentz didn’t declare offensive line depth totally healthy, but they sure do feel better about it after Dalton Ferguson, Mark Kallenberger and Levi Paulsen filled in last week.

“We’ll let those guys compete, too,” Ferentz said. “The more the merrier. The depth on the offensive line was a big concern coming into camp and it remains that way, but I feel like we’re a little further down the road now in a positive way than we were.”

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The suspensions are settled business. Now where is the game film from the Cyclones last week? Oh yeah, ISU’s game against South Dakota State lasted five minutes before it had to be shut down because of lightning delays.

Video study is hugely important. Quarterback Nate Stanley said it’s the No. 1 go-to thing in his preparation.

Iowa probably wouldn’t have spent a lot of time with video of a blowout win over an FCS school.

“Early in the season, we’re looking at the games they’ve played, the first and second one,” safety Jake Gervase said. “At the same time, we’re looking at a lot of games they played last year. They’d been preparing for that opponent for nine months, so they might have something new on that tape. That’s the challenge going into Saturday.”

Iowa is just going to have to make do. Iowa State would’ve loved nothing more than to deliver that film. The Cyclones’ (0-0) scored on a 55-yard QB Kyle Kempt pass to wide receiver Deshaunte Jones before their game was canceled and stats voided.

But here we are. Really, there we all were last Saturday night with a sky full of crazy lightning.

“I’m not smart enough to know if it was good, bad or indifferent,” Ferentz said. “But it’s just one of those things, and it’s just how it shook out, so it’s how it goes going into the game.”

As far as the football stuff from Northern Illinois, a 33-7 victory with the Hawkeyes scoring 30 points in the second half, you heard Ferentz on the O-line depth. Last week’s result was a huge lift for that unit, especially with two of their better O-linemen back in the mix this week.

Linebacker and wide receiver were unsteady.

Junior Amani Jones was replaced in the first quarter by senior Jack Hockaday. NIU aimed its attack at the guy who knew all summer he’d be replacing all-American middle linebacker Josey Jewell. The Huskies got a few big plays out of it.

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Jones kept punching on special teams and seemed like a different player when he re-entered with the second-teamers in the fourth quarter.

“I’m not going to say it was predictable what happened, but I think what happened to him is consistent with him,” Ferentz said. “The reason we like him so much, he’s high-energy — he wants to make every play and get to the ball, and you can’t always do that.

“Sometimes you just have to play your position. And I think he was just trying so hard that he hurt himself a little bit on a couple plays, and we just wanted to get him out. He was probably the only guy playing well in the last possession.”

You know Ferentz became the all-time winningest coach last week. Twenty years comes with a few stories that help people with context.

“I’m not saying he’s (former Iowa excitable QB) Drew Tate, but Drew Tate hyperventilated his first game,” Ferentz said. “Kind of the same thing. Some guys just want to do so well, and you try to do too much, and sometimes that works against you.”

Hockaday finished the game and is listed as the starter this week. Have to credit the Iowa defense for a bit of quick repair work and a few alignment adjustments that NIU did not deal well with.

“Guys for the most part were in their spots, and when Amani wasn’t, that hurt us a little bit,” Ferentz said. “But that’s a big part of playing defense is just knowing where to be and what to do and then being there consistently. Just got to get him to slow it down a little bit.”

On offense, a conservative game plan likely made with the idea to keep hits off Stanley coupled with 48 called running plays on 73 plays, didn’t give the wide receivers group a lot to do.

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The tight ends caught eight passes on 11 targets for 104 yards and a TD. The wide receivers caught four passes on 15 targets. Sophomore Brandon Smith didn’t catch a pass on five targets. Sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught three passes for 28 yards on four targets.

Smith is a true sophomore. It’s not exactly like Jones, but Smith still is a young player short on experience.

“He may be playing a little bit ahead of his time, but he gives us we think the best option out there,” Ferentz said. “Sometimes players get thrust into positions maybe a little bit before they’re ready. But he’s got a good attitude. I think he’s made a lot of progress from a year ago, and I think if we just stay patient we’ll see him improve.

“Kind of the same discussion with Amani (Jones). Amani is a young player as a linebacker. He’s a veteran player as a kickoff coverage guy. Sometimes you’ve just got to go through those — got to be patient, and as long as guys are working hard and they’re showing the right attitude and all that, that gives you a reason to think that there’s going to be a good outcome here if we just stay with them and handle it properly.”

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

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