CEDAR RAPIDS — He was asked a couple of different ways Tuesday afternoon about the elephant in the room.
Considering an 0-2 start, a couple of demoralizingly close losses, the offseason turmoil, their top wide receiver being arrested early Sunday morning for drunken driving, three guys announcing they are transferring, trying to play during a pandemic and without fans in the stands to motivate them, could this Iowa football season go completely off the rails, sideways, however you want to phrase it?
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said he doesn’t think so.
“You must know something I don’t,” Ferentz said during a Zoom interview with reporters, after the topic was broached with him a second time. “Our guys are great. They were good on Sunday looking at the film. A lot of good things on that film. There are a lot of things that were painful. You know, it’s like every game, but when you don’t win, it’s a little harder. That makes it a harder day.
“But they were great on the field (Monday) morning, thought we had a good workout. Got a lot done, a lot accomplished. Good meetings (Monday) night. I have no reason to think that they are not just going to keep pushing forward. I have no reason to believe that.”
A win Saturday over Michigan State (1-1) would ease a lot of troubled minds, even if those troubled minds apparently are only Hawkeye fans. As Ferentz mentioned, he’s comfortable with his team.
It just has to do things a little bit better, a little more consistently. This is the first time since 2000, Ferentz’s second year as head coach, that Iowa has started a season 0-2.
“I think we have good players, I think we have good people as I’ve said,” Ferentz said. “Haven’t seen anything to the contrary, and obviously coaches have little things they look at all the time and watch. I’m seeing a lot more good than negative, that’s for sure.
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Ferentz alluded to the 2008 season as an example of being down in the dumps but pulling out of those dumps. Iowa won its first three games that season (over Maine, Florida International and Iowa State), only to lose its next three (one-possession games to Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State).
The Hawkeyes rallied to win six of their last seven games (a three-point loss to Illinois the exception), including a blowout of South Carolina in the 2009 Outback Bowl.
“That year ended up being one of the most enjoyable years I have ever had in coaching,” Ferentz said. “That team, not that you rank your teams or anything like that, but I just have nothing but fond memories about that team, and it goes right back to ... our leadership. And it came from a lot of different places, a lot of different levels.
“We had three one-possession losses straight. It’s hard, it tests you in a lot of ways and opinions on the outside, all that stuff. It’s all about what we do internally. If our focus stays where it needs to be, and it never changes, it’s all about trying to get better this week and see what we can do this week and play our best this week.”
Ferentz said Ihmir Smith-Marsette is remorseful for his weekend incident and hopes he’ll miss just this game. Smith-Marsette has athletics department protocols to go through and is spending this week practicing on the scout team.
Wide receiver Calvin Lockett has announced his intentions to enter the NCAA transfer portal. Lockett is a redshirt sophomore from Florida who has not played in a game for Iowa.
Linebacker Yahweh Jeudy and running back Shadrick Byrd announced their plans to transfer last week. Jeudy was a redshirt freshman from Florida who had yet to play, Byrd a redshirt freshman from Alabama who played on special teams in the opener two weeks ago against Purdue.
“I think there are two commonalities with all three of the players,” Ferentz said. “They are all from distance, far from home. I guess maybe another commonality, they are all fairly young players ... I think the other similarity is all three weren’t in the two-deep either of the first two weeks. But all that being said, it’s disappointing because all three of them were doing well. All three are good people and good players. I think they had good potential.”
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Iowa and everyone else is dealing with one less day of practice this week. The NCAA declared Tuesday’s Election Day a non-practice day in order to give all athletes an opportunity to vote.
That makes things more difficult, especially for a team like Iowa that is trying to get its ship righted.
“Like most college teams, we work pretty hard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Those are our heaviest lifting days, if you will, on the practice field, and then you start to taper back,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s the biggest thing is today would have been more of a heavy practice day and we don’t have that opportunity. We just have to slide things a little bit, and we’ll taper off at the end of the week because of the close proximity of the game, as opposed to working today. It is what it is and we’ll deal with it.”
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