Iowa Football

Northwestern isn't necessarily a must win for Iowa, but the game's importance is up there

Hawkeyes already in hole with season-opening loss to Purdue

Iowa defensive back Matt Hankins (8) intercepts a pass in front of Purdue wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. (10) during th
Iowa defensive back Matt Hankins (8) intercepts a pass in front of Purdue wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. (10) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

CEDAR RAPIDS — There isn’t a Middle Tennessee on this year’s schedule. Miami (Ohio) is nowhere to be found.

There was no tuneup for Big Ten Conference play for the Iowa Hawkeyes this COVID-19 season. It was just straight to it, eight consecutive big games, plus one at the end, if everyone stays healthy enough.

With a loss last week to Purdue in the opener, Saturday’s home opener against Northwestern just became even bigger. You want to play in the Big Ten championship game in December, you can’t drop another one.

They call that urgency, right?

“Certainly every loss hurts, and every loss is significant, and especially when you’re playing a nine-game season, they become that much more significant,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said in a Zoom chat Tuesday with reporters. “That’ll never change.”

Wisconsin looked the part of heavy West Division favorite in dissecting Illinois last week, but suddenly the ninth-ranked Badgers have major COVID-19 issues. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting Saturday’s game at Nebraska could be canceled and declared a no contest because Wisconsin is approaching a positive test threshold that would shut down its program for a week before a re-assessment, per Big Ten protocols.

Starting quarterback Graham Mertz, who played great against the Illini, has tested positive and is out three weeks, as is backup, Chase Wolf, who also has tested positive, according to reports. Jack Coan, last year’s starter, is out with an injury, meaning Wisconsin could be down to original fourth-stringer Danny Vanden Boom and freshman walk-on Daniel Wright, an Iowan and former all-stater at Sergeant Bluff-Luton.

That’s not optimal. For your information, determining division champs is based on win percentage.

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Yet, bottom line, if Northwestern beats Iowa on Saturday, it would already own a two-game lead on the Hawkeyes just two games into this thing.

“Our good teams at least have gotten better as the year goes on,” Ferentz said. “If we’re going to be successful, that’s paramount, we have to do that. There’s just not much wiggle room, as I alluded to earlier ... Every game is really critical.

“Hopefully we’ll show improvement this week from last week. We need to (because) just looking at the film from the Maryland game the other night, it could turn fast if we’re not ready to go because they’ve got a good football team and they are ... ready to roll. They showed that.”

Northwestern plowed Maryland, 43-3, behind a 30-point first half and 537 total yards, 331 rushing. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey leads the Wildcats offense as a graduate transfer from Indiana.

He lived in Bloomington for a couple of years with Iowa offensive tackle Coy Cronk, also a grad transfer.

“He’s one of my best friends in the entire world. I love him to death,” Cronk said. “But he knows this week we’re not going to be talking to each other.”

Ferentz and Iowa players available for Zoom interviews Monday stressed that as much as they are concerned about Northwestern (and they are), cleaning up their own play has been paramount so far this week in practice. The Hawkeyes lost two fumbles offensively, missed a lot of tackles defensively and committed 10 penalties for 100 yards, with both sides of the football guilty there.

Combine all that, and it led to a 24-20 loss.

“I would say this for any team, the first game is always a little shaky,” said Iowa linebacker/cash Barrington Wade. “It’s your first time going out there, and especially (we were) playing a really fast-paced game game-wise. We’ll definitely improve from our first game, for sure.”

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“We’ve just got to be better at the basics,” said Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon. “Be better at communication, better at giving out calls, just talking to each other out on the field. That way we can be in great position to make tackles and make plays.”

Iowa’s penalty problem offensively was confounding because most of the flags were for false starts. That might, again, go back to it being a first game.

“We’re going to have to play catch up here,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to have to get moving, and it’s every game counts. ... The real key thing right now is how we respond. Do we come back and play cleaner and give ourselves a chance to win? At least make Northwestern beat us? We don’t want to help our opponent, give them an edge at all in the game.”

“Overall. I need to be more consistent,” said quarterback Spencer Petras, about his first college start. “But all of our focus is on Northwestern right now. Kind of put Purdue to bed on Sunday. Now we’re just focused on beating Northwestern.”

Iowa football notebook

• Ferentz said starting middle linebacker Jack Campbell and starting defensive tackle Austin Schulte will miss Saturday’s game. Campbell has mono and Schulte an undisclosed injury, maladies that kept them out of the Purdue game.

The coach said the duo likely will not be available next week against Michigan State as well.

• This week’s game captains are the same as last week: Chauncey Golston, Keith Duncan, Nick Niemann, Mekhi Sargent and Tyler Linderbaum.

• The NCAA is not allowing teams in any sport to practice Tuesday, so student athletes can vote. Ferentz said he supports the notion of the rule and relayed a story about missing out on voting.

“I do remember voting mainly because my wife reminds me to,” he said. “I remember (a couple of years ago) going down (to) I think it’s Horace Mann (Elementary School). I got there at whatever time the polls closed, 9:58, and I remember I’m walking to the door, I’m probably about 60 feet from the door, and this sweet lady is looking at me, and then she just shuts the door right in my face because I was 20 seconds late, and she wouldn’t let me in. So I didn’t vote that year, I’ve got to confess.

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“So anyway, it is what it is. We decided to do this. I get the concept. I’m totally in support of the concept. I think we could have done it a better way, but nobody asked. So we’ll adjust.”

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

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