MEDIA DAY: Hopeful Hawkeyes ready to make amends
IOWA CITY – Kirk Ferentz and his squad don’t need a reminder of last year’s failings.
The 4-8 record, the six-game losing streak, or the backbreaking losses to Central Michigan, Indiana and Purdue.
Though they’re not going to hide from them either.
Moving forward without dismissing the past, the Iowa football team is ready to regroup and make its first losing season in a dozen years a distant memory.
“We’re trying to focus more on the present and the future, but we can’t forget how disappointing last year was,” said senior right tackle Brett Van Sloten, one of three returning starters on the offensive line. “We’re looking to bounce back from that and we’ve got a lot of hungry people.”
The young but experienced front five will go a long way in shaping the team’s success after last year’s first losing campaign since a 3-9 finish in 2000.
“We have the makings to have a good line and certainly if we’re going to have a good football team, we’re going to have to play well there,” said Ferentz, who enters his 15th year as head coach of the Hawkeyes. “Certainly we’re more experienced than we were a year ago. Now we need to show that on the field on a consistent basis. That’s the biggest thing.”
Sophomore Austin Blythe moves from right guard to center, while juniors Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal return from leg injuries to offer depth at left tackle. Senior Conor Boffeli heads up left guard with sophomore Jordan Walsh at right guard.
Winning the battle in the trenches is especially critical in easing the transition as Iowa hands the reins to one of three quarterbacks that have yet to take a snap in Division I play. Sophomore Jake Rudock, junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard are all in contention for the starting role, with no early frontrunner yet.
Picked by the media to finish second to last in the Big Ten Legends Division and 10th overall in the conference, the Hawkeyes boast a healthy and deep stable of running backs – an issue for Iowa in years past.
Junior bulldozer Mark Weisman (837 yards, 8 touchdowns) joins speedsters Damon Bullock (513 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Canzeri in a loaded backfield after each battled injuries a year ago. The trio should help the Hawks further lighten the load at quarterback after Iowa finished with the Big Ten’s last place rushing attack in 2012 at 123 yards per game, though Bullock and Canzeri have also seen some reps at the slot.
The 6-foot-7 senior C.J. Fiedorowicz (45 receptions, 433 yards) headlines a deep pool of tight ends to offset the Hawks’ lack of dependable options at receiver. Junior Ray Hamilton and sophomore Jake Duzey also have shown promise at a position that Ferentz is confident in going five deep.
“This is a group where we probably have as much depth as any,” said Ferentz of his tight ends. “For us to be an effective offensive football team, those guys are going to have to be involved and I would say the same about our backs.”
Defensively the Hawkeyes will rally behind their three-headed attack of senior linebackers in James Morris (113 tackles, 9 tackles for loss), Anthony Hitchens (124 tackles) and Christian Kirksey (95 tackles, 2 interceptions). All three enter their fourth season together and will help solidify the middle for a younger defensive front that will utilize an eight-man rotation led by returning starters Dominic Alvis and Louis Trinca-Pasat.
“We have great chemistry on and off the field and things are pretty seamless when we’re out there,” said Morris of the linebacker corps. “We know how to communicate with each other verbally and nonverbally. It’s a luxury to be able to do that.”
The Hawkeyes schedule won’t afford them any luxuries early as they open the season against two-time defending Mid-American Conference Champions Northern Illinois, led by potential Heisman contender Jordan Lynch at quarterback. Iowa heads to Jack Trice Sept. 14 to battle the Cyclones and kicks off Big Ten play at Minnesota Sept. 28.
Getting off to a good start will be pivotal for the Hawks both in washing away the bad taste left from last season’s six-game slide while also preparing for a challenging four-game stretch through October and early November that includes Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Not looking ahead or behind, the Hawkeyes are focused in the present – though not without a noticeable chip on their shoulder.
“We’ve kind of put last year behind us,” said senior long snapper Casey Kreiter. “We’re not going to focus on it, but we’ve got that taste in our mouth. … We accepted it and we’re using it as a little bit of fuel, but we’ve definitely turned the page.”