Iowa looks to rebuild from loss

By Derek Barichello

When Illinois travels to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, they will be in familiar company.

Iowa, like the Illini, are coming off its most embarrassing performance of the season. In last Saturday’s game, the Hawkeyes lost 31-6 to No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus. In that game, the Hawkeyes allowed 530 yards of total offense, including 314 yards on the ground, in a loss that could have been worse, had the Hawkeyes not recovered two fumbles in the Buckeye redzone.

For a team that started the season ranked No. 10 nationally, Iowa fans are hoping that Hawkeye team shows up, rather than the one that has sputtered out of the rankings with a 2-2 record, the worst offense in the Big Ten and a defense unable to stop the run.

“Realistically, our team kind of develops and matures as the season goes on,” Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It doesn’t appear that we have played our best football. Only time will tell if that’s true.”

If the Hawkeyes are going to play their best, quarterback Drew Tate will be the guy to lead them. Tate, who was named Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has had a rough go of it early on, battling injuries and poor play.

In Iowa’s two wins, Tate completed 24-28 passes for 346 yards, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions, but in Iowa’s two losses, he completed 27-50 passes for 203 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

In last Saturday’s game, after being sacked in the third quarter, Tate slammed the football into the turf, causing the referee to call a delay of game penalty and sparking questions about whether he could lead the team.

“It’s pretty obvious that he cares and cares a lot,” Ferentz said. “I’d be more concerned if he didn’t care. Saturday’s display was about more than just one play. And, make no mistake, he wasn’t the only guy in the stands feeling that way (frustrated).”

Even Ferentz lashed out at reporters after the game. But at Tuesday’s press conference, the Hawkeyes’ tone changed from frustration to focus.

“We’ve got an attitude around here that the (Ohio State) game is in the past, it’s over with, you can’t get it back, that’s in the books, so move on and improve,” running back Albert Young said. “We did have high expectations coming in as a team, and we still do. This time last year, we had the same record. Even though we’d rather have things be another way than being 2-2, there’s still potential to have a great season.”

And that all starts Saturday for the Hawkeyes, who Ferentz said will need to do a better job of stopping the run to be successful.

The Hawkeyes defensive line is small and inexperienced, starting three sophomores and one freshmen, with none over 300 pounds. They are ranked eighth in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up 159.8 yards per game.

“We had a little problem with that type of guy last week (talking about Illini running back Pierre Thomas), so we have some things to work on this week,” he said. “They have excellent backs, and it’s a real position of strength for them.”

While their line has not played well this season, the Hawkeyes’ defensive strength lies in their linebackers and secondary. They rank third in the Big Ten in passing defense, allowing only 181.5 yards per game, with linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge on the Dick Butkus Award Watch List. Because of that, Illini head coach Ron Zook said the team will need to be ready.

“It’s important that we go in there and make sure we’re coached up on the things that we do,” Zook said. “Hopefully, we can execute them at a much better and much faster pace than we did last week.”

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, one of the questions will be whether Iowa’s rushing offense, which ranks worst in the Big Ten, will be able to exploit an Illini defense that is allowing 215 yards per game.

An advantage the Hawkeyes will have going into Saturday’s game will be their home field, where they have a history of success. With a victory, they will set a new school record with 21-straight home wins. It is homecoming, so they are expecting a sellout crowd.

“We made it a program goal to make playing at Kinnick very difficult for the opposition,” Ferentz said. “We’re proud of that streak, and there have been a lot of people responsible for it.”