Aug. 26, 2014
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz points to the last five season openers as evidence that Saturday's game against Northern Iowa will be anything but a pushover.
It starts in 2009 when Ferentz said the Hawkeyes needed a miracle, not good fortune, to pull out a 17-16 win in Kinnick Stadium against their neighbor to the north. In 2010, Northern Iowa opened with a 16-9 win against North Dakota State, a program that has won the last three NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision national championships. In 2011, the Panthers lost at Iowa State, 20-19. A year later they fell at Wisconsin, 26-21. Last season Northern Iowa won at Iowa State, 28-20.
"They don't seem to mind where they go or who they play, they go play well," Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly news conference in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "If we're surprised by that, which we were in 2009 for whatever reason, we'd better change our attitude."
Iowa hosts Northern Iowa on Aug. 30 with kickoff scheduled for 11:01 a.m. (CT). The game will be televised live by BTN. The Hawkeyes have won 15 in a row in the series, including 27-16 in 2012.
Ferentz calls the Northern Iowa program consistent. The Panthers average more than 8.5 wins a season in head coach Mark Farley's 13 seasons. Northern Iowa returns 18 starters from a team that went 7-5 in 2013.
"When these guys are healthy and ready to go, they're going to be a challenging opponent," Ferentz said. "They're going to be a challenging opponent; we'd better be at our best."
Turning to the Hawkeyes, Ferentz reported that junior defensive lineman Darian Cooper, who made 18 tackles a year ago, will be out for the season with a knee injury. Sophomore wide receiver Riley McCarron will miss a few weeks with a shoulder injury he sustained during Kid's Day scrimmage on Aug. 16.
"They don't seem to mind where they go or who they play, they go play well. If we're surprised by that, which we were in 2009 for whatever reason, we'd better change our attitude."
UI football coach
One of the top challengers at kicker -- Mick Ellis -- is one of four true freshmen Ferentz said could see game action in 2014. The others are defensive back Miles Taylor, linebacker Ben Niemann, and linebacker-turned-fullback Aaron Mends.
Another player making a move up the depth chart is senior wide receiver Damond Powell, who had surgery for a sports hernia in the offseason. Powell is listed as junior Jacob Hillyer's backup for the first game. Last season Powell averaged 24.2 yards on 12 receptions.
"He's ahead of the charts," Ferentz said. "I don't know if those charts were based on people my age or a young athlete who's actually in good shape, but Damond is a pretty resilient guy, and he has really come back quickly from it."
Junior Nate Meier, who Ferentz said is one of the most improved players, is listed as co-starter at defensive end with senior Mike Hardy. When it comes to improvement on offense, Ferentz praised sophomore running back LeShun Daniels, Jr., and junior tight end Henry Krieger Coble.
Ferentz concurred when asked if he was concerned about defensive cohesiveness among the Hawkeyes, especially because of the absence of all three starting linebackers from 2013.
"I'm concerned about the cohesiveness of our entire football team," Ferentz said. "Any time you have new players enter the mix, you've got work to do."
Northern Iowa senior running back David Johnson is expected to be one of the biggest thorns in Iowa's side Saturday. Last season Johnson rushed for 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 38 passes for four more scores.
"As (former defensive coordinator) Norm (Parker) used to say, you stop great players by playing great team defense," Ferentz said.
Tickets for Saturday's game are still available by calling (800) IA-HAWKS or visiting www.hawkeyesports.com.