Nov. 5, 2010
By RICHIE ZAWISTOWSKI
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For a sport with the physicality of football, injuries are an accepted part of the game, just like scheming against a defensive end that wreaks havoc, or overcoming a bad bounce early in a contest. Injuries happen, and successful teams find ways to overcome them.
The University of Iowa football team has had its share of injuries recently, and it has seemed to overcome them all. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz and the rest of his staff preaches a "next man in" mentality to help ease the loss of players and teammates.
The next week running back Adam Robinson and middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian stepped up for the Hawkeyes. Robinson rushed for 115 yards, and Tarpinian had a team-high nine tackles as Iowa blanked Ball State, 45-0. It wasn't exactly a next-man-in scenario since both players were listed as starters, but the message remained.
While it started in Week 3, the injury bug continues to bite.
Robinson is questionable against Indiana after suffering a mild concussion against Michigan State. Ferentz did not give details, saying, "We have a lot of guys who are nicked up."
Most notably, the injuries to the linebacker unit for Iowa are taking a toll as well.
Tarpinian has not started since the Ball State game because of injury, and he missed Iowa's previous two contests with a stinger before returning against Michigan State in a reserve role.
"The report I got (Tuesday) morning is maybe he's gaining a little ground right now," said Ferentz. "Hopefully we can increase his role Saturday."
True freshman middle linebacker James Morris is listed as a starter against Indiana, and he will make his second consecutive start. Morris played well in the opportunities presented in the next-man-in mentality. He notched a key tackle-for-loss on third down in Michigan State's opening drive on Oct. 30.
"That's a very important position, middle linebacker," said UI strong safety Tyler Sash. "As a freshman to control the whole defense, to come in and stand in front of our defensive line as a true freshman, you would think most kids would be intimidated. But he stands in front and makes all the checks to the guys up front, and he does a great job getting lined up."
"James loves the game of football," added defensive tackle Mike Daniels. "He'll do whatever it takes to be the best. He brings energy to that field, he brings fire to that field. We love playing with him. It's also great to see the confidence he brings in there being a true freshman."
Weak-side linebacker Jeremiha Hunter left the game against Wisconsin with a knee injury. He also missed the following game against Michigan State. Despite sitting last Saturday, Hunter still leads Iowa with 51 tackles. However, Ferentz said Hunter has a "realistic shot to be with us," regarding Saturday's contest against the Hoosiers.
While the injuries to Tarpinian and Hunter were not season-ending, the latest victim to the Hawkeye linebacker corps is. Tyler Nielsen will most likely be lost for the year after suffering a neck injury against Michigan State.
Ferentz complemented Nielsen's play as "tremendous," adding that while it's obviously a blow to Iowa, it's tough on Nielsen, who is an individual who wants to be out on the field.
The next man in at outside linebacker is freshman Shane DiBona, who started against Michigan State. Coincidentally, against the Spartans he was replacing senior Troy Johnson who is another UI linebacker who has dealt with injuries. Johnson saw action in the Michigan State game in a reserve role, however.
"Last game was my first start so I was a little bit nervous at first," said DiBona. "But for the most part I know what to do at all times, it's just executing during the game. I was happy; I made some mistakes, and I was a little bit nervous, but I feel like I played well."
DiBona added that the outside linebacker position is a "committee" and he has to be ready at all times.
He was ready to go this past week, as Sash credited DiBona with helping fellow linebacker Morris stuff Michigan State for a three-and-out on their first drive.
"Shane started off the game and he made a couple big plays," said Sash. "The first third-and-1 he stuffed the fullback and allowed Morris to make the tackle for loss and get off the field. I think that was a statement for the rest of the game."
Another next man in at linebacker for Iowa is senior Ross Peterson.
"Ross checked in when Tyler Nielsen went down, and he did a great job," said Sash. "Since we're on the same side, the strong side, the communication with him was good."
Whatever linebackers will be on the field, they will have to play well against a high-powered offense from Indiana. Whether it is seniors: Peterson, Johnson, Hunter, or Tarpinian -- or the freshmen in DiBona and Morris -- the linebackers will have to try to shove aside any injury for 60 minutes on the field if they want to help the Hawkeyes come out victorious.
After all, injures are part of the game.