Dec. 21, 2010
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It has been 28 days since the University of Iowa football team practiced outdoors and the Hawkeyes embraced the opportunity Tuesday at Corona Del Sol High School.
"It was a work day," UI wide receiver Marvin McNutt said. "We were out there making sure we weren't letting up or letting our guard down because Missouri is a good team and we're going to need our best to compete at the highest level."
With a three-car police escort, the Hawkeyes made the 15-minute trek from their team hotel at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Chandler to the practice facility in Tempe. Conditions were overcast with temperatures in the mid-60s...in other words:
"This is football weather right now, so it's outstanding," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz spent four minutes with media after the team's first practice.
"It's good to be outdoors. We haven't been outdoors in a while so this feels terrific," he said. "I know the natives here are not pleased with the weather, but this is great for us. It was good to be outdoors."
Not only are the Hawkeyes nursing back to health physically, but they noticeably picked up the tempo as practice went along. Ferentz complimented the team for being attentive and concentrating, even though they still have a ways to go before they are at game speed.
"We made fewer mistakes than we were making over the past weekend, that's for sure," Ferentz said. "I thought the guys moved around pretty well; we're not at game tempo yet, but we're moving in the right direction."
A unique aspect of the 2010 Insight Bowl is that it features two teams from the Midwest. Under Ferentz, Iowa has played in the postseason against programs from the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Texas (twice), Florida, Louisiana and California. In other words, teams that don't need time to reacclimatize to practicing outdoors. Missouri arrives in Arizona on Dec. 23 -- three days later than the Hawkeyes.
"For us it's important to work on the long throws, kicking game -- some of the stuff that's a little more challenging when you're inside," Ferentz said. "I like getting to the bowl site a little earlier so the players can take care of the curiosity factor and we want them to enjoy their experience, so this gives them more time, we can have later curfews -- things like that on the front end. Then we can hone it down as we move along."
For Ferentz, practicing is "the best part of the job." He also enjoys the bowl experience, primarily because one of his biggest trials is the chaotic early portion of the month of December.
"It's a grind getting to the plane," Ferentz said. "Once you get to the plane, there's nothing better because it's strictly about the bowl site, practicing. It's always great to get to the bowl destination and this is a good one to be at."
There are seven days before Insight Bowl game day. The Hawkeyes (7-5) play No. 14 Missouri (10-2) for the first time since 1910. Kickoff is 9 p.m. (CT) from Sun Devil Stadium (56,000) in Tempe.
"We're game-planning right now," Ferentz said. "We've been throwing a lot at the guys mentally and it was good to get some work in (Tuesday)."
Ferentz was asked to clarify "throwing a lot at the guys mentally." In other words, getting the Hawkeyes ready for an opponent that will challenge them in several areas. Iowa is very aware of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has thrown for 2,752 yards and 15 touchdowns and run for 239 yards and four more scores; it is aware of a Tiger defense that is the best in the nation in allowing the lowest percentage of red zone scores (55 percent); it is aware of receivers Michael Egnew and T.J. Moe, with a combined 160 pass receptions; it is aware of a defense that has compiled 38 sacks in 12 games.
McNutt, a native of St. Louis, knows that bowls are not about handouts and pageantry. They are about winning.
"You need to remember what you're down here for," McNutt said. "You're not going to remember the gifts, but you'll remember your win-loss total from your bowl games."
Iowa returns to training Wednesday in full pads. Ferentz and selected players will be available to the media after practice.