IOWA CITY – With other priorities, Iowa football players shrug off the suggestion by their Nebraska counterparts that they don’t respect the Cornhuskers.
“We respect every opponent we play,’’ Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch said. “Our focus this week is where it always is, on ourselves and how we can play better than we did in our last game. That never changes.’’
During a news conference Monday, Nebraska players said they believe the Hawkeyes didn’t respect the Cornhuskers program in part because of the four-game win streak in the series Iowa will look to extend in Friday’s 1:30 p.m. game in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Heard about it,’’ offensive lineman Kyler Schott said, adding that he doesn’t buy into that notion at all.
“It came down to the end last year. We don’t expect anything to be easy,’’ he added, referencing a 31-28 Iowa win decided on a Miguel Recinos field goal in the final seconds last season at Kinnick Stadium.
Schott echoed Welch in saying the Hawkeyes had plenty to concentrate on this week beyond the words of opponents.
On offense, 19th-ranked Iowa is focused on getting its ground game going after struggling last week against Illinois and defensively, the Hawkeyes are preparing for the skill of the Cornhuskers’ now-healthy quarterback, Adrian Martinez.
“We’ve got plenty to work on this week,’’ Welch said. “The tape Sunday, it shows that we didn’t play anywhere close to a perfect game against Illinois. It’s a busy week for us.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said the closeness of last year’s game has his team’s attention.
“I think it probably gives you a good window into what to expect this ballgame,’’ he said. “Basically it went down to the last play, a back-and-forth type of game and we had a great challenge on our hands in all regards.’’
Martinez had something to do with that.
Last season, he evaded the Iowa defense for 76 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“Once he got going last year, what happened? We couldn’t stop him, couldn’t slow him down,’’ Ferentz said. “We couldn’t contain him, so that’s a real concern for us right now.’’
Martinez gave Iowa the same type of troubles it had in containing Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters last week as he gained 76 yards on 10 carries.
And Iowa defenders are hearing a lot about the importance of containment this week.
“That starts up front with the line and works its way through all of our responsibilities,’’ free safety Jack Koerner said. “We need to do what we can to keep him in the pocket and limit what he is able to do.’’
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On the other side of the ball, the one thing Iowa wants to do is move the ball on the ground.
Limited to 79 rushing yards on 32 carries in last weekend’s 19-10 win over Illinois, Schott said re-energizing the run game also starts with line play.
“That’s our job, to get the run game going,’’ he said. “It was frustrating against Illinois. We put coach Brian (Ferentz, the Iowa offensive coordinator) in a position where he couldn’t make a lot of run calls because we weren’t doing our job the way it needed to be done.’’
That hasn’t been an issue for Iowa against Nebraska in recent seasons.
The Hawkeyes have piled up 999 yards on the ground against the Cornhuskers during Iowa’s four-game win streak in the series, out-rushing Nebraska in each of the games.
On average, the Hawkeyes have out-gained the Cornhuskers on the ground 249.8-113.5 yards to facilitate their ongoing streak.
At the moment, Ferentz is more concerned with recent performance than history.
He credited Illinois’ defense with holding the Hawkeyes down last week, but said Iowa must focus on improvement this week.
“We’ve got to block better and we’ve got to run better,’’ he said. “… We didn’t run the ball very effectively at all Saturday and we’re going to have to do at least a somewhat better job this Friday to have any chance in this game.’’
Schott said that has led to an aggressive approach on the practice field this week.
The focus, Ferentz said, has been on the detail work.
“Part of it is aiming points, part of it is cohesion and fits, all those kinds of things, but the bottom line is we didn’t get it done on Saturday,’’ Ferentz said.
Schott said the Hawkeyes get that.
“We have to do a better job with all the little things this week,’’ he said. “That’s where it starts. If we want to get the run game back to where it belongs, we have to do a better job with the details.’’
That is where Iowa’s attention is at this week, not on the words of opponents.
“One thing we try to teach our players is to respect every opponent that we play and respect what it takes to win,’’ Ferentz said. “If you play college football long enough or coach it long enough, you realize how difficult it is to win a game against anybody. We respect them all, week in and week out, opponent after opponent.’’