Washing away last season

BY BEN ROSS | DECEMBER 18, 2013 3:30 PM

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This time last year, James Morris wasn’t preparing to play in a postseason bowl game. He was working out and, in a state of minor depression, logging a lot of hours in a video game.

“I was sitting on my couch in my underwear playing Zelda,” Morris said about his “regimen” following Iowa’s 4-8 season in 2012. “[Now], I’m much happier. Obviously, Zelda is a great game, but I like football, and so if I can get a chance to do that, I would definitely play football.”

The game in particular was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

“My girlfriend bought it for me to try to lift my spirits, and it did. It got me through a dark time in my life,” the Academic All-American said.

Morris compareed Iowa’s upcoming Outback Bowl game against No. 16 LSU on Jan. 1 to the video game.

“I suppose the only comparison I could make is they’re both puzzles in a way,” he said. “You don’t necessarily try to solve the puzzle, but the answers are there. I liken that to football in that we’ll watch LSU, and the puzzle will be how to beat LSU, but we don’t necessarily know how to beat LSU.

So that’s why we prepare and make sure we do things. When it’s time to play the game, hopefully, we’ve prepared enough to solve puzzle.”

It may sound obvious, but the Iowa football team is in a situation that’s much more desirable than the one it found itself last year, when it had no bowl game to prepare for.

“[This time last year I was] pushing prowlers with [strength and conditioning] Coach Doyle,” senior right tackle Brett Van Sloten said. “It’s a big sled that’s not much fun to push. You have to do them, but we came here to play football and that’s a lot more fun this time of year to be practicing football than conditioning day after day.”

Senior linebacker Christian Kirksey echoed Van Sloten about last season’s workouts and pointed out another difference between now and then.

“[Last year, we were] working out and pushing prowlers,” Kirksey said. “We were working out and getting our bodies ready for next year, which is now. It feels good to work out for an opponent.

Working out and looking back at the season you sort of got that bad taste in your mouth — ‘we’re working out because we didn’t make it to a bowl game.’ You just feel this in the season. Now, you’re working out because you accomplished making a bowl — that’s the difference. A bowl game is an extra game that shows your accomplishments.”

Pushing these prowlers is the first thing just about every player mentioned when asked what they were doing this time last year. And with the esteemed coach Chris Doyle leading the workout, it’s likely something the players will never forget.

But Iowa’s personnel have bigger fish to fry rather than worry about how many plates are stacked on the workout contraption. LSU is the only team that defeated No. 2 Auburn this year, and the other Tigers are poised to play Florida State in this season’s BCS National Championship contest. The LSU Tigers have been led all season by two-year starter Zach Mettenberger at quarterback, but the fifth-year senior went down with a torn ACL in the last game of the season against Arkansas.

True freshman Anthony Jennings will now be featured under center for LSU, and the Iowa coaches have just two drives in which he passed seven times to work with for film. In that game with Jennings, LSU came from behind to defeat Arkansas.

Kirksey said it’s likely he’ll take a look at Jennings’ high-school film in order to get a feel for the young quarterback, even though looking at tape before college is seldom undertaken.

“You always have to be prepared to go against the next man; we have to make sure we eliminate the run and contain the two receivers,” Kirksey said. “[Jennings is] a mobile guy. He’s a guy like we’ve faced in other guys.”

Not a lot of people had Iowa pegged to see much success on the gridiron this season, let alone hit 8 wins and play in a Jan. 1 bowl game. But regardless of a win or loss against LSU in Tampa, Fla., faith will be restored in the Iowa football program, especially with eight returning starters on offense and a pretty weak schedule in 2014.

But next season is almost a whole year away, and now, Iowa football coaches, players, and fans have one thing on their minds.

“As a team, we’re just going out there to try to win a game,” Van Sloten said. “Last year is not what we want any year. We’re looking forward toJan. 1; it’s a nice icing on the cake to get a bowl game, but we’re not going there to just show up, we’re going there to play a football game and compete.”

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