Iowa football notebook: Staying on the field a win for the Hawkeyes, team moving forward after undefeated November

Iowa is the only program in the Big Ten West to not have a game called off because of COVID-19 this football season.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras leads a huddle during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa football team winning four straight games to improve to 4-2 on the season is an accomplishment, but in 2020, so is playing six weeks in a row.

With the cancellation of this week’s Northwestern-Minnesota game, Iowa is the only Big Ten West team (out of seven) that has not had a game called off because of COVID-19 protocols. Three teams in the conference’s East division have also had their schedules disrupted.

“I don’t know that we are doing anything magical or anything like that, and I don’t want to make it sound like we are doing something nobody else is doing because I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on a video conference Tuesday.

“The only thing everybody has been hearing since March, just try to do the obvious things. Try to practice good hygiene. Try to keep your distance from people. And I don’t want to speak for all of our players, but I think most of them are probably doing what we do as coaches: We come to work and go home. I don’t think anybody has got much of a social life right now.”

Northwestern’s next game being canceled as a result of an outbreak within Minnesota’s program means the 5-1 Wildcats have likely clinched the Big Ten West Division title, unless the conference’s rules regarding tiebreakers change. Currently, even if Iowa finishes 6-2 and Northwestern is 5-2, the Wildcats’ victory over the Hawkeyes earlier this season would propel them to the Big Ten Championship Game.

Iowa’s luck — something which Ferentz partially attributed the team’s success with staying on the field — has not been shared with its next two opponents.

Illinois didn’t play last week when an outbreak at Ohio State forced the game between the two to be called off, and Wisconsin has only played three games this season because of an outbreak in its program and the team’s game against Minnesota being canceled because of the Gophers’ outbreak.

Between the last two games of the regular season and the Champion’s Week game — a matchup against a team from the opposing division, although it is still unclear where these games will be played — Iowa has three opportunities left to win games in the conference.

“It is rewarding being out there every day, even with the COVID situation, knowing that some teams right now aren’t practicing and they’re just sitting at home waiting for the opportunity,” offensive lineman Cole Banwart said. “So, every day when we get the opportunity to practice and have meetings, we are taking full advantage.”

Smith-Marsette speaks publicly for first time since arrest

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette spoke on a video conference Tuesday for the first time since he was arrested the morning of Nov. 1 for operating while intoxicated. 

“After it all happened I just felt down, like I let the whole team down — the coaching staff, my teammates, my family, myself… I was thinking my football career was probably done,” Smith-Marsette said. “That’s how I was thinking.”

The senior was suspended for the team’s Nov. 7 matchup against Michigan State, but has suited up the past three weeks. Smith-Marsette said both Kirk and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, as well as wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, were there for him after the incident and helped lift him up.

“Mistakes happen,” Smith-Marsette said. “As long as it’s a mistake and not something that you do again. Which I won’t be doing again, trust me.”

Campbell and Benson will likely continue to split time

Choosing between two players who are both performing well is a problem, but a good problem.

Seth Benson and Jack Campbell are both seeing time at Iowa’s middle linebacker position and standing out to Ferentz and Iowa’s defensive staff enough to stay on the field.

“We feel like they are both starters and doing a lot of good things and bring a lot of energy to the field,” Ferentz said.

Both linebackers missed Iowa’s opening game of the season. Benson returned from an injury the next week and started against Northwestern, but Campbell (mononucleosis) didn’t play until Iowa’s fourth game of the season. Since then, the two have split snaps — rotating on different drives throughout the game.

Campbell was listed as the starter entering the season, and said Tuesday he is back to 100 percent healthy. Ferentz said he isn’t sure what the rotation will look like Saturday against Illinois, but it is likely both players will continue to see the field.

“I’m more than willing to take one snap or 75 snaps,” Campbell said. “It’s just all up to [the coaching staff].”

Last week against Nebraska, Campbell was third on the team with eight tackles, while Benson tallied four, including a sack.

A history lesson in Hawkeye football

There are parallels a coach can easily make when he’s somewhere for 22 seasons in a row. In Ferentz’s case, the start to the 2020 season somewhat resembles the 2008 Iowa season, when the Hawkeyes lost three straight games early in the season, but finished 9-4 with an Outback Bowl victory.

This year’s team started 0-2, but has rattled off four consecutive victories.

After losing the first two games, Ferentz addressed the team and brought up the 2008 team.

“I think the two things that are key moving forward, first of all, took great leadership in 2008 and that team had great leadership internally,” Ferentz said. “Those guys just decided they were going to get it done and they did… This group’s done that. They have responded in the right way.

“The major difference is that one is in the books. That team finished it out. They did a great job right through New Year’s Day and finished it out pretty emphatically. We are not there yet. We’ve still got two games to play and then hopefully something after that. We are on the right path.”

All four of Iowa’s victories this season came in the month of November, only the fourth Iowa team under Ferentz to go undefeated in that month, joining the 2002, 2004, and 2015 teams (although the month was at the end of the season for those teams).

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