As P.J. Fleck prepares for his first experience in the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry, Iowa’s two freshmen offensive tackles join Josh Jackson and Akrum Wadley in attempting to add to productive seasons against the Golden Gophers.
That and more are part of today’s Hawkeye 10@10, your daily dose of Iowa news and notes.
Delivered each weekday at 10 a.m. at Hawkmania.com, your home for all things Iowa, here is today’s Hawkeye 10@10:
1. If you’re looking for bulletin board material leading up to Saturday’s Iowa-Minnesota game, you won’t find it in Minneapolis.
First-year Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck has been full of respect this week as he prepares to coach for the first time in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale.
“I’m really honored to be able to coach in this rivalry and represent our team and represent the past, present and future Gopher teams,’’ he said. “It means a lot. It really does.’’
2. Thursday is the one day that Iowa players have off each week, something that will give coaches time today to think a bit about James Butler.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said on his weekly radio call-in show Wednesday night that no decision has been made about whether the graduate transfer will return to the field or continue to sit out and pursue a redshirt opportunity as he works his way back from a dislocated elbow.
“We’re still mulling this thing over,’’ Ferentz said. “If we don’t decide to do something this Saturday, there are still four weeks left. We just want to make the right call.’’
Ferentz did say Butler had been tackled in practice “a few times’’ on Wednesday, a rarity for Hawkeye backs during game-week preparations.
Mostly, coaches were hoping to gauge how Butler would respond while wearing a brace on the right elbow.
3. Josh Jackson continues to be as productive as any defensive back in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes’ first-year starting cornerback leads the conference with 13 passes defended and 11 passes broken up.
He is also tied for fourth in the Big Ten with two interceptions, but he expects more.
“I feel like I’ve done a decent job of stepping up and competing, but there’s always stuff to work on,’’ Jackson said. “You keep at it, trying to get more consistent from one week to the next. That’s the challenge.’’
4. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz hasn’t quite warmed up to the suggestion of some of his players that a live pig should be part of the prize presented to the winner of Saturday’s game.
“Those guys are way ahead of me,’’ Ferentz said. “I have not given any thought to that, Not sure what we’d do, but I know we’d find a really nice home for them. Of course, then you’ve got to worry about someone like the (farm-raised twin offensive line) Paulsens trying to kidnap it and who knows what they might do, so probably not a good idea.’’
5. Penn State embraced the pink in the Kinnick Stadium visitor’s locker room earlier this year and Minnesota is following suit.
Coach P.J. Fleck, who competed at Kinnick as a player at Northern Illinois, had the Golden Gophers’ locker room at the Minnesota football complex decked out in pink this week to match the floor-to-ceiling look of the visitor’s quarters at Kinnick Stadium.
6. Iowa will continue to start two freshmen — true freshman Tristan Wirfs and redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson — on the offensive line against the Golden Gophers.
Coach Kirk Ferentz considers it a learning experience with expectations.
“That first season, typically, is pretty tough,’’ Ferentz said. “It’s a learning experience, just like the quarterback position. It’s maybe not as cerebral, and there are not as many things those guys have to think about mentally but the challenge, play after play, is being consistent and doing things pretty well.’’
Ferentz said both Wirfs and Jackson have handled things well.
“Tristan’s biography is a little bit shorter than (Jackson’s), but they are doing a lot of good things and I think we’re seeing good progress,’’ he said. “There are going to be some ups and downs, but we feel good about those guys.’’
7. Much like Iowa, Minnesota has a young receiving corps this season.
The Golden Gophers have 17 receivers on the roster, but only six had played and only three had started prior to this season.
Five have been sidelined throughout much of the season and two transferred into the program and are required to sit out this season.
Sophomore Tyler Johnson has emerged as the group’s leader.
He’s caught seven touchdown passes, one shy of the Minnesota sophomore record of eight set by tight end Maxx Williams during a 2014 season that included catching three scoring passes in a 51-14 win over the Hawkeyes.
8. Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is a fan of Iowa’s newest tradition – the Kinnick Wave.
“I think that’s my favorite tradition in college football. I know it’s just started, but that is my favorite, favorite one,’’ Fleck said.
The Golden Gophers will join fans in the stands and game officials in waving to the patients at the Stead Family Children’s Hospital across the street from Kinnick Stadium at the end of the first quarter, following the lead of Illinois players in Iowa’s most recent home game.
“We’ll participate in that as well and we look forward to it. You know, hopefully the rivalry will be able to create something special for all the children in that hospital,’’ Fleck said.
“Our players spend a lot of time at Masonic Children’s Hospital every week, Wednesday or Thursday, and you know children’s hospitals have always been important in our life as a Fleck family and always will be. We’re honored to partake in that tradition.’’
9. Akrum Wadley rushed for 90 yards last week at Northwestern, enough for the senior to pass Ronnie Harmon and climb into the ninth spot on the Hawkeyes’ career rushing list.
Wadley has run for 2,336 yards and enters the Minnesota game 220 yards behind Owen Gill, who sits in eighth with the 2,556 yards he gained from 1981-84.
10. Minnesota tackle Nick Connelly called it a career this week.
A starter in the Golden Gophers’ first five games of the season, Connelly was injured during an extra-point attempt in an Oct. 7 game at Purdue and has chosen to leave the sport.
Redshirt freshman Sam Schlueter moved into the starting spot on the Minnesota offensive line against Illinois last weekend and is listed as the starter for Saturday’s game.