IOWA CITY — For many Iowa football players, a trip down skid row has been an eye-opening experience.
Players on a Hawkeyes team that has had six games decided by three points or less — more than any other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season — are coping with a four-game losing streak as they prepare to conclude the regular season with matchups against their first two rated opponents this season, Michigan and Nebraska.
“The losing, it’s something we’re not used to, something we don’t accept, but it is reality right now,” cornerback B.J. Lowery said. “It’s up to us to dig ourselves out of this situation.”
The digging started Tuesday, with start of a week of preparation leading up to Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at 23rd-rated Michigan.
Iowa’s current losing streak is the program’s longest since a four-game slide in 2007.
“It’s difficult to deal with,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “It’s been a tough few weeks. Especially when you aren’t used to losing, it weighs on you.”
On a team that has 21 freshmen and sophomores on its two-deep depth chart, quarterback James Vandenberg said upperclassmen are working to help younger players deal with the situation.
“For a lot of guys, this is their first experience dealing with something like this, and it isn’t easy,” Vandenberg said. “Most of us come from high school programs that are very successful. That becomes the expectation, and it’s what we all want.”
Vandenberg leans on past experience as he talks with teammates.
“When I get a minute in the weight room or someplace like that, you try to talk to them and encourage them, keep them in it,” Vandenberg said. “In my years here, I’ve seen a lot of good victories and a lot of tough losses. The only way to move beyond the losses is to work a little harder, prepare a little better and get ready for the next one.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees that as the correct approach.
“There are no guarantees in sports,” Ferentz said. “The one thing I did promise 13-and-a-half years ago was that we’d work hard to be successful, and that’s what we continue to do every single day.”
Mostly, the Hawkeyes are working to find a way to win close games.
This season marks the first time in the program’s 123-year history that Iowa has had six games decided by three points or less.
Five Hawkeyes games were that close just once, in 2009, and Iowa went 4-1 in those games on its way to an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl berth.
In the seasons since, the Hawkeyes have combined to go 3-9 in games decided by three points or less.
“The margin for error for this team wasn’t the biggest, and I think we’re seeing every week how six, seven plays a game really do make a difference,” Vandenberg said. “We’re getting a real idea of how a handful of plays are the difference between winning and losing.”
That boils down to execution, Ferentz said.
He knows that is a word Hawkeye fans are tiring of hearing, but he sees it as reality.
“If you’re hanging around waiting for luck, you probably should be in a different profession. We’re trying to focus on the things that we need to do better and every game is a different circumstance,” Ferentz said.
“Right now, we’re trying to get ready for Michigan, trying to be as smart as possible about the decisions we are going to make going into the game and in the game and then execute better, especially in critical areas.”
- Coach Kirk Ferentz was angered by a question concerning contact that current or former players might have had with an athletics department academic advisor who resigned last week amid allegations he had sexually harassed student-athletes during two terms of employment at Iowa.
Ferentz used a profanity, then quickly apologized for it, before saying that Peter Gray had not worked with Hawkeye football players “in awhile, a very significant while.” He did not say why Gray no longer worked with members of the football team.
The Iowa football coach characterized a radio report that he had been among coaches who met with director of athletics Gary Barta in recent weeks demanding that Gray be kept away from his student-athletes as inaccurate.
- Running back Mark Weisman and fullback Brad Rogers remain doubtful for this week’s game because of injury. Ferentz said Rogers has an outside chance of contributing on special teams. Neither has played the past three weeks.
- Linebacker Anthony Hitchens said it was a “coach’s decision” for him to spend most of the second half of Iowa’s loss to Purdue on the sidelines, not the result of an ailment that kept defensive end Joe Gaglione out of the game. Both were expected back on the practice field Tuesday.
n Because of the uncertainty of who Michigan will play at quarterback this week, Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner, Ferentz said the Hawkeyes are preparing to see both.
“The difference between them is not as significant as is could be, but there is no question they design some runs specifically for Robinson,” Ferentz said. “It’s a little like our preparation for Minnesota, not knowing who might be out there. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s both.”