IOWA CITY — After an emotion-filled fourth-quarter rally and splitting decisions in two games against foes from BCS conferences, it might be tempting for the Iowa football team to look past Louisiana-Monroe.
Tempting, but extremely dangerous.
Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz did his best Tuesday to end that temptation at the locker-room door, presenting the Sun Belt Conference program as a very different type of nonconference test.
The Warhawks (1-2) enter Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Kinnick Stadium, where they will look to pick up more than a $1.05 million check, the highest guarantee Iowa has paid a nonconference opponent.
“Their schemes both offensively and defensively really pose some different challenges,” Ferentz said at his weekly news conference. “They’re a little bit different, a little unique compared to what we’ve played in recent memory.”
Louisiana-Monroe essentially has utilized two different offensive groups, each with their own style of play. Defensive players see elements of the offenses of Pittsburgh and Iowa State as they watch the Warhawks on tape.
On defense, Louisiana-Monroe uses a stacked set-up with three down linemen, what Ferentz describes as three “linebacker-type guys” and five defensive backs. Despite the lack of bodies near the line, the Warhawks have limited foes to 108.3 rushing yards a game.
“Maybe we’ve played something like this in the last 13 years, but I can’t recall it,” Ferentz said. “Michigan had a little different look the last couple of years we played them, but this one is different than that.”
Ferentz said breaking down what the Warhawks are attempting to do will take additional practice time this week.
“We’re going to really spend some time slowing things down, teaching it, making sure we get all 11 guys on the same page,” Ferentz said. “It is a little different than what we normally see.”
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg sees it as a challenging assignment.
“They put guys everywhere. It’s hard to figure out who are secondary guys, who are the linebackers and who are the down linemen,” he said. “You see these guys on film against Florida State and TCU and against Arkansas from last year and you see that they are a really good outfit.”
Louisiana-Monroe’s two losses have been on the road to top-20 opponents.
The Warhawks limited Florida State to 92 rushing yards but watched the Seminoles pull away to a 34-0 lead in the opener for both teams.
Last weekend, TCU trailed Louisiana-Monroe 17-14 after one quarter but returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a score and recovered a fumble three plays later that led to a touchdown and a 38-17 victory.
“All we have to do is look at that film, look at our film, and realize that it’s pretty evident that we have got a lot of work to do this week,” Ferentz said.
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Vandenberg sees aggressive, athletic players as he watches the Warhawks.
“They’re giving a lot of people fits, and when you watch them it’s easy to see why,” Vandenberg said. “They are a talented team across the board on defense and they will be a really good team coming in here even if they are not from a major conference.”
- Tyler Nielsen will be the backup to James Morris at middle linebacker this week after Bruce Davis’ decision to leave the team. Nielsen, a starting outside linebacker who missed most of last week’s game with because of an ankle injury he suffered at Iowa State, could shuffle inside if needed.
- Ferentz said injured offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan and defensive back B.J. Lowery, both on the preseason two-deep roster, are on track to potentially return when the Hawkeyes open Big Ten play at Penn State on Oct. 8.
- His work schedule prevents him from hearing much of the talk about conference alignment at this time of year, but as wheels turn elsewhere, Ferentz said simply, “I’m glad we’re in a good conference.”
- Although a sellout is anticipated, several hundred tickets remain for Saturday’s game. They are available through the Iowa ticket office or online at hawkeyesports.com