IOWA CITY | Memories of a miserable November one year ago still gnaw at Iowa football players.
They remember the late-game collapse at Indiana, the last-second loss to Purdue and the lopsided defeat at Michigan that preceded the final frustration of a 4-8 season, a game-long struggle to get anything going against Nebraska.
“November is what they remember,’’ offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten said Wednesday. “That’s a little saying that (offensive coordinator Greg) Davis has and it’s true. It’s a time when people separate themselves, and we have a great opportunity in front of us.’’
At 6-4, the Hawkeyes have already positioned themselves to receive an invitation to play in a bowl game for the 11th time in the 15 years Kirk Ferentz has led the program.
Iowa accomplished that with a win at Purdue last week and in the midst of a bye week prior to a Nov. 23 home finale against Michigan and a trip to Nebraska six days later, the Hawkeyes are reassessing objectives.
“Things are a little more upbeat now,’’ Van Sloten said. “We put last season in the past and we are paving our own way this year.’’
Linebacker James Morris said the Hawkeyes sense momentum in recent efforts.
“I feel like we’re getting better, but we still have a ways to go,’’ Morris said. “We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a position where the games matter. You can’t ask for much more than that.’’
The Hawkeyes have become more productive on both sides of the ball.
Iowa’s offense is averaging 85 more yards and 7.3 more points per game this season, while the Hawkeye defense has trimmed more than 60 yards and 4.2 points per game of what it allowed a year ago.
“In college football, if you’re going to have a good team you’ve got to win in November. We’ve improved,’’ Ferentz said. “Is it enough to win the last two? Time will tell.’’
Iowa hasn’t had a winning record in November since 2008, when it won its last three regular-season games on its way to an Outback Bowl berth. In the years since, the Hawkeyes finished .500 in the final month of the season only in 2011 when it split four games to complete a 7-5 regular season.
Satisfied with a defense which ranks 11th nationally in yards allowed, Ferentz believes that offensive growth is the critical component to the Hawkeyes crafting a memorable November.
“The big thing is trying to tie it all together and come up with more of a push offensively,’’ he said. “… If we’re going to find a way to win these last two games, we’ve got to find a way to put it all together.’’
Linebacker Christian Kirksey believes that level of consistency on both sides of the ball will lead Iowa to its ultimate destination.
“Last year was such a disappointment and now, we’re working hard to give ourselves a chance to win games seven and eight and see where it takes us,’’ Kirksey said.
- The bye week is allowing several Hawkeyes a chance to heal. Ferentz said at least one player who left last week’s game at Purdue – starters C.J. Fiedorowicz and B.J. Lowery both left with injuries – would have been doubtful if Iowa had a game this week.
He declined to name the player, saying only that it is likely he will return for the Hawkeyes’ Nov. 23 home finale against Michigan.
- Iowa linebacker Morris was named Wednesday as one of nine semifinalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, joining Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier in the running for an award based on character as well as performance and academics.
- Hawkeye kicker Mike Meyer is among 53 nominees for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented to the outstanding player in college football who began his career as a walk-on.