Illinois Iowa Football

Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, right, is tackled by Illinois defensive back Bennett Williams, left, after making a reception during the second half Saturday in Iowa City. Iowa won 45-16.

AP PHOTO

IOWA CITY – There isn’t an opponent anywhere to be found on the Iowa football schedule this week, but this just might be the most important seven days the Hawkeyes have this season.

The bye week provides Iowa with a chance to build on its 4-2 start.

A young Hawkeye team has played young so far this season, resulting inconsistencies created by inexperience and injuries that have forced lineup changes most notably on the offensive line.

There have been glimpses of potential and solid leadership from sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley, who has been intercepted just twice and with 15 touchdown passes at the midpoint of the season is 11 away from Iowa’s single-season record.

“We haven’t been as consistent as we need to be and we understand that,’’ Stanley said. “We’ve faced some super-tough opponents, but I feel like we’ve learned every week. I think we’re building on what has happened.’’

Linebacker Ben Niemann sees this week as a chance to help Iowa take that next step.

“Even in the losses we’ve had, we’ve had moments when we’ve played well and moments when we didn’t,’’ he said. “It’s all about finding that consistency and putting a full game together. We really haven’t done that yet.’’

Niemann points to Saturday’s 45-16 win over Illinois as an example. The Hawkeyes needed a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half to take a 17-13 lead into the locker room at halftime before handling the Illini in the second half.

“We let them hang around and good teams don’t do that,’’ Niemann said. “We’ll learn from it and we’ll keep working. Iowa has always played its best football later in the season and we’re building toward that. We can’t settle for where we are now.’’

Senior offensive lineman Sean Welsh sees the bye week as a chance for the veterans on the Hawkeye team to force that issue.

“This bye comes at a perfect time,’’ he said. “We got back on track with the win and the focus the past week has been on fundamentals. This upcoming week, all the guys who have been around know that’s what we’ll be working on, becoming a more fundamentally-sound team.’’

That, Welsh said, should lead to greater consistency.

“We’ll be out there all week trying to get better and we need that. The games aren’t going to get any easier,’’ he said. “The young guys, I think, understand that. They’re pretty tuned in.’’

Coach Kirk Ferentz senses that as well.

He understands that there is plenty of room for improvement, but he also likes the fight he sees as Iowa has dealt with the peaks and valleys within games. He’s working with a team that keeps playing.

“That was two teams really competing out there (Saturday), and to me that’s representative of conference play. We’d better expect that every week,’’ Ferentz said. “The biggest thing is that we’ve got to make strides in practice. If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to have a good football team.’’

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