IOWA CITY – Statistics suggest the Iowa football team may be able to run across the finish line of its 2017 Big Ten schedule Friday.
Although Nebraska has surrendered an average of 289.2 yards per game on the ground against its last six opponents, Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz suggests Iowa needs to solidify its own game first.
Heading into the 3 p.m. road game with the Cornhuskers, the Hawkeyes have labored to average 107 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play and are winless in the five games they have been held below 100 yards this season.
“It’s a team thing, just like the passing game, everybody’s got to execute for us if we’re going to have a good opportunity to run the football,’’ Ferentz said Tuesday. “That’s the backs, the tight ends, obviously the linemen and receivers are part of that.’’
Yards on the ground haven’t come easily for Iowa, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten in rushing, one spot higher than the rushing defense the Hawkeyes will face this week.
In the past two weeks in particular, Wisconsin and Purdue have been able to deny Iowa success on its outside zone read plays, the longtime foundation of the Hawkeyes’ success in rushing the football.
Ferentz concedes the absence of injured senior tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers have impacted the level of performance on the Hawkeye offensive line, but he doesn’t see that as a viable late-season excuse.
“We’re 11 games into it right now, so the idea is to be moving forward and that’s why November football is important, how you’re growing and pushing forward,’’ Ferentz said. “The goal this week is to take a step and hopefully look a little more cohesive and a bit more together up there with all the schemes we’re running.’’
Ferentz said that extends to pass protection as well, where quarterback Nate Stanley has picked himself up and is moving on after being sacked six times in last weekend’s 24-15 loss to Purdue.
The sophomore believes he has gotten recent issues on snaps worked out with center James Daniels and he said the energy on the practice field this week has been good.
“It needs to carry over to games,’’ Stanley said. “We need to keep drives alive, do what we can do to help not put the defense in a tough situation. That’s on us, to keep the defense off the field and to do what we can to help flip field position.’’
Preferably, the Hawkeyes want those drives to end in the end zone, a place Iowa has reached twice in its last two games after putting 55 on the board against Ohio State.
In struggling to adjust to a new 3-4 defensive alignment this season, the Cornhuskers have given up 110 points in their last two games and have allowed three of their last five opponents to top 50.
“Their 3-4 is a little different from the one we saw at Wisconsin and we know that they will try to blitz and confuse us and do what they can to keep us off guard,’’ Stanley said.
That puts a premium on offensive execution, center James Daniels said.
“That’s what it comes down to. It all has to fit together for the run game to work,’’ he said. “That hasn’t been there the last couple of games and it’s something we’re working on. That’s all we can do.’’
Ferentz suggests that’s the reality of the situation.
“Nothing’s been easy for us. We haven’t done anything consistently well, but that’s the goal, to execute it and go out and do it on Friday,’’ Ferentz said. “We can talk about it right now, and we’re planning, just like we do every week, we want to be balanced but the key is getting out there and executing it.’’
And if the Hawkeyes do that?
“The yards will be there,’’ running back Akrum Wadley said. “We’ve seen that, but it all comes down to it fitting together on game day. We’re looking this week to find the right fit.’’