IOWA CITY, Iowa --- Following 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.
Hawkeye 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 non-conference test.
The Warhawks bring a 1-2 record into 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 ever paid a non-conference 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."
Offensively, Louisiana-Monroe has essentially utilized two different offensive groups, each bringing their own style of play to the field. Defensive players see elements of the offenses of both Pittsburgh and Iowa State as they watch the Warhawks on tape.
On the defensive side of the ball, 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 per 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 just 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 quick 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.
Vandenberg sees aggressive, athletic players as he watches the Warhawks work.
"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."
Ferentz said working through Louisiana-Monroe's offensive schemes "will eat up some practice time today, tomorrow, all week."
"It's not the same, but it is a little bit like last week with Pitt. If you don't have it covered, you're looking at big plays that can put a hole in your boat real quick," Ferentz said. "It won't be a normal week of preparation."
Tyler Nielsen will be the back-up to James Morris at middle linebacker this week following 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 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 do remain for Saturday's game. They are available through the Iowa ticket office or online at hawkeyesports.com