The hype was out there.
Marcus Coker had finished a strong freshman season by being named the Insight Bowl MVP. He gained 219 yards and scored two touchdowns on 33 carries in the bowl win over Missouri.
This summer Coker showed up on a regional cover for the Sports Illustrated Big Ten preview. SI predicted he’d be the Big Ten Offensive MVP. Coker even showed up on some Heisman contender lists.
“I tried not to focus on that too much,” Coker said. “Just try to block that out of my mind and stay hungry.”
Still, when his mom found out about the SI cover, Coker had to pick up a few copies.
After all, in today’s information age, you can’t be “an old mule with blinders on” as Hayden Fry liked to say. Expectations got real big, real fast for the sophomore.
Coker had just 41 yards on 11 carries in the opener against Tennessee Tech. And as you might have heard he fumbled. Twice.
“I think I might have been thinking a little too much,” Coker said. “Not going out there and playing football.”
It was a reminder that football isn’t just played with powerful legs and strong arms and past performance … what lies between the two earholes on the helmet often decides a football game.
And here comes Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes travel to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, the first road test for a young, inexperienced team.
Iowa is favored by 6½ points, but the Hawkeyes have always been favored in this game. Yet the Cyclones have won 7 of the past 13 games in the series. (Iowa has won 6 of the past 8.)
“Anything can happen,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Two teams are going to be playing hard and the stakes, those obvious things; those old cliché things are usually pretty true in a rivalry series like this one.”
Eight of Iowa’s 22 starters made their first start last week. Seven other starters have less than a season’s worth of starts under their belts.
“It’s not like we’ve really accomplished anything yet,” Ferentz said. “This team right now, we’re really young.”
Young enough that only three current starters were starters in 2009 when the Hawkeyes traveled to Ames. Only Riley Reiff, Marvin McNutt and Broderick Binns know what its like to be out on that field to start the game.
But the other Hawkeyes have a pretty good idea.
“It was crazy man,” Shaun Prater said of his trip to Ames in 2009, when he sat out injured. “You go to other cities, you play other teams, and fans don’t like you. Obviously.
“Iowa State takes you to another level. You hear some stuff you never hear at other places. It creates memories; it makes you want to play harder.”
Asked to repeat some of what the Hawkeye players hear, Prater laughed.
“You’d have to bleep it out,” Prater said. “Nothing I can say.”
He also, for the record, said Cyclone players probably hear the same things in Iowa City.
Sophomore linebacker James Morris was a senior at Solon in 2009, but went to the game in Ames with his Hawkeye gear on all the same.
“It was loud; it was rocking,” Morris said. “It’s probably as hostile environment as we’ll have to go to.
“They wanted to beat Iowa. It’s going to be the same way this year. We’ve got to get ourselves ready to go. We need to worry about ourselves. What we’re doing.”
Aside from the fumbles, Iowa played a solid game against Tennessee Tech. The Hawkeyes face a stiffer test today.
Iowa State eked out a 20-19 win over Northern Iowa, but did so because quarterback Steele Jantz led the team to two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Jantz finished 18-of-40 for 187 yards and ran for 80 yards on the ground.
“They’ve got an athletic quarterback, speed on the perimeter, and some running backs that are shifty,” Morris said. “Players that are of a higher caliber than we saw last week.”
Iowa State has a defense sprinkled with veteran players, led by junior linebacker Jake Knott, who topped the Big 12 in tackles last season and had 15 against UNI.
Knott will likely be butting heads with Coker on Saturday. The Hawkeye sophomore is ready to show his performance in week one was a blip, not a trend.
“It’s just part of staying hungry,” Coker said. “Complacency is not something I ever want to come into contact with.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football