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Harty: Iowa had the edge being tough, physical

[ 0 ] September 29, 2012 |

A reputation for being physical isn’t something a football program earns after just four games.

It takes years of grinding and pounding and sweating in the trenches. It takes numerous games in which your team asserts its will and does the pushing instead of being pushed around.

The Iowa football program spent the past 13 years building on that reputation under coach Kirk Ferentz, but it seemed to be forgotten heading into Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota.

Most of the pre-game hype centered on how the Gophers were suddenly getting physical and nasty under second-year coach Jerry Kill. And they had the statistics to prove it, including being undefeated after four games.

Iowa, on the other hand, was considered a team in disarray coming off the inexplicable loss to Central Michigan at Kinnick Stadium. The oddsmakers still believed in the Hawkeyes by making them a 6-point favorite, but it was the upstart Gophers getting all the praise for being tough and physical.

Some of that praise made its way to the Iowa players and helped fuel Saturday’s 31-13 victory over Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium.

“We had read a lot of stuff coming out of their camp about how physical they were,” Iowa junior linebacker James Morris said. “And that’s kind of a challenge. If you’re a defense and you’ve got an offense promoting that they’re physical, I don’t go out and tell people that we’re physical. If you’re physical, people are going to say you’re physical.

“So anytime you’re sort of a self-promoter, I think maybe you’re throwing out a challenge to those people. So we took that to heart.”

Iowa played Saturday like a team with a chip on its shoulder, which is a phrase you often heard during the early stages under Ferentz. Other teams might have had more speed and more depth at key positions, but Iowa always tried to have an edge in being tough and physical.

Iowa had the advantage in both of those categories Saturday, especially during a dominating first half that saw sophomore Mark Weisman gain 155 of his game-high 177 rushing yards.

Weisman and his cohorts on the offensive line had been doing their part to be physical before Saturday, but it all finally came together against the Gophers, who trailed 24-0 at halftime.

Weisman agreed that all the hype about Minnesota being physical lit a fire among him and his teammates.

“It motivates you, definitely,” said Weisman, who has rushed for all but 12 of his 519 yards in the last three games. “We have something to show every week. We’ve got to be more physical than every team.

“We’re not going to win if we’re not. Iowa is a physical program. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We have to be physical every game.”

The challenge now is to avoid making Saturday’s 18-point victory a fluke. Losing to Central Michigan didn’t break Iowa’s season, just like defeating Minnesota didn’t make it.

The players now have almost two weeks to prepare for what should be one of the toughest and hardest hitting games on the schedule when Iowa plays at Michigan State on Oct. 13 in East Lansing, Mich.

Michigan State often gets lumped in with Iowa and Wisconsin as the Big Ten’s three most physical teams. Iowa couldn’t match Michigan State’s physicality last season, and it resulted in a 37-21 loss at Kinnick Stadium.

The Iowa coaches won’t have an empty trophy case to use as motivation for Michigan State like they did for Minnesota. So the coaches likely will harp on last season’s game and how the Spartans were the more physical team.

You would’ve had to check this Iowa team for a pulse if it would’ve come out flat Saturday given the circumstances. Not only were the Gophers chirping about being tough and physical, but they also were riding a two-game winning streak against Iowa.

“Our goal this week was really to take it to them and just show them how physical we really were and to make a statement,” said sophomore Andrew Donnal, who replaced the injured Austin Blythe at right guard Saturday. “There was a lot of stuff (motivating us), last week, and then the previous games against Minnesota. I mean we were really hungry coming into this game.”

The fact that Iowa’s dominance extended to the defensive line was a pleasant surprise after what happened last Saturday against Central Michigan when there was virtually no pass rush.

Minnesota could’ve used the dual-threat capabilities of injured quarterback MarQueise Gray because his backup Max Shortell struggled to find space against Iowa’s relentless pursuit. It’s been a while since you could use the words relentless and pursuit to describe an Iowa defense, especially this one.

It almost seemed like former Iowa men’s basketball coach Tom Davis was coaching the defensive line Saturday, considering how many players kept rotating in and out of the game. Fatigue never became an issue because somebody was always there to help pick up the slack, including sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat and redshirt freshman Darian Cooper.

Ferentz surprised reporters afterwards by mentioning that Trinca-Pasat quit the team briefly last November because he was frustrated with his role.

Trinca-Pasat ultimately stayed the course and was rewarded Saturday by making an impact.

His personal triumph was similar to his team’s triumph in that they both struggled before reaching that high point.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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