Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Ferentz on adversity: 'You don't surrender'
By Adam Rittenberg
Iowa is no stranger to facing adversity in a bowl game.
In the 2001 Alamo Bowl, the Hawkeyes' first postseason appearance under head coach Kirk Ferentz, running back Ladell Betts couldn't play with a hamstring injury, leaving Iowa without a four-year starter. Iowa turned to Aaron Greving, who racked up 115 rush yards and earned offensive MVP honors in a win against Texas Tech.
Kirk Ferentz says he can't explain all of the backfield issues Iowa has faced, but the Hawkeyes have to forge on in their bowl game against OU.
The Betts-Greving situation hardly compared to the crisis Iowa faced before the 2010 Insight Bowl. Top running back Adam Robinson had been suspended and subsequently arrested. Top receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested on drug charges, leading to an odd news conference where Iowa admitted to finding problems with its drug-testing program for student-athletes. The team also announced that two reserve running backs, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher, were transferring.
And yet Iowa still won the game, rallying to upset Missouri 27-24.
Another Insight Bowl matchup is on tap Friday night against Oklahoma, and Iowa once again is dealing with some adversity. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker, the team's most productive offensive weapon, is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy. There are other potential personnel issues, which Ferentz deflected Tuesday, but replacing Coker's 281 carries and 1,354 rush yards is the big one.
"It's football," Ferentz told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "If our running back had sprained his ankle, he wouldn't play then, either. So you don't surrender and forfeit the game. You keep playing. It happens all year long. Players are in and out. Somebody has to be ready to step in, and everybody else has to help those guys out."
Coker was that guy for Iowa last December, rushing for a team-bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. But his loss leaves the Hawkeyes with a stable of unproven backs.
Ferentz said Jason White, who he describes as "steady" and "dependable," and Brad Rogers, who has mostly played fullback for Iowa, likely will be the team's top two ball-carrying options Friday against Oklahoma. Freshmen Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are the next two in line.
"We'll basically use everybody we have," Ferentz said. "I don't know if I foresee us getting 200 yards like a year ago, and if we did, it will probably be three, four, five guys contributing to that yardage, not one. We'll do it by committee and just see how it goes."
Iowa's passing attack has been very effective at times, especially early in the season when the Hawkeyes employed some no-huddle. Oklahoma ranks just 83rd nationally against the pass.
But the Hawkeyes won't abandon their run game Friday night. Because they can't.
"We have to at least attempt it," Ferentz said. "We're not built to throw it 70 times a game. It's just not our mode of operation. If we get in a situation like that, it's not good. But the group's capable. They've been practicing well and they'll step up and do a good job."
The suspensions of both Coker and freshman Mika'il McCall have once again placed the spotlight on Iowa's running back position, which has seen an extraordinary amount of turmoil since the departure of Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after the 2008 season. Five promising backs have dealt with off-field issues since Greene's departure.
"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz said. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."
When bowl games kick off, Iowa usually finds a way.