Iowa CITY, Iowa - You won't find Iowa's name among the NCAA leaders in many offensive categories save running back Damon Bullock. If the Hawkeyes weren't aware of that coming in Tuesday's press conference, they sure were by the time that they left it.
"We just weren't clicking on all cylinders," Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said after being asked about it quite a few times. "When you're playing as good a defense as ( the NIU Huskies) were that runs around well, you've got to hit it the one or two times they give it to you. We weren't able to do that."
You got the sense that the Iowa players believed that the offense would get going this week when it faces rival Iowa State. The coach agreed.
"It's like everything, it's a team thing, and we can do a better job protecting," Kirk Ferentz said. "Certainly that stood out at times in a not so good way. Route running, throwing, all those things. It's just something that we'll continue to work out."
The coach's son, starting center James Ferentz, was pretty opinionated when it came to which team he felt enjoyed the better Week 1, Iowa or Iowa State?
"We came out a little rough. We didn't do things very well. We didn't execute when we needed to," James Ferentz said. "Iowa State, on the other hand, they did a phenomenal job. You watch them on tape, they were much more polished than we were. They probably had a better week of practice than we did."
Iowa eeked out a 18-17, come-from-behind win against Northern Illinois on Saturday in Chicago. The Cyclones knocked off Tulsa, 38-23, in Ames. Both opponents were worthy, but not overwhelming for an opener.
A lot has been made of this game being more important for Iowa State than it is for the Hawkeyes, especially during Ferentz's 13 years as head coach in the rivalry. The coach has been criticized for not putting enough emphasis on this week, instead choosing to treat each one the same so as not to get too high or too low.
(Psssst. It's usually said as a knock on Kirk Ferentz's perceived conservative nature as a coach)
Well, we heard something on Tuesday we haven't heard a lot during the Ferentz Era - Hawkeye players talking about watching last year's ISU game tape during the summer. A lot of it had to do with studying Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz, who shredded Iowa in 2011, but there would be no need for Keenan Davis to watch it.
"We think a lot about (the Hawkeyes' triple-overtime loss at ISU last year)," he said. "We've watched the film to see where we made our mistakes. We kind of had a sloppy game. We even watched that film in camp just to see the mistakes."
Last year's loss understandably hurt the Hawkeyes. Several opportunities emerged for Iowa to win it only to see it go the other way.
"I can tell you that it's one of the worst feelings you can get in football because it was such a competitive game," Iowa native and Hawkeye DE Dominic Alvis said. "It feels awesome to win them and terrible to lose them. You can't get much worse than that."
Vegas betting line setters feel like this game will be close again. The Hawkeyes are slightly favored based mostly on having the home field.
INJURY REPORT: Ferentz said the Hawkeyes got out of Chicago in reasonably good health.
Translation - we've got some bumps and bruises like everybody else and that's all I'm going to say on that. No need to give ISU any other advantage.
Specifically, Ferentz was asked about starting CB B.J. Lowery, who left last week's game with what the coach called a "contusion." The trainers were checking under the front of the junior's shoulder pads.
Ferentz did say that reserve defensive end Melvin Spears was working towards a return from an unspecified injury. The redshirt freshmen has been listed on the second team on the last two depth charts.
"He'll practice at least half (Tuesday)," Ferentz said. "I think we are getting closer. He had a step back about ten days ago. Hopefully we'll get him back here again soon."
Brett Van Sloten left the NIU game for a series after injuring his leg. The No. 1 right tackle returned but was noticeably hobbled. Ferentz did not specifically speak about his junior on Tuesday.
EMOTIONAL RESCUE: As was mentioned earlier, Coach Ferentz sometimes receives criticism for not being emotional enough. That hasn't been the case with ISU Coach Paul Rhoads.
A reporter asked Ferentz on Tuesday what he thought of Rhoads' sideline demeanor. After some confusion about the question, Ferentz took a diplomatic approach.
"I think no matter what your profession is, you probably ought to do it within the framework of your personality," Ferentz said. "If I was giving advice, which I'm not, but I think that's what most effective people that I've witnessed in any profession do, so that's what you do."
DISTRIBUTION CENTER: Damon Bullock rolled up an eye-popping 150 yards against NIU in his first career-start. He also totaled 30 carries, which might be even more surprising than the production.
Despite that durability from the true sophomore from Dallas, Ferentz said they were going to try to even out the workload between he and back-ups Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy, who did not carry it on Saturday.
"We wouldn't have predicted that certainly," Ferentz said of Bullock's 30 carries. "I didn't know we would run the ball 30 times, let alone give it to one guy 30 times. My guess is we'll spread it around.
"I still think Mike Malloy is going to be playing here, I don't know how soon. Greg got his feet wet, try to asked and answered that. Think he's a good player, too. My guess is all three guys will do it and it's a matter of how much Damon can handle. We'll see."
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Ferentz complimented his defense on Tuesday much like he did after the NIU game. On-Lookers felt that side of the ball was expected to be behind the offense at the start of the season.
"We played overall better defense in the second half," Ferentz said. "I think that's been overlooked."
NEXT QUESTION: We seem to get at least one of these a week. A reporter asks the wrong question or throws it out the wrong way to Ferentz. Last Tuesday, the coach seemed irritated by an inquiry about his schedule. This week, he wasn't fond of the suggestion that the NIU game might serve as a wake-up call for his team.
"I don't know about a wake-up call," Ferentz said. "I don't know if somebody was sleeping going into it. I think we'll know more about it probably in January. We'll know more about the whole thing once it's over."
FIRST-YEAR FORECAST: The coach stopped short of saying he was done playing more true freshmen this season beyond the four he used on Saturday. Connor Kornbrath, Greg Garmon, Sean Draper and Kevin Buford saw time against NIU. Iowa used a combined 18 first-year players the last two years, the most in that span of time in the Ferentz Era.
"Time will tell how that works out; but in a perfect world, if we could keep it where it's at, we would be fine with that, and that may change as we move forward," the coach said. "In perfect world I would still prefer to red-shirt players but the world is not perfect…If not, we have a couple other guys we are looking at and see how the next several weeks go."
BATTLE GROUND: Iowa and Iowa State pretty much pick apart their home state when it comes to recruiting. That's not to say that Northern Iowa doesn't bring in strong players but the big boys usually get their first choices.
While Iowa might pluck more in-state names towards the top of its list, the Cyclones win head-to-head battles. It's not a lay-up as it was for much of the '80s and ''90s.
Fortunately for the two staffs the stress and discomfort of recruiting against each other mostly goes away outside of the state borders.
"I think after you leave the Midwest, they tend to go more west, although they go to Florida and we don't go to Florida an awful lot," Ferentz said. "So not too much once you leave the Midwest, but there are players in the Midwest we bump heads with."
CALL OF DUTY: There's always been speculation as to how involved in the play calling is Ferentz. Thoughts range from control freak to hands-off leader of program philosophy.
"Basically both (Greg Davis) and Phil (Parker) are the coordinators, and we have our discussions during the course of the week that those guys call the game," the coach said. "I have got veto power at any time, and I don't exercise it a lot and I really haven't in 13 years. But there are times I'll make suggestions."