By Pat Harty & Rob Howe
IOWA CITY, Iowa – With the Iowa football team 4-0 for the first time since 2009, starting quarterback C.J. Beathard is experiencing a common occurrence with fans.
“Some people are giving us a lot of credit now,” Beathard said Tuesday. “We’re 4-0, oh yeah, we’re a good team. Whereas two months ago they were saying we’re not going to win many games this year. So I think some people are jumping back on the bandwagon.
“But we just have to continue to focus on us and get better. In order for us to win, we have to play our best football.”
Not much was expected from the Hawkeyes heading into this season. Iowa unraveled at the end of last season, losing its final three games, including an embarrassing 45-28 beat-down against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Most of the preseason magazines picked Iowa to finish no higher than fourth place in the Big Ten West Division behind Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota.
Iowa will try to improve to 5-0 for just the second time in 17 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz when it faces Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener on Saturday in Madison, Wis.
Beathard wouldn’t go as far as to call them bandwagon fans, but he’s seen the mood change drastically since the season started.
“I didn’t mean it really like that,” he said. “It’s just people were kind of counting us out and then all of the sudden now you see people thinking we’re the best team now.”
Asked if he was surprised by the quick turnaround with fans, Beathard said: “It doesn’t surprise me necessarily because coach Ferentz has talked about it. We can’t listen to the outside noise because one day they’re downing you and then the next day they’re thinking you’re the best in the world.
“It’s kind of up-and-down. You don’t know who to trust. That’s why you have to stay within this building and stay with your teammates because you know those guys you can trust.”
Ferentz said Tuesday that it’s easier for the coaches to avoid the praise and criticism from outside because they aren’t as visible on campus as the players.
“We’re in here all the time as coaches, at least until the latter part of the week, but those guys are on campus six days a week,” Ferentz said. “So they’re out there hearing it good or bad, and I think it’s really important if you’re a competitor.
“What we do is public, so you just have to develop a mindset and understand that there’s going to be praise with victory, and there’s going to be criticism with loss. Sometimes there’s criticism with victory. But it’s part of sports.”
Coaches always preach to their players to take it one game at a time, so much so that it has become a sports cliché.
Ferentz is no exception. Living in the moment is the best way he knows how to deal with the big picture, by taking it one game at a time and telling his players to ignore the distractions.
Ferentz appreciates the buzz surrounding his team, but he would prefer to ignore it.
“It means people are interested, which is great,” Ferentz said. “But you’ve really got to be focused. I think the team for the most part has been focused on the right things thus far, but each week is a different challenge, a unique challenge, and right now there might be a little of that going on.
“We’ve just got to be careful and understand we’ve improved because we’ve been focused on the right things. That’s what we’ve got to say. And if the roof should cave in this week, if all hell breaks loose, we’re going to line up and play next week, too, so we’ve just got to get back to it and stay centered on the things that are really important.”
INJURY REPORT: Ferentz wasn’t revealing much on Tuesday when it came to injuries. That made sense as it was a fluid situation.
"Medically, we had a few guys have different issues during the course of the (North Texas) game. My guess is it’s going to be like that all season long. We haven’t had anybody eliminated yet, so we’ll just keep moving forward. A couple guys are limited, and hopefully they’ll gain ground as the week goes along and be ready at game time," Ferentz said.
Starters Greg Mabin (cornerback), Miles Taylor (strong safety) and Boone Myers (left tackle) have been limited in practice, the coach said. Their statuses for Saturday’s game at Wisconsin will be decided as the week goes on, he added.
"They’re not full speed. We’re going to be careful with them, and hopefully we’ll have them at game time," Ferentz said.
Running Back LeShun Daniels suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of the Iowa State game on Sept. 12. He’s played the last two weeks but not looked himself in carrying 14 times for 38 yards (2.7 YPC). He racked up 183 yards on 34 carries before the injury, a 5.4 average.
"Hopefully we’re getting there," Ferentz said. "I thought he looked better (Tuesday) in practice, and hopefully we’re climbing the ladder and that’s really why he didn’t play much the other day. He’s healthy, he’s cleared, but didn’t look as efficient as he had early in the season. We’re trying to get him back where he can really play the way he wants to play and the way that he’s deserving of."
Defensive End Drew Ott (elbow) also was pulled from the Iowa State game. He’s worn a brace the last two weeks and seen his reps decreased while he recovers.
"It’s kind of like LeShun. I think both those injuries, they’re not 100 percent yet but they’re a lot closer than they were, so the question is can they play effectively. I think we’re moving in the right direction," Ferentz said.
Tight End Jake Duzey, who missed the first three games following off-season knee surgery, returned on a limited basis on Saturday. Ferentz expected his work load to increase going forward.
"He’s moving in the right direction," the coach said. "He’s hardly full speed yet, but he made a beautiful grab (in Tuesday’s practice), by the way, a wild catch. But that doesn’t mean he’s fully healthy yet, either.
"He’s cleared, he’s moving forward, making progress, but I think this is going to take a little bit of time. But it’s great for him to get out on the game field. That’s a big part of it and a big step. The week before he dressed, not actually get on the game field, and hopefully get out there a little bit more this week, but we’ll just take it a week at a time, a day at a time."
MONEY IN THE BANK: Akrum Wadley struggled to hang onto the football last season and fumbled on his third carry in the 2015 opener against Illinois State. The sophomore running back from New Jersey then sat out the team’s next two contests.
Wadley returned to the field in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 62-16 blowout of North Texas. He ran five times for 18 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps more importantly, he secured the football.
"You’re always either putting money in the bank or taking it out, and he was putting it in Saturday, which is good," said Ferentz, who does not have the proverbial "Dog House" for his players who make mistakes.
BTN.com tabbed Wadley (5-11, 185) as a honorable mention Freshman All-Big Ten selection after last season. He rushed 33 times for 186 yards and a score, including 106 yards on 15 carries against Northwestern. Despite his elusiveness and production, he saw less playing time as the campaign advanced based on ball security issues.
"That’s going to happen if you’re trying to do something significant and hard, but what do you do once you get knocked down?," Ferentz said. "That’s a point I made about our football team. I think when we’ve gotten knocked off track, thus far we’ve responded pretty well, and I would say the same thing about Akrum Saturday. He did a good job. It was clear he was thinking about the right things out there and was playing hard."
QUICK-HITTERS: Ferentz needs one more victory to reach 120 as Iowa coach and with it will pass former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez for ninth place on the Big Ten’s all-time list…The Badgers are the only team in the country not to have allowed a touchdown the past three weeks, a stretch that’s reached 188 minutes, 2 seconds…This will be Iowa first trip to Madison since ’09…Wisconsin has won 10 games in a row at home and owns a 71-7 record at Camp-Randall Stadium since the start of the ’04 season. Two of those losses have come against the Hawkeyes…This will be the 13th time in Ferentz’s 17 years as Iowa head coach that the Hawkeyes open the conference season on the road…Hawkeye RB Jordan Canzeri leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with eight rushing touchdowns…The betting line for this game opened at Iowa +9 at Wynn Las Vegas, dropped to 6.5 and was back up to 7 on Wednesday…The Badgers lead the series with Iowa, 44-42-2, and hold a 5-4 edge since the schools began competing for the Heartland Trophy in ’04.