By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tuesday was a busy news day for Iowa Hawkeye sports, with some of it good, and some not so good.
Though it hardly came as a shock, it still was disappointing to learn that the COVID-19 global pandemic finally had caused an Iowa football game to be canceled after eight consecutive weeks in which the Hawkeyes had played a game.
Iowa was scheduled to face Michigan on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium, but then rumor turned to reality when Michigan Athletic Director Wade Manuel announced in a release that the Wolverines had to cancel due to having multiple players unavailable because of COVID-19 health concerns.
“We do not have enough available players at multiple position groups to field a team at Iowa,” Manuel said. “We have more student-athletes out this week compared to last week and the week prior.”
So just like that, Michigan’s season is over, and it was a season to forget, with the Wolverines finishing 2-4 and having three of their eight games canceled due to COVID-19 health concerns.
Iowa, on the other hand, still has one bowl game left to play, and the Hawkeyes will learn their bowl destination on Sunday.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz took a glass-half-full approach while addressing the media just minutes after the news had broken about the Michigan game being canceled. Ferentz understands that having one game canceled is a small price to pay during a global pandemic that has killed over 300,000 in the United States, and that continues to rage in Iowa.
Ferentz also has much for which to be proud and grateful, with his team having won its final six regular-season games after starting 0-2, and with Iowa being one of just three Big Ten teams to have played all eight games this season.
“There’s nothing to be disappointed about,” Ferentz said. “The game didn’t materialize, we’ll move on to the next one. I’ll encourage the guys to take a couple days, clear their heads out, put their feet up, relax, feel good about what they’ve done, celebrate what they’ve done, feel good about it.
“When it’s time to get back to work, we’ll get back to work. This is a bye week come early. They’ve earned a chance to feel good about what they’ve accomplished.”
Yes they have.
Everyone associated with the Iowa football program deserves praise for how they have navigated through threatening waters, from Ferentz to the medical staff on down to the student managers because it has taken a group effort to make it this far.
“I want to take a minute to congratulate our players and staff for the job they’ve done during the course of the year,” Ferentz said. “We’ve been barely affected by the virus – fortunately – over the last 10, 12 weeks, whatever it’s been. I think a lot of it’s just everybody being very, very diligent about what they’re doing, being aware of the protocols that are in place, everybody paying strict attention to it. Also a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt at all.
“I want to compliment everybody on the job they’ve done, especially those on our medical staff here, the doctors and the trainers. The trainers are really on the front line, and Dr. Andy Peterson. The trainers have been on the front line back to June when everything got going here. I can’t say enough about the job they’ve done. Absolutely phenomenal. Just a shame here we didn’t make it to the finish line.”
As for other news from Tuesday, the Big Ten announced its all-conference football teams and Iowa was represented by 12 players, with three of them – senior left tackle Alaric Jackson, sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum and sophomore running back Tyler Goodson – making at least one of the first teams.
Linderbaum was a first-team choice by the media, but the coaches, oddly enough, put him on the second team, even though Linderbaum is widely regarded as the top center in the country.
Kirk Ferentz chose his words carefully when asked about the coaches putting Linderbaum on the second team.
The offensive line is considered Ferentz’s area of expertise, and he coached the offensive line under Hayden Fry at Iowa from 1981-89, and for six seasons in the NFL.
“I have to really be careful, I don’t want to say anything that suggests other players aren’t really good,” Ferentz said. “I don’t want to say that at all.
“I’ll just say this. I haven’t been around many centers in college football better than Tyler Linderbaum. I’ll leave it at that. I’ve been here 30 plus years. Joel Hilgenberg was a pretty good center. We’ve had pretty good centers here. I’m not saying he’s better than Hilgy. I don’t know how many are better than Tyler Linderbaum.”
Ferentz also announced that junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin will have knee surgery and miss the bowl game.
Kelly-Martin has been a key performer on special teams this season, while also seeing action as a backup running back.
“Losing Ivory was a big loss for us on our special teams because of what he’s been doing there,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ll be eager to get that thing repaired, get him back up and running, have him back next year. That’s exciting. Happy about that.”
And then finally, Wednesday is the start of the early signing period for football. Iowa is expected to sign at least 17 players during the early signing period.
“We’re really excited about this class,” Ferentz said. “Happy to talk about them when it’s appropriate.”
The appropriate time will be on Wednesday after the players have signed their national letters of intent.
Iowa has scheduled a 12:30 p.m. zoom conference with the media to introduce the class.
Shifting from football, it also was announced on Tuesday that the Iowa women’s basketball team’s game at Ohio State on Saturday had been postponed by Ohio State due to an increase of positive coronavirus tests within the program.
Both institutions will work with the Big Ten office to identify potential rescheduling options later this season.
The third-ranked Iowa men’s basketball is preparing to face top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the game still is on at this point.
Gonzaga returned to practice on Monday after having five games canceled due to COVID-19 health concerns.