Iowa football notebook: Winning turnover battle key to victory in season opener; Injury report and more
By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It seems obvious, but if the No. 18-ranked Iowa football team wants to beat No. 17 Indiana in its season opener on Saturday, it must take care of the football.
Iowa committed five turnovers in its first two games in 2020, both of which were one-score losses to Purdue and Northwestern.
Three of those turnovers came against Northwestern in which junior quarterback Spencer Petras threw three interceptions, all in the second half.
Iowa then finished the season on a six-game winning streak while committing just four turnovers during that span.
Now, the Hawkeyes must face an Indiana defense that returns 10 starters and ranked first in the Big Ten in 2020 with 20 takeaways, including 17 interceptions during a shortened eight-game season.
“(Indiana takes) advantage of a lot of opportunities and it’s important for me to take care of the football,” Petras said. “Their turnover margin was the best in the Big Ten, so they’re a really good outfit, especially in the secondary. Our work is cut out for us, we’ve got to take care of the football.”
Iowa also killed itself with penalties against Purdue last season, committing 10 penalties for 100 yards.
On the other side, Indiana ranked first in the Big Ten last season in fewest penalties per game with 4.25.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that playing clean on Saturday is essential to victory.
“They’re not going to beat themselves,” Ferentz said. “We had 10 penalties in our first game last year and two fumbles, just to give you an example. I know this. If we have 10 penalties and two fumbles on Saturday we’re probably going to be on the short end again.”
Junior preseason All-American center Tyler Linderbaum said ball security has been an emphasis during Iowa’s preparation.
Of the five turnovers against Purdue and Northwestern, two came at crucial points in the fourth quarter.
Iowa drove to the Purdue 28-yard line midway through the fourth quarter before fumbling away an opportunity to make it a two-score game.
Petras’ final interception against Northwestern came with 1:00 remaining and Iowa down by one point.
“Obviously, we struggled in those first two games,” Linderbaum said. “In that first game especially with the turnovers that we had. Just coming out, taking care of the ball, not beating ourselves and playing as hard as we can has been a big emphasis.”
But like most things in football, not committing turnovers is easier said than done.
“In one way it’s kind of a faceless opponent,” junior tight end Sam LaPorta said. “You show up and you’re going to play whoever it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s the top-ranked team in the country or a Division III school. Of course, you’re going to show up and try to play your best football at any given time.”
Injury Report: Senior offensive lineman Kyler Schott will miss Saturday’s game due to a foot injury suffered while working on his family farm. Ferentz indicated during the team’s annual media day Aug. 13 that he was unsure at Schott’s timeframe for a return.
Ferentz said Tuesday that Schott is the only player with no chance to play on Saturday.
Rise of the Penix: Iowa faces a stiff challenge in junior Indiana quarterback Michael Penix, who passed for over 1,600 yards in six games last season before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
Prior to the injury, Penix led the Big Ten in several statistical categories including passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions.
Though his rushing statistics won’t blow anyone away, Penix is also a threat with his legs.
“He’s just a great player overall,” junior defensive back Dane Belton said. “He has a strong arm, he reads the defense well, he’s composed. I feel like that puts pressure on the defense knowing that he won’t get flustered very easily, so we have to be very disciplined on the back end no matter what.”
Vaccine Update: Ferentz said Tuesday that over 90% of his team has been vaccinated against COVID-19, a dramatic increase from Big Ten media day where Ferentz said his team was around 70% vaccinated.
Series History: Iowa has won the previous three meetings dating back to 2014 and seven of the last eight dating back to 2008. The Hawkeyes hold a 45-28-4 advantage in the all-time series that began in 1912.
Saturday’s game is the second time Iowa and Indiana will meet at AP-ranked opponents. The last time was in 1991 when No. 10 Iowa defeated No. 25 Indiana 38-21 at Kinnick Stadium.
Get Your Tickets: According to Iowa sports information, 2,500 tickets remain for Saturday’s game.