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Hawkeyes look for No. 10

BY AMIE KIEHN | NOVEMBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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Inside the Hawkeye Football Complex, posted on the team’s bold yellow and freakishly large gym doors, a phrase sums up Iowa’s focus — “Get No. 10.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has instilled intense week-by-week concentration to his players.

“I don’t know who is in the Top 25,” Ferentz said at his Tuesday press conference. “I assume we’re in there right now. I know that we are. And, you know, I’ll say the same thing — we still have three conference games to go, a little more focused on that right now.”

Northwestern (5-4) travels to Iowa City equipped with the Big Ten’s most prolific quarterback in Mike Kafka. Kafka is cleared to play after pulling his left hamstring in the Wildcats’ 34-14 loss to Penn State last weekend.

The Chicago native’s strength is his mobility in the pocket. His ability to move effectively may be compromised with the stress of his injury.

While the Wildcats return Kafka, they are without cornerback Sherrick McManis. McManis suffered a quadriceps injury against Indiana on Oct. 24, and his will be a significant absence in Northwestern’s secondary.

Since 1995, Northwestern has won seven of the last 12 meetings against the Hawkeyes.

Unlike the final drive in East Lansing, Mich. — in which quarterback Ricky Stanzi led the Hawkeyes in a dramatic fourth-quarter series to prevail over Michigan State, 15-13 — last year’s Hawkeyes struggled to nab a fourth-quarter comeback against Northwestern.

Iowa trailed 22-17 in the fourth but had 90 seconds remaining to gain the lead. During that time, all four of Stanzi’s passes failed to reach the end zone.

The Wildcats are the last team to win inside Kinnick. Last year’s Iowa team, however, has evolved into the unbeaten Iowa squad today.

“We just learned how to win,” offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. “I mean, we had a lot of those game last year where it game down to the wire, and we couldn’t pull it out there in the end. But this year you are seeing us make those adjustments that need to be made, we’re finishing games the way we like to finish them. I think that is something we learned last year.”

Fans and pundits alike have Nov. 14 circled on their calendars in red — the date the Hawkeyes play Ohio State in Columbus. But Stanzi is resolute to deafen any sound but that of the present.

“We expect each game to be close,” he said. “If you’re thinking the game is going to be easy and look passed it to the next game, that’s when you’ll end us losing a close game. You’re not prepared for it.”

In the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes have outscored opponents 100-38 in all nine games thus far.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has no problem envisioning the demanding feat ahead of his team come Saturday.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” Fitzgerald told ESPN. “We’re playing a team with a lot of positive momentum. They’re finding ways to win, and that’s sometimes tough to overcome.”


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