Hawkeyes refocus for bowl game


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Karl Klug wasn't even sure Iowa would go to a bowl game. Not after losing three-straight games to close out the regular season. Not after three-win Minnesota beat the Hawkeyes on Nov. 27. Not after a team expected to contend for a championship finished with a .500 conference record and tied with the likes of Penn State and Illinois.

Iowa is going to a bowl. Its 7-5 overall record stipulates that's a mere formality. But where?

If Illinois beats Fresno State on Friday, the Big Ten will have five teams with identical 7-5 records, leaving the Hawkeyes a wide array of options. The Outback Bowl, Gator Bowl, or Insight Bowl seem like the most likely scenarios.

After the 27-24 loss to Minnesota, Iowa players stressed that it's not the destination that's important. Using the month of bowl preparation to regain the team's winning mindset is what's on their minds.

"We might be a little shell-shocked, but I don't think any of us is ready to throw in the towel yet," offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. "None of us is ready to panic. We understand that we do have one game left."

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "Like I said, if there's only one good thing that came out of [Nov. 27], … we'll still go to a bowl, and we'll have plenty to do this month because we're in need of a lot of improvement right now."

While many players refused to pinpoint specific areas of improvement, Ferentz said the team's kickoff coverage would be a focal point during bowl preparation. Iowa's kickoff return defense ranks 67th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Ferentz has noted all season that injuries have played an important role in special-teams play. He said on Nov. 9, "James Morris would be a great kickoff coverage guy by this time of year. The only problem [is that] he's starting at middle linebacker."

Two more Hawkeyes suffered injuries on Nov. 27 — cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde — but Ferentz said they'd both be ready for the bowl game. So, too, will linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (stinger) and running back Adam Robinson (concussion), Ferentz has previously said.

Even after falling against the Golden Gophers, players refused to say injuries were the reason for the Hawkeyes' collapse. They instead pointed to the team's attitude and energy, among other things. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn said the team had lost "a will to win."

Bowl preparation, he said, gives Iowa the perfect chance to regain that edge.

"We're going to come up with something," said Clayborn, who was named a first-team All-American Monday by the American Football Coaches Association. "It's going to be tough, and we need it. So we're going to get back to work. We have a whole month to prepare for whatever team we play in whatever bowl. Just got to get to work. We're disappointed, but we can't hang our heads."

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