Hawkeyes ready for bye week


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After a painful loss to Iowa State two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes have rallied. The offense appears to be finding its rhythm, a young defense is steadily improving, and special teams seem to no longer be a liability.

Sounds like a bad time for a bye week, right?

Not so much.

Despite Iowa's 3-1 record and seemingly mounting momentum, linebacker Tyler Nielsen sounded ready for a break.

"It's perfect timing for a bye week," said Nielsen, who has been limited by an ankle injury he suffered in the Iowa State game. "For me especially — to get some time to relax a little bit and get back to 100 percent."

Nielsen isn't the only one.

Cornerback B.J. Lowery has been out of commission since preseason camp because of a wrist injury, and a sports hernia derailed Nolan MacMillan's bid to open the season as Iowa's starter at left guard. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the bye week should give both an opportunity to return for Iowa's next game, its Big Ten opener at Penn State on Oct. 8.

Ferentz also looks forward to using the extra week for more evaluation — and hopefully, more improvement.

"The way I'm looking at it, we know a lot more about the group than we did maybe four weeks ago. This probably comes at a good time," the 13th-year head coach said. "We can regroup a little bit, think a little bit more about what we can do to best maximize the guys, what they are showing us, and see if we can't try to be a little more efficient as we go along."

Improvement will likely be necessary if Iowa is to emerge from its next challenge with a victory. As sophomore linebacker James Morris said, "You have to show up every week if you want to win in the Big Ten."

The case will be no different when the Hawkeyes roll into State College, Pa., for their contest against Penn State in front of more than 100,000 fans at Beaver Stadium.

Iowa has won three in a row against the Nittany Lions, but the team is now without cogs that made those victories possible — Daniel Murray, Ricky Stanzi, Adrian Clayborn, and a dominating defense. Conversely, the offense will face its biggest challenge yet. Penn State's defense allows just 249 yards a game, the eighth-best mark in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The Hawkeyes have scored 30-plus points in four-straight games for the first since 2002. Louisiana-Monroe, allowing an average of 345 yards per game, is the best defense Iowa has seen thus far.

And despite impressive numbers from quarterback James Vandenberg — 81-of-129 for 1,095 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only one interception — the junior said he knows the unit can still clean some things up.

"We have a lot of things to correct," Vandenberg said.

But besides using the extra time to cram for Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes can also use the extra time to cram for something else.

"I have to take care of practice those first couple days and stay on top of the homework," cornerback Shaun Prater said. "I know I have a lot of papers and exams coming up, so it's a busy week."

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