Ferentz: Hawkeyes set to face 'a sleeping giant'


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It isn’t Alabama. It isn’t Boise State.

The Hawkeyes did not schedule a powerhouse opponent to open their nonconference schedule this season, as did some of their Big Ten counterparts. But Northern Illinois, says head coach Kirk Ferentz, is closer than the Hawkeye Nation might think.

“I always felt it was a sleeping-giant-type program, if you will,” Ferentz said on Tuesday.

The Huskies have won nine-straight games. They won the Mid-American Conference last season, and they won the GoDaddy.com bowl in January. A swarming defense recorded 6 interceptions in the final two games of last season and returns eight of 11 starters.

“They’re very talented, they’re well-coached, and they’ve got some experience,” Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg said. “You’ve got to play well to beat them. They don’t give up a lot of big stuff, and they play their defense.”

At Chicago’s Soldier Field on Saturday, Northern Illinois will try to rattle an Iowa offense working in some new offensive lineman and lacking any significant running-back experience. Defensive end Sean Progar returns after a season when he racked up 52 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks for the Huskies.

“We have to bring our ‘A’ game if we want to beat them,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “We expect them to play hard. It should be a very good test for us.”

Star quarterback Chandler Harnish moved on to the NFL after leading a dynamic offense last season. He leaves behind an unproven offense featuring four new starting linemen and a fresh group of receivers. Harnish’s replacement, Jordan Lynch, is an athletic, mobile runner — exactly the type of quarterback who has long given Iowa trouble.

“Harnish was just a tremendous performer, outstanding player,” Ferentz said. “Lynch is a big, solid, sturdy guy, so he’s a running threat … [The Huskies] have done a great job the last couple years. Excellent football team.”

Davis slimmed down

Usually, defensive linemen come into the Iowa football program and bulk up significantly.

Carl Davis did the opposite.

Davis came to Iowa as a massive, 340-pound defensive tackle. But after a knee injury last year, Davis received instructions from strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle to slim down. He entered camp this season weighing 310 pounds.

Davis said he takes pride in his increased quickness, and it showed in an Aug. 18 scrimmage, when he snuffed out several running plays in the backfield and swatted a pass down at the line of scrimmage.

“I never knew until I came here that Iowa has built defensive lineman from smaller groups,” he said. “[The lost weight] reduces the chance of injury, and you can move around more and go more snaps. As a freshman, it was like carrying a sandbag on my shoulders. Now I’m a little trimmed down.”

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