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Rick Brown: For now, Iowa's happy days here again

[ 0 ] September 17, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – I don’t own a mood ring, but one thing was abundantly clear Tuesday. Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz was in good spirits.

He smiled, and told a few self-deprecating jokes. He had a bounce in his step for the first time in eons. His mood might have something to do with the Cy-Hawk Trophy on display on the main level of the Hawkeyes’ football complex.

“Those trophy games are not really about having the trophy there,” senior safety Tanner Miller said. “It’s what the trophy represents, what it symbolizes.”

The Cy-Hawk Trophy, Iowa’s reward for Saturday’s 27-21 win at Iowa State, was the Hawkeyes’ biggest victory in 11 months. You’ve got to go back to a 19-16, double-overtime win at Michigan State on Oct. 13, 2012, to find a locker room as buoyant as the one Saturday night in Ames.

“Michigan State last year was a big win, and it had been our last big win,” senior offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten said. “It was fun to be a part of. Just like Ames.”

In between those wins came a six-game losing streak to end the 2012 season that grew to seven with a loss to Northern Illinois in the 2013 season opener. A penalty-fest victory over Missouri State was no reason to celebrate.

But ending a two-game losing streak to Iowa State was.

“It was fun, that feeling of being in someone else’s locker room and being able to say, ‘Hey, we came here on a business trip and we got the job done,’” quarterback Jake Rudock said.

The six-game losing streak of 2012 is a thing of the past, Ferentz said.

Indeed, that's a pleased look from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes are aiming for a three-game winning streak this weekend against Western Michigan. (Brian Ray/Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Indeed, that's a pleased look from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose Hawkeyes are aiming for a three-game winning streak this weekend against Western Michigan. (Brian Ray/Cedar Rapids Gazette)

“(Denver Broncos coach) John Fox, I think, said it pretty well, that a scar is there but the wound is healed,” Ferentz said. “That’s probably a pretty good way to put it. So you’re aware of what happens. You certainly try to learn from it. But this is a whole different team.

“We all felt like we had a chance to have a good team. We still feel that way. We’re not there yet.”

Yes, this team needs to learn to finish games. The secondary is getting better, but still needs work. The passing game hasn’t clicked yet.

But judging by the mood of the head coach Tuesday, there is potential.

Asked, in light of the controversy surrounding Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, if there was any safe place to vent, Ferentz joked, “You better wait until you get home and hope your wife is on your side.”

And asked if facing 32-year-old Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck made him feel like the dean of Big Ten coaches that he is, Ferentz said, “I don’t use that word. That’s not an appropriate address for a coach … unless his first (name) is Dean, and mine’s not.”

Pelini finds himself on the coaching hot seat at Nebraska. Ferentz has heard grumblings about the state of the Iowa program, too, in light of last season’s slide. The Hawkeyes of 2013 don’t appear headed for the Orange Bowl, where Ferentz teams ended the 2002 and 2009 seasons.

But for the first time since the middle of last season, there is some momentum. Something to quantify all the talk of progress. That momentum can be fickle, though. Sandwiched between the victory at Iowa State and the Big Ten opener at Minnesota Sept. 28 is Saturday’s home game with 0-3 Western Michigan.

The Broncos lost to, but didn’t get blown out by, Michigan State and Northwestern. And Iowa has lost its last two games to Mid-American Conference teams, both at Kinnick Stadium.

“We certainly take them seriously,” senior linebacker James Morris said, “and give them the respect they deserve.”

But Morris, as bright and articulate a student-athlete as you’ll find, did say it was nice to feel those good vibes again.

“You’re almost reluctant to enjoy it, because it is so early in the season,” Morris said. “And in the grand scheme of things, we’ve accomplished so little. But it was a good feeling.”

Judging by the mood of his head coach Tuesday, Morris isn’t the only one feeling that way.
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Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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