IOWA CITY — No one is trying to drop the football. It is one of the most obvious and painful mistakes you can make on the field. There is simply no salve for the sting of a dropped pass.
You, however, have no choice but to shake it off. You hope another one is headed your way.
After the Hawkeyes’ 28-14 win over Missouri State last week, talk around Iowa football was Mark Weisman and his workload. He carried 30 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns on a super-hot day at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa had four drops in the game, which, along with 11 penalties, stunted the offense more than once.
In Iowa’s 9-6 loss to Iowa State (0-1) last season, Weisman left fingernail marks in a ball that slipped through his fingers at the Cyclones’ goal line in the beginning of the fourth quarter. This wasn’t the killer for the Hawkeyes (1-1). Their chances would end on a Jake Knott interception late in the game.
ISU linebacker A.J. Klein, now a Carolina Panther, was in tight coverage, but the ball just kind of slid out. It stung and, yes, Weisman remembered it. He winced, but he talked about it.
“You try to put it in the past, but it definitely fuels my fire a little bit,” Weisman said. “It’s in the past, last year is last year. It’s in the rear-view mirror. We have to go out and try to prove it this year.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked about penalties and drops Tuesday. His answer, distilled, is you can’t do those things and expect to win. Iowa travels to Jack Trice Stadium this weekend. It’s a place where Ferentz is 2-5. Iowa’s last win in Ames was 2009.
Jack Trice Stadium is where dropped passes would bury a Hawkeye offense in search of an identity, specifically within the passing game and, even more specifically, at wide receiver. The Hawkeyes have six drops in two games, some more contested than others. Against the Cyclones last season, Iowa had eight.
“We’re going to have some drops, that’s part of the game,” wide receiver Jordan Cotton said. “We have to stay after practice, we have to catch more balls.”
Senior wide receiver Don Shumpert has had a handful of drops this season. Against ISU last year, he had a key drop on a fourth down late in the game. After that, he didn’t see much playing time nor did he see many, if any, targets. He won a spot in the wide receiver rotation in August camp.
Going into Saturday’s 5 p.m. game, he remains atop the depth chart.
“I’ve just got to make the play, I have to make the catch when it’s there,” said Shumpert, a senior who has four receptions for 55 yards this season. “There’s no coaching, it’s only catching.”
This led to a discussion on what players show in practice and how practice, and consistency shown therein, is their path to the field. Ferentz and staff aren’t the gambling kind, as you know. They aren’t going to take a flyer on a someone who hasn’t shown in practice that they can perform.
“You have to win in practice,” said Cotton, who has two catches for 58 yards. “You have to win on every play. You have to show that you can block and catch the ball. It all comes with it.”
Ferentz said Shumpert and sophomore Tevaun Smith are in a close race for the split end spot. Through the first two games, they’ve been alternating two series on and two off, with some other receivers floating into the mix.
“You just gauge it daily, gauge it weekly,” Ferentz said. “We don’t have many incumbents right now, so it’s just a matter of competition and letting the guys work every day.”
Iowa is searching for wide receivers. So far, eight have caught passes, with true freshman Matt VandeBerg throwing off his redshirt last weekend and catching two passes for 17 yards.
“It’s just what guys do in practice,” Ferentz said. “He’s practiced well. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, you probably noticed that, but he’ll grow as we go along. He’s really practiced well and made some good catches. He tries to block, and he does what he’s supposed to do.”
In the last three seasons, the Hawkeyes have had three receivers catch double-digit passes. Three wide receivers caught passes against Iowa State last season. You might only see three in the mix this weekend. Who and how many will be decided by who does what in practice.
Practice is where Ferentz and staff find who’s dependable. Dependability generally plays. Look at Weisman. He started at fullback against the Cyclones in ’12 and had zero carries. The next week, he rushed 24 times for 113 yards against Northern Iowa.
Weisman will go into Saturday’s game the No. 2 rusher in the Big Ten with 280 yards. His 50 carries are tied for fourth in the nation.
“A big part of production, I think, is being a dependable player, a player who’s consistent with his actions,” Ferentz said. “I think every coach appreciates having an idea what to expect from a player each and every week.”