Ferentz keeps focus on Michigan

LUKE MEREDITH AP Sports Writer Published:

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa isn't giving up on Kirk Ferentz despite a third straight season of diminishing results.

The Hawkeyes simply have to hope that the well-respected coach who has twice revived the program has another turnaround in him.

Iowa (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) is on course for its worst season since 2000, when it went 3-9.

The Hawkeyes have lost four games in a row and will need to beat Michigan and Nebraska to qualify for a bowl game.

The frustration is growing for many fans who have seen the Hawkeyes struggle to compete in the Big Ten despite a schedule that, compared with other seasons, hasn't been nearly as taxing. Getting rid of Ferentz is an unlikely option, not with a buyout of some $20 million, and athletic director Gary Barta has publicly supported the coach he gave a 10-year extension before the 2010 season.

On Tuesday, Ferentz tried his best to keep his focus on Saturday's trip to Michigan (7-3, 5-1). The future will have to wait.

"We've lost four straight games, and we're 4-6 right now, and that's where we're at. That's what I'm worried about right now," Ferentz said. "Really the only thing I can worry about right now or be concerned with is beating Michigan."

Iowa's problems are, in many ways, a bad mix of talent and luck.

The Hawkeyes have fallen a bit short in each area.

Purdue outgained the Hawkeyes 490 yards to 264 last week in a 27-24 win that snapped its five-game losing streak. If it weren't for three fumbles and 10 penalties, the Boilermakers likely would have cruised to a much easier win.

Iowa couldn't run the ball, couldn't throw all that well and its defense couldn't do enough to make up for the woes on offense.

"The key is -- because everybody is good at pointing out what's wrong. But the key is to try to find solutions that are workable and realistic and short-term and long-term," Ferentz said. "That's been the approach, and we'll just go from there."

It could be argued that the Hawkeyes are also among the nation's unluckiest teams. After all, they've played in six games decided by three points or less and lost four of them.

But in all those defeats, Iowa can point to specific mistakes that hurt.

Late interceptions from struggling senior quarterback James Vandenberg played big roles in losses against Iowa State and Indiana. Central Michigan and Purdue each drove down the field in under a minute -- at Kinnick Stadium, no less -- to set up game-winning field goals.

"If you're hanging around waiting for luck, you probably should get in a different profession or do something else," Ferentz said.

Injuries haven't helped either.

The loss of tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Andrew Donnal in the first half of an ugly defeat to Penn State has hurt a lot more than many thought. That and the absence of running back Mark Weisman, who isn't expected to play against Michigan because of a leg injury, and fullback Brad Rogers has rendered Iowa's running game nearly nonexistent.

The Hawkeyes rushed for just 74 yards on 31 carries against Purdue -- which entered play as the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten.

The upside of having a relatively light class of impact seniors is that the Hawkeyes will bring back a ton of starters in 2013. Many appear to have a chance to be strong Big Ten players.

Ferentz also has a history of reviving the Hawkeyes. They won a share of the Big Ten title in 2002 and, after finishing 6-6 in 2007, won the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season.

But for now, all Ferentz and the Hawkeyes can really do is try to keep the distractions caused by their poor play to a minimum.

"All you can do is you try to be as smart as you can, as prepared as you can and all that," Ferentz said. "But you also have to know you're not going to be perfect, and it's the same as being a player. They're not going to be perfect out there."

Clark receives probation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan defensive end Frank Clark has received probation for stealing a laptop computer from another student's dorm room.

The 19-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree home invasion on Sept. 11.

Washtenaw County District Judge Donald Shelton issued the sentence Tuesday. Clark can erase the conviction by completing probation under a first-time offenders program.

Clark also most pay $1,741 in fines and court costs.

After the June theft, Michigan coach Brady Hoke suspended Clark for a week of preseason practice and the opener against Alabama. Since then, Clark has made 11 tackles, three of them for a loss. He's also broken up three passes.

No. 23 Michigan is 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are home Saturday against conference rival Iowa (4-6, 2-4).

Hoosiers need to rebound quickly

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana's hopes of playing for a Big Ten championship came to an end in a humiliating 62-14 loss to Wisconsin over the weekend.

Indiana could have gained control of the Leaders Division race with a win at home. Even though things have been better for Indiana this year, the Hoosiers ended up getting the kind of beating they've traditionally received from the Badgers.

Now, after all that talk about playing in the Big Ten title game, if the Hoosiers don't recover quickly, they won't even make it to postseason play. Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) needs to win Saturday at Penn State and the following week at Purdue to become bowl eligible.

Of course, last season a bowl game wasn't even a thought. Now that the Hoosiers have had some success with two Big Ten wins this season a year after losing every conference game, coach Kevin Wilson says it is important for the program to continue to take positive steps.

He said the matchup with Penn State (6-4, 4-2) provides a great opportunity.

"Would love to see these men come back and respond to our standard," Wilson said. "They've set the standard. Well, we've set it, they've embraced it. Would love to see these guys come back and have the week we need to have. If we're going to improve, this is the week to see what we've got."

Spartans 'just fine'

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Despite a disappointing .500 record, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio thinks his program's future is just fine.

The Spartans (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten) can still play in their sixth straight bowl with one more win and would love to send the seniors off with 36 victories by winning three more times, starting with Saturday's senior day visit from Northwestern.

"One of the toughest things as a senior is if you come out flat in your last game at home," Dantonio said Tuesday. "You can't be too saddened by the experience so you're not ready to play. It's an opportunity to showcase your talents one more time in Spartan Stadium in front of your family and friends. Our guys will be ready to play, no question."

Fresh from a bye week, Michigan State knows it will have to finish stronger than it has in four conference losses by a total of 10 points, the same late-game problem that has affected the Wildcats (7-3, 3-3), losers of three games that they led by double digits in the fourth quarter.

"We started working on them last Tuesday and got a little done in advance," Dantonio said of Northwestern's explosive option offense, one that can switch quarterbacks and quickly pose a top passing attack. "We had an advantage in that respect. We also healed up. And we could step back a little and refocus and regenerate our enthusiasm. We needed to do that."

Purdue still has hope

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- One win has kept hope alive at Purdue.

Two more and the Boilermakers could go down as the nation's most improbable bowl-eligible team, with a roster of players and coaches who have routinely defied the odds.

"We're in a playoff situation," said sixth-year quarterback Robert Marve, who is playing with a torn ACL in his left knee. "It just kind of hit me today, we can't lose a game right now."

Actually, under new NCAA rules, if there aren't enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all the slots, the Boilermakers could still make it in at 5-7. But why try for the long shot when Purdue can still take care of things itself?

The Boilermakers understand what they're up against.

A year ago, they needed to win two of their last three regular-season games to snap a three-year bowl drought. They did.

Now if they can win these next two and finish the regular season on a three-game winning streak, they would likely make it back despite all of the things that went wrong this season -- a five-game losing streak that left Purdue out of the Big Ten title chase, four blowouts that had many pondering whether this team had quit on the season, rotating quarterbacks that may have contributed to a lack of continuity, and, of course, the persistent speculation about coach Danny Hope's future in West Lafayette.

Saturday's 27-24 victory at Iowa not only gave Purdue (4-6, 1-5) respite, but a whole new perspective on this season.

Suddenly, the Boilermakers are talking about winning at Illinois (2-8, 0-6) this weekend and again when rival Indiana (4-6, 2-5) visits Ross-Ade Stadium the following weekend in the annual Old Oaken Bucket game.

"A bowl game is a big deal to us," Marve said Tuesday. "This team feels like that's a successful season. No, it's not the season we wanted, but it would be one that Boilermakers Nation could look back at and say we bounced back."

Burkhead wants to play

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Rex Burkhead would love to say he'll play Saturday when Nebraska meets Minnesota on senior day.

He can't, though, because he just doesn't know. It's been this way for weeks.

The 2011 All-Big Ten running back sprained his left knee in the opener of his final season at Nebraska and has aggravated the injury twice. He's missed five games and had to leave early in three others.

One day, the knee will feel good, and he'll think he can play that week.

The next day, the knee hurts and he knows he won't.

"I think it kills him every week," coach Bo Pelini said. "That's just who he is."

Burkhead was on the practice field Monday and participated on a limited basis. He said he's "pretty close" to being able to play in a game, and he's doing all he can to make it happen against the Gophers.

"My last home game here," he said. "Being a senior, it would mean the world to get out on the field."

The native of Plano, Texas, is the most popular player on the team judging by the overwhelming number of fans dressed in No. 22 jerseys on game days.

Last season, he averaged 104 yards a game and his 284 carries were two shy of the school record. His 1,357 yards were the most by a Nebraska running back since 1997.

A similar season this year would have moved him past Ahman Green as Nebraska's No. 2 all-time rusher behind 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. As it is, Burkhead is sixth with 3,059 yards.

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