Iowa CITY, Iowa - The dust seemed to have settled from an emotional loss during the holiday weekend. On a sunny Tuesday here at the Iowa Football Complex, head coach Kirk Ferentz and his players said they're focused on the future and fixing errors made in a 30-27 setback to Northern Illinois.
"I just feel that we're much more of a family," Senior Cornerback B.J. Lowery said. "We all talk on a consistent basis, on and off of the field. I feel that's the biggest thing from last year to this year that we improved on.
"This (senior) class right here, we're close. We're not going to let one game determine our season."
Team unity could play a large role in keeping the Hawkeye ship heading in the right direction. They lug a seven-game losing streak into Saturday's contest against Missouri State at Kinnick Stadium (11 a.m., BTN).
"You have to learn how to lead when you lose," Senior Captain Christian Kirksey said. "If you see a leader with (his) head down, how can young players follow you? How can they learn to keep going if the leader is being down?
"So, myself and the other senior leaders have to pick our heads up and just tell the younger players that things happen. You just have to brush it off your shoulders and keep moving forward."
The offense appeared much improved on Saturday compared to the ineptitude it suffered through in 2012. Iowa piled up 458 yards but three turnovers and some miscues in key situations cost it.
"I'd say we looked pretty fluid for the first game out, which was very tough," Iowa Quarterback Jake Rudock said. "We did some good things out there but obviously there's a lot of stuff to correct."
Defensively, the Hawkeyes were hurt by big plays (15-20 yards or more) delivered by Northern Illinois.
"There's part of reducing the physical mistakes, but they're going to happen," Senior Captain James Morris said. "But in situations where we can anticipate or be more aware or be smarter, that's going to help us reduce the big plays."
It's hard to say how much Missouri State, an FCS schools, will challenge Iowa this week. The Bears are coming off a 23-17 home loss against Northwestern State in front of 10,147 fans. The Hawkeyes are listed as a 24-point favorite.
INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Maurice Fleming and running back Michael Malloy missed the Northern Illinois game. Fleming has a chance to play this Saturday while Malloy will again be sidelined, Ferentz said.
(Fleming is) working through a leg issue right now," the coach reported. "He might be ready, he might not be this week. We're, I think, close.
"(Malloy is) working through a medical situation, too. Probably be a couple weeks with him, at least."
Lowery and fellow starting cornerback, Jordan Lomax, were forced out of the NIU game with injuries. Lowery said he suffered with extreme calf cramps and felt he would be good to go this Saturday. Lomax (hamstring) wasn't as definite about his status.
"It's starting to feel better," the sophomore said. "I'm doing rehab right now, taking it day-by-day. I have to talk to the trainers. I'm just getting treatment right now. They haven't told me anything yet (in terms of being cleared to practice)"
Brandon Scherff also exited the NIU game with leg cramps. He returned to action and said he would be full speed this week.
KICK START: Jordan Cotton took an aggressive approach to kick returns on Saturday. The senior ran the ball out of the end zone on at least two occasions where he was several yards deep when he caught it.
Asked if he was pleased with Cotton's decision-making in those situations, Ferentz said: "Things can always be better, and I think some of those are pretty obvious."
Iowa's averaged starting field position against NIU was its own 28-yard line. The Hawkeyes began drives at their 10 and twice at their 19 after kick returns. The ball comes out to the 25 on a touchback.
"Yeah, we give them a rule, as far as line of demarkation, but that's assuming, too, that you're catching a ball and running forward," Ferentz said. "And if you're making a Willie Mays catch to field the ball, then that might not be the best thing to try, especially going across the field a little bit.
"That happens. That happens in first games. He will bounce back. He's a really good football player."
FRESHMEN WATCH: Ferentz said before last week's game that he would play true freshman running back LeShun Daniels. That remained the plan despite the Ohio native not seeing any action on Saturday.
"Yeah, our plan was to play him all the way," the coach said Tuesday. "Just didn't open up the other day. He's definitely on the straight ahead list right now."
Cornerback Desmond King was the only true freshman to see the field against NIU. He was working on special teams but was pressed into defensive duty when Lowery and Lomax went down with injuries.
"He competed well," Ferentz said of King. "Some technique things that he can improve on, but the big thing was he wasn't overwhelmed. He had a good demeanor on the sideline and he was eager to compete and all that type of thing.
"Hopefully we can move him forward a little bit this week, too. He's in the water swimming now."
Ferentz said before last week's game that he and the coaches were considering other true freshmen on defense to play this season. That might still be the case but a decision will have to be made soon outside of an injury pushing someone on the field.
"There are probably a couple other guys we're looking at and just see what happens here the next couple weeks," Ferentz said. "I would think somewhere, unless something happens, I think we'll probably make up our mind in the next three, four weeks of the season where we are at."
SAW IT COMING: Ferentz said the right personnel was on the field when NIU pulled off a successful fake punt.
"It's something we had seen on film the last couple of years in all regards to the kicking game," the coach said. "So it's something we are certainly aware of, we have the right people out and we have the miscommunication on one thing that took place and that opened the door, and just makes it tough."
MORE POWELL: Damond Powell, who didn't arrive on Campus until right before training camp from Snow (Junior) College, saw three reps on Saturday. The speedy wide receiver caught a 49-yard pass on his first play.
"Certainly we will try to grow him, grow his role a little bit," Ferentz said. "He wasn't here in the spring so it's a disadvantage. So it's how fast can you learn things, how fast can he pick things up, and also can we make it fit with what the other guys do.
"He's a high energy guy, likes playing football. So we are going to try to keep him involved."
"I know Terry casually," Ferentz said. "Don't know him well but certainly know of Terry from living here as long as I have and the great run that he had at Northern as an assistant and then as a head coach, as well. That program has been good for a long, long time, and Terry is a big part of that."
EXTRA POINTS: James Morris, Christian Kirksey, Brett Van Sloten and Mark Weisman will serve as game captains for a second week in a row…Ferentz said that senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens played his best game as a Hawkeye against NIU…about 3,000 general public tickets remain for Saturday's game…With expected high game-time temperatures this week, fans are again allowed to bring into the stadium sealed bottles of water…This is the first meeting between Iowa and Missouri State, formerly known as Southwest Missouri State…Bears reserve nose tackle Spencer Emerson prepped at West Des Moines Dowling…Missouri State Assistant Ben Barkema is the brother of former Hawkeye C.J. Barkema of Muscatine.