Team Not Overlooking Syracuse

The Syracuse Orange went 1-10 last year under new Head Coach Greg Robinson. They also lost their season-opener 10-20 to Wake Forest. Despite having lost 12 of their last 13 games, Syracuse is not going to roll over just because a Big Ten team comes to town. HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe examines the attitude the Hawks need to have going into this game, in this premium feature.

Iowa should be worrying about this game at Syracuse on Saturday. The Orangemen are showing strong effort on game film. They are improving. They are playing at home for the first time this season.

No, seriously, stop laughing. This game might prove to be more than a walk-over to next week's showdown with the intensely disliked Iowa State Cyclones.

Yeah, yeah, you're finding it hard to give "The ‘Cuse" respect. It's won one of 12 games under the current coaching staff led by former NFL assistant, Greg Robinson. It ranked 115th out of 117 DI-A teams in total offense last year. It managed just 136 total yards (45 passing) in a 20-10 loss at Wake Forest last weekend.

It's tough to blame you for your outlook. Fortunately, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz appears well aware of the fan and media mindset while bringing his team East. The coach is reading news reports and keeping tabs on his team so complacency and over confidence don't creep into the Hawkeyes' camp.

The veteran players are heeding their mentor's warning. Ferentz hopes they get the point across to the younger Hawks.

"On paper means absolutely nothing," Iowa Defensive End Kenny Iwebema said. "You always have to have respect for your opponent. That's how teams get beat when you go into a game not respecting them. You never know what's going to happen. Anything can happen. You've always got to go into games prepared."

If you need evidence, look across the scores from last week. Fans from Colorado can provide you with evidence of overlooking the competition. The Buffaloes still are recovering from a loss to DI-AA Montana State last week. Big Ten teams Michigan State and Purdue are thankful they overcame strong efforts from lesser opponents.

"We're playing a team that's a little better than the people on the outside think," Ferentz said. "We need to get (the players) to avoid seeing a one-win team."

Syracuse once sat in the upper echelon of college football. The Orangemen have produced names like Jim Brown, Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison. They've fallen on hard times the last few years with Robinson and his staff, who Ferentz says is running a "very complex" system.

The Iowa coach expects the transition to success to take some time, but he sees a team that's beginning to catch on. It reminds Ferentz a little of his situation with Hawkeyes, who won just one game in his first season of 1999 before winning three in the following year. They're shooting for their sixth consecutive bowl game this fall, including their fifth in a row on or after Jan. 1.

Ferentz said that Syracuse is farther ahead of where the Hawkeyes were during his first two years. He projects that the Orangemen will turn it around.

"We can't be fixated on the 1-10 (Syracuse record of '05)," Ferentz said.

Ferentz is guarding against the word his players might hear around campus or downtown. They hear from fellow students and fans how easy the Syracuse game and attempt to get them looking ahead to next week's intrastate rivalry.

"It's a big thing," Iowa Receiver Herb Grigsby said of the state‘s feeling toward that game. "Last year, it was a disappointing feeling leaving from Ames. The students are big Iowa fans and don't like Iowa State. They have a tendency to read the games on the paper, and think we‘re just looking ahead to that game instead of Syracuse. "The young guys (on the Iowa team) don't know what kind of rivalry it is until they get into the game. They're thinking about the next game, which is a good thing."

Quarterback/Wide Receiver Jason Manson said it fell upon the veterans to make sure the young guys kept focused for this week.

"We don't change the way that we work every day for anything," Manson said. "If we were No. 1, we'd still be in here working hard. If we were 117, we'd still be in here working hard. They get that attitude from the way we go about things as seniors. They look at us and we try to give them a good example."

Syracuse has shown the most growth on defense. Middle linebacker Kelvin Smith recorded 16 tackles against Wake, and left cornerback Tanard Jackson came up with an interception and a forced fumble.

"They have a solid defense," Grigsby said. "They have a real good corner (Jackson). It's going to be tough. They're giving effort and playing with enthusiasm. It's always going to be tough when you play against an opponent like that."

Syracuse committed just one penalty for minus 5 yards in its loss at Wake, while Iowa was whistled for eight for 79 in a 41-7 win against Montana last Saturday. The Orangemen forced three fumbles, recovering one, and picked off a pass.

You still don't buy the word of caution? Well, it's OK. Iwebema lets the outside chatter go in one ear and out the other.

"I remember my freshman year, when I was red shirting, and everybody was telling me how great I was," he said. "I wasn't even playing and I was told I was great."

Iwebema chooses to shut out the masses.

"Yeah, you can listen to it," Iwebema said of the Hawk fans talking about a breeze this week. "But if you choose to, that's your own thing. Me personally, I don't listen to all those, "Oh yeah, you guys should beat them with no problem." We're preparing to. We would like to. But you've got to play the game. That's why we play the games on Saturdays."


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