Michigan’s Rodriguez eyes Iowa’s slow rise

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez can’t help but look at Iowa’s Kirk

Ferentz with a bit of envy.

Ferentz was hired in 1999 and has built his program into a

national championship contender. He has standout seniors on both

sides of the ball each season, and this year is no different as the

15th-ranked Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) prepare for Saturday’s game

at Michigan.

Rodriguez, who’s in his third pressure-packed year with the

Wolverines, hopes he has enough time to assemble the talent he

wants playing for college football’s winningest program.

”We’ve got to have a couple really good recruiting classes to

address our needs,” Rodriguez said.

Iowa is coming off a bye week, something Ferentz called ”an

opportune time” for his players to get some rest and for the

younger guys to get some practice time.

Underclassmen need to practice to get experience for the

Hawkeyes.

At Michigan, they play. A lot.

The Wolverines (5-1, 1-1) have two freshmen and two sophomores

starting in their secondary and almost half of their lineup on

offense Saturday could be underclassmen.

”We’re in a situation where we’re playing those guys now –

ready or not,” Rodriguez said.

On defense, Iowa starts six seniors, including three on the

line, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi is one of five seniors on the

first-string offense.

”Their front four is as good as anybody’s in the country,”

Rodriguez said.

The Adrian Clayborn-led line will make it tough for Michigan

quarterback Denard Robinson to bounce back from his worst game of

the season.

Robinson threw three interceptions – one in the end zone, one

just outside of it – and had a season-low 86 yards rushing on 21

carries last week against Michigan State. He also missed a

wide-open receiver in the end zone and once threw the ball into the

turf a few yards in front of a teammate.

Robinson ran for 905 yards and eight touchdowns and threw for

1,008 yards and seven scores with only one interception in his

first five starts. After the humbling defeat to Michigan State, the

speedy sophomore addressed his teammates in the locker room.

”I never hard him speak out like he did with so much emotion,”

receiver Kelvin Grady said. ”Denard took a step closer toward

being a leader.”

Rodriguez, who didn’t hear Robinson’s postgame comments to his

teammates, said he’s more interested in what Robinson does than

says.

”That stuff is so overrated,” Rodriguez said. ”What are they

going to do? Try harder? I wasn’t in the locker room, but it

doesn’t surprise me because Denard is a competitor and he’s taking

more ownership of the team.”

Rodriguez, in the third season of his six-year contract, didn’t

have much time to sign the type of athletes he wanted in his first

recruiting class and since then he’s had to recruit against schools

pointing out Michigan’s troubles on and off the field.

”The last couple years have been kind of drama, negatively

filled type of recruiting,” Rodriguez recalled. ”I thought at

times our coaches did a really good job of bringing some players

in, but we fought through a lot of issues.”

The Wolverines insist they’re not worried about another

collapse. Michigan won its first four games last season, then got

beat by the Spartans and flopped to a 5-7 finish.

As smoothly as Ferentz seems to be leading Iowa, it wasn’t long

ago that he was in a pivotal stretch of his 12-year tenure.

The school stuck with Ferentz through 6-6 and 6-7 seasons in

2006 and 2007, a slew of offseason problems, and a change in

athletic director from Bob Bowlsby to Gary Barta. Ferentz started a

turnaround in 2008 and went 11-2 last season, beating Georgia Tech

in the Orange Bowl for the Hawkeyes’ first BCS bowl victory.

Just two days before this season, Iowa gave Ferentz a new

10-year contract that pays him about $3.7 million a year.

Ferentz’s current team is giving up a nation-low 10.2 points a

game and ranks fourth in total defense, allowing 242 yards. They

aren’t fancy about it, either. Just tough.

”In this day and age with the technology and everything,”

Rodriguez said, ”if you just line up in one defense, ‘That’s who

we are, come get us,’ most teams will find some kind of way to move

the ball. Unless you’re Iowa.”

Michigan is one of the highest-scoring teams in the country,

averaging 37-plus points, and ranks third in total offense with an

average of nearly 545 yards a game.

”Unlike a year ago, when they were probably in a transition

mode, I think they’ve clearly transitioned right now,” Ferentz

said. ”It looks like everybody is a lot more comfortable.”

Not quite.