IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For the first time in what seemed like forever, Iowa entered a game week without regrets.
The Hawkeyes didn't have a loss to put behind them. They weren't forced to take solace after a close defeat or feel sheepish about beating an FCS school.
Iowa (2-1) last week beat Iowa State, a heated rival from the power conference, and is now on a bona fide winning streak.
Granted, it's been just two games and the Cyclones look more like Big 12 bottom feeders than contenders. But the Hawkeyes are finally moving in the right direction heading into their final nonconference game against Western Michigan on Saturday.
"We all felt like we have a chance to have a good team. We still feel that way. We're not there yet," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But the guys are working hard, and winning on the road in a tough environment, which we all knew it was going to be tough ... those are positive things that we can grab on to and feel good about."
If anyone knows how to ruin Iowa's fun, it's the Broncos (0-3). Western Michigan is 2-0 against the Hawkeyes. The Broncos beat Iowa 27-21 back in 2000, and in 2007 they stunned the Hawkeyes 28-19 in the season finale, keeping the Hawkeyes out of a bowl game.
But Western Michigan is rebuilding under first-year coach P.J. Fleck, who at 32 is the youngest in the Bowl Subdivision. The Broncos have already played a pair of Big Ten teams, losing at Michigan State 26-13 and falling at Northwestern 38-17 last week.
"There's been not one game that's been an easy game, and they continue to fight. They're a resilient group. They're getting better on a daily basis," Fleck said.
Here are five things to watch as the Broncos face Ferentz for the third time:
WEISMAN LEFT, WEISMAN RIGHT: Iowa's Mark Weisman ran the ball 35 times for 145 yards in the 27-21 win over the Cyclones and has 85 carries through three games. The Broncos rank 114th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 245 yards a game, so they will likely see plenty of Weisman. "They're going to run the football," Fleck said. "We need to be ready for that."
YOUNG LEGS: Western Michigan's biggest surprise so far has been freshman wide receiver Corey Davis, who has led the Broncos in receptions and receiving yards in each game. Davis also had 112 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern. Iowa has been inconsistent in the secondary, but the Hawkeyes should get starting cornerback Jordan Lomax back by Saturday.
JAKE THE SNAKE: Iowa's Jake Rudock is hardly a running quarterback. But he has a team-high four rushing TDs on just 19 carries, adding an element of QB elusiveness that the Hawkeyes haven't had in a long time. Rudock is also completing 61 percent of his passes for 609 yards. "He hasn't been perfect by any stretch, but he's really doing a lot of good things. His poise and just awareness, I think, is really pretty good. He kind of gets it," Ferentz said.
NOT-SO BUCKING BRONCOS: Western Michigan is scoring just 17.7 points per game with seven TDs through three games. Senior QB Tyler Van Tubbergen has thrown five interceptions and is completing just 44 percent of his passes. The Broncos have had some success running the ball, but Iowa has one of the nation's best rush defenses. Western Michigan will likely need to establish the passing game to have a shot at an upset.
BALLHAWKS: Iowa's senior linebacker trio -- James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens -- has shown how dangerous they can be when healthy. Morris and Kirksey have played very well in somewhat unheralded roles, and Hitchens is making most of the plays asked of him at weak side linebacker. He has 31 tackles, three for a loss, along with a sack and a pass breakup. "All three of those guys are really playing well and giving us leadership. A lot of it is where Hitchens is playing. If Kirksey were back there or Morris in that same spot, they'd probably have a lot (of tackles) too," Ferentz said.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.