Iowa and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad November

I can’t recall the last time I walked out of Kinnick Stadium as angry as I was last Saturday.

Other than blocking, catching, tackling, catching punts, kicking punts or covering wide receivers, I guess a few Hawkeye players did things right against Purdue. To find out for sure, I’d have to re-watch that fiasco of failed football, however, and that ain’t happening.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, it’s a Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa season, which means any unexpected positive result must be balanced out by at least one head-scratching, ridiculous loss.

Last year we got the thrill of beating Michigan after being uncompetitive against Penn State and losing to an FCS school.

This year we got six glorious days to bask in a historic beat down of long-time nemesis Ohio State, only to be greeted with two weeks in a row of absolutely atrocious, uncompetitive football.

It’s one thing to be uncompetitive against the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers, who have had Iowa’s number for some time now. But it is beyond inexcusable to get punked by a 4-win Purdue team at home, on senior day, even if they are better than past Boilermaker squads.

A rare decent run against Purdue. Photo courtesy Hawkeye Report.

You knew it was going to be one of “those games” as soon as Iowa’s special teams unit idiotically roughed the Purdue punter after the defense forced a three-and-out, leading directly to Purdue’s first touchdown. The Boilers would briefly relinquish that lead, but the pattern was set. A bevy of boneheaded Hawkeye miscues later sent Hawkeye fans fleeing for the Kinnick exits early.

I suppose one silver lining is Iowa players have continued to play hard and show heart. That they do so while piling one mistake upon another, continuing to make basic errors like misidentifying who to block or who to cover and whether or not to catch a punt is, well . . . I guess it’s better than being stupid AND not trying.

So they’ve got that going for them, anyway.

As for the future of the Ferentz coaching regime – and by regime I mean the presumed fait accompli of a smooth transition from father to son at some point in the near-to-mid-future – I’m not sure that the 2017 November meltdown might not actually be a good thing.

Bear with me for a minute, here.

Let’s say Iowa had managed a very manageable comeback over mediocre Purdue. And then went on to smack around a demoralized Nebraska team in Lincoln. The Hawkeyes would be sitting at 8-4 and heading to a nice bowl, making the abject failure to move the ball in Madison little more than a nasty memory.

Instead, a second week of abject failure should force this staff to take a long, hard look at the current direction of the program, particularly its moribund and molasses-like offense. Counting recent bowl losses, Iowa will now have lost five or more games in seven of its last eight seasons. In addition, it’s likely that six of those eight seasons will see Iowa finish at fourth or lower in a seven team division.

Now, Iowa has finished over .500, gone to quite a few bowls and notched some huge wins over that period as well. And no one can diminish the achievement of finishing a regular season undefeated like the Hawks did in 2015.

But being “pretty good” is not good enough. I’ve never been and never will be a “look at the size of the paycheck” guy. The elder Ferentz has earned his contract through uncanny timing of stellar seasons. But being slightly worse than Bo Pelini certainly doesn’t inspire the confidence to say one family should rule Iowa football in perpetuity.

This is why I actually think this meltdown might be a good thing. It damn well better light a fire under everyone in the football facility hoping to keep that much-lauded “Iowa coaching continuity” thing going.

Because right now the natives are restless and angry. Those are at least active emotions.

The next step is apathy, which leads to empty seats, which leads to dwindling coffers, which apparently is the only thing that gets Gary Barta’s attention.

Iowa fans aren’t particularly fickle. And they will forgive this no-good November if their beloved Hawkeyes legitimately compete for a West Division title in 2018.

But if they don’t……..

Torbee puts the Big 10 media on blast for “disrespect”

Imagine, if you will, that you are an ink-stained sports scribe for the Toledo Blade, or the Fort Wayne Gazette or the Peoria Journal. Your assignment is to predict which Big 10 basketball teams will finish where in what is likely to be the best conference in college basketball.

It’s a tough job, requiring you to weigh previous results, exiting and incoming personnel, recruiting rankings, coaching history and many other factors. But it’s a required exercise, and now the sorting begins.

Here is Team A’s blind resume to consider:

  • · Previous year’s team finished tied for 4th in the conference race
  • · Four of five starters return, though the lone exit was 1st team All-Big 10
  • · Two of the returners were on the conference All-Freshman team
  • · Team returns conference’s 6th Man of the Year
  • · One of only 3 conference teams to post winning conference record each of past 5 seasons
  • · Starting point guard was 1 of 2 freshman in college basketball with 175 assists and 84 3-pointers
  • · Team returns 77.6 percent of its scoring

Hmmmmm.

Sounds pretty good. This team is predicted to finish ……………………….

EIGHTH?

If you are an Iowa fan, you know that Team A is your beloved Hawkeyes. And if you have been following the preseason college basketball news, you will know that eighth is exactly where the Big 10 media predicted Iowa to finish the 2016-17 conference season.

If this doesn’t put a Rodney Dangerfield-sized chip of disrespect on every Hawkeye player’s shoulder, I can’t imagine what will.

I will go on record right now (seriously, print and save this column) saying if Iowa indeed finishes eighth or lower I will attend Iowa’s last home game in Carver Arena in a Nebraska cheerleader uniform and let Tom Kakert post a pic of it on this webpage. If Nebraska cheerleader uniforms come in that small of a size, that is.

Now I’m not saying that Iowa is a Final Four caliber juggernaut poised to rampage through a very deep, very talented Big 10. But with what it has coming back – and a relatively soft unbalanced conference schedule – it is extremely difficult for me to see any possible way they don’t crack the top five or six at worst.

Add in some eye-opening and unusually optimistic insider rumblings about the elevation of Tyler Cook’s game, Jordan Bohannon’s growth at the point and two big-bodied, big time freshman and the Hype Train might be taking on passengers early and often.

I write this with the full disclosure that I have done next to zero research on Iowa’s conference opponents. I am way too invested in this year’s football season to waste time perusing Wisconsin’s roster or Illinois’ incoming recruits. But I know a good basketball team when I see it, and Iowa is going to have a good basketball team this season.

And while we are feeding coal into the aforementioned Hype Train’s boiler, how can any Iowa basketball fan not be super stoked about Fran McCaffery’s recruiting? Two of his 2017 recruits – Connor McCaffery and Luka Garza are four star recruits and they will be combing with four star, #40 nationally ranked Joe Wieskamp in 2018. After that, more four star, Top 100 types are either committed or in the pipeline, giving Iowa fans more hope for the hoops future than they’ve seen in ages.

So I tell you Mr. Chicago Tribune, Mr. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Ms. Columbus Post-Dispatch know-it-alls: Don’t eat too much at your post-game spreads this season. Because Iowa is going to be serving a huge, heaping pile of crow to you come March.

Tuesdays With Torbee: Deconstructing the Mean Green Menace

By Tory Brecht

Family fights can be extremely physically and mentally draining.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that Iowa looked a bit hungover after its last-second, overtime dispatching of its little brother from Ames the week prior in the first half of its game against the Mean Green of North Texas.

Much as they did in week three last season, the Hawkeyes found themselves in a bare knuckled street fight with an ostensibly overmatched foe wearing green and white uniforms at halftime.

Fortunately for Iowa, NTSU doesn’t have the pedigree or grit of the North Dakota State Bison team that stole a win in Kinnick in 2016. In my Tuesdays With Torbee column after the Bison debacle, I criticized the Iowa coaching staff for abandoning the pass in favor of trying to milk the clock and leaning on the run game. I still think that was a bad call against the Bison, but it sure worked well against the Mean Green.

If Kirk Ferentz were a boxer, I’m not sure the man would ever throw a head shot. It would just be jab after jab after jab to the body until the opponent wilts. It ain’t pretty, but it’s effective.

Brian Ferentz, on the other hand, appears to be more willing to sling the pigskin around a bit. My favorite call of the game was actually the play action pass he dialed up with about 5:40 left in the fourth quarter, coming right after a change of possession, despite it resulting in an incompletion. The throw was on target, as well, and only a stellar play by the Mean Green defensive back prevented a touchdown.

What I love best about the younger Ferentz’s offensive attack is he seems to have inherited some of Hayden Fry’s old “scratch where it itches” philosophy. Whereas the elder coach often seems stubborn to a fault, Brian is going to take what the defense is giving and exploit mismatches. (Hello tight ends, my lord did we miss you!).

The sluggish first half and relatively close score has some Iowa fans worried and certainly didn’t impress poll voters, who have a full six 1-loss teams ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes. I get that, but I don’t think it’s fair to discount the abject awfulness of the officiating crew from Saturday. They managed to suck any semblance of flow or common sense from the game.

I’m not one to bemoan officiating often, and I’d definitely not go there after a loss or even a narrow win. But I feel entitled, as a fan of a team that managed to overcome egregiously pitiful officiating to win comfortably, to point out how awful it was.

Let’s start with the most talked-about controversial call of the game, which ironically is one of the few the officials got right by the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. Yes, Akrum Wadley high-stepped and showboated a bit on his way into the end zone on Iowa’s first touchdown drive. Despite the fact he himself has done this any number of times without getting dinged, and I saw similar displays in roughly a dozen other games just this last Saturday, it was a penalty.

But such a stupid, pointless one to call. Wadley didn’t show anyone up or taunt his opponent. He made the unforgivable football purist sin of showing genuine joy. The horror! I’m not one to thump the “pay college players” drum – though I understand clearly why many do – but these kids give their blood, sweat and sometimes future health to play this game for our amusement. Let the damn kids cut loose a little.

As for the called back touchdown by Nick Easley, maybe he fumbled prior to breaking the plane of the end zone and maybe he didn’t. But it sure as hell couldn’t be seen via any camera angle shared on the television broadcast. And the call on the field was touchdown.

Finally, NTSU’s scoring drive just prior to halftime – the one that made 70,000 stomachs queasy inside Kinnick – only happened because of two of the most horrendous personal foul flags I’ve ever seen thrown. On the first, A.J. Epenesa was literally crawling on the ground when he was blocked into Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine’s leg prior to him flinging a pass. Somehow, that was deemed a personal foul, giving NTSU 15 yards and a first down rather than a third and 10 with time running out.

The next personal foul, though, was even worse! Manny Rugamba was running stride-for-stride down the sideline with a Mean Green receiver, who started stumbling out of bounds during a pass break up. Seeing the receiver off balance and heading right for a practice kicking net, Rugamba appeared to reach out his hand to HELP the receiver NOT fall down. But he fell, and for his good Samaritan effort, Rugamba was flagged. Another 15 yards, and another first down leading to an NTSU score and an undeserved four point halftime lead.

A conspiracy theorist might believe these zebras were on the take, but from my seats, they just looked comically inept.

What is remarkable, though, is despite the shenanigans and weirdness, Iowa managed to stay cool, calm and collected, retool its game plan on the fly, and dominate the entire second half. Past Iowa teams, I think it’s safe to say, may not have had the resolve and confidence to overcome the bad mojo. That’s why I am really starting to like this team; just like in the Iowa State game, they don’t appear to let the moment get too big. We shall see if that pays off as conference play kicks off with the very scary looking Penn State Nittany Lions coming to Iowa City next week.

Bottom line, no matter how ugly last Saturday’s game was, the Hawkeyes sit at 3-0 and undefeated in the non-conference slate for only the fifth time under Coach Ferentz. The last team to start that hot ended the regular season with a spotless 12-0 record and a date in the Big 10 Championship game in Indianapolis.

I think the youth of the 2017 squad and it’s much-tougher schedule will prevent that fantastic outcome from repeating itself, but it should be noted that three of those five teams that got through the non-con unscathed went on to double-digit win seasons.

That seems like a very worthy and attainable goal for this squad.

Follow me on Twitter @ToryBrecht and @12Saturdays.

Rustlin’ Cowpokes

Not much giddy-up from these Cowboys, as the Hawkeye defense smothers Wyoming and their first round QB.  On the other sideline, Iowa QB Nate Stanley finds his sea legs after feeling a bit Fant.  Marc Morehouse joins the crew to talk Iowa football and beer  Yeehaw!

 

Follow us on Twitter:  @12 Saturdays and @marcmorehouse