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.