IOWA CITY, Iowa – When it comes to criticizing Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, some of what I hear is just silly.
One of the silliest criticisms is that he doesn’t have the passion that it takes to win at this level anymore.
I’ve also heard that Ferentz shows favoritism when deciding which players should start. And because of that, he doesn’t always use his best personnel.
That’s not only silly, but unfair.
A third criticism I often hear is that Ferentz’s teams under-perform against Iowa State and play not to lose instead of being the aggressor. In this case, fans have a right to be critical because facing the Cyclones, which Iowa will do again on Saturday in Ames, seems to bring out the worst in the Ferentz-coached Hawkeyes.
Even during the glory years under Ferentz, Iowa has struggled to defeat Iowa State. His record is just 7-9 against the Cyclones, who also have won three of the last four games in the series.
Some of Iowa’s losses to Iowa State are easy to explain, especially those that occurred during the early rebuilding stages under Ferentz. You could argue that Iowa State was better than Iowa in 1999, 2000 and maybe even 2001, and that’s why the Cyclones won all three of those games.
Iowa State’s success since then, though, has mostly been a maddening mystery to Hawkeye fans because it just doesn’t make sense.
It’s unreasonable to think that Iowa could dominate the Cyclones like it did in the 1980s under former coach Hayden Fry because times have changed. But it’s not unreasonable to think that Iowa should at least have a winning record against Iowa State over an extended period of time.
Iowa has more resources, more tradition, more continuity and a bigger stadium than Iowa State, but none of that seems to matter when they play each other.
How do you explain Iowa State’s 20-17 victory over Iowa last season at Kinnick Stadium? The Hawkeyes were by no means a powerhouse last season, finishing just 7-6 overall.
But they should’ve defeated an Iowa State team that would go on to finish 2-10 last season, especially at home. Not to be too critical, but the Cyclones were horrible last season, and yet, Iowa still found a way to lose to them at home.
Iowa was the only team that failed to score at least 30 points against Iowa State last season, while Toledo was the only other team that Iowa State defeated last season.
I’m tired of hearing the convenient excuse that the Cyclones lift their performance to a different level against Iowa because they consider the annual intrastate showdown to be their Super Bowl. Iowa State has defeated Iowa too many times for me to endorse that theory.
Most of Iowa’s losses to Iowa State over the past 15 years were games in which the Hawkeyes played poorly or made costly mistakes.
Iowa’s 2002 team, which finished undefeated in the Big Ten and 11-2 overall, still wasn’t good enough to defeat Iowa State that season. The Cyclones, who were led by dual-threat quarterback sensation Seneca Wallace, overcame a 24-7 halftime deficit, thanks largely to some Iowa turnovers, to prevail 36-31 at Kinnick Stadium.
It’s ridiculous to think that the game means more to the Iowa State players and coaches than it does to Ferentz and his staff and players.
That might have been the case when former Hawkeye player and assistant coach Dan McCarney was the Iowa State head coach, but only because McCarney was obsessed with defeating his alma mater and was a master motivator.
McCarney will have another chance to defeat his alma mater when his North Texas team faces Iowa on Sept. 26 at Kinnick Stadium. However, that seems unlikely because North Texas is a different animal than Iowa State in terms of talent.
I’m picking the Cyclones to win on Saturday by a score of 27-24, although, I’m not as confident after watching the C.J. Beathard led Hawkeyes crush Illinois State 31-14 this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa State didn’t have to contend with Beathard’s arm strength at quarterback last season. He might challenge the Cyclones in ways that former Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock couldn’t do last season.
The Cyclones will have their hands full if Iowa performs at the same level and with the same tenacity that it had against Illinois State. The problem is that Iowa rarely performs well against Iowa State anymore.
That trend started when McCarney was coaching the Cyclones. It continued under McCarney’s successor Gene Chizik, and now also with current head coach Paul Rhoads.
More times than not, the Hawkeyes, despite being favored and having a perceived edge in talent, come out flat and play conservatively against Iowa State, whereas the Cyclones come out on fire and do whatever it takes to win.
It’s hard to say how much blame Ferentz deserves for that. But he’s the head coach, so who else do you blame besides Ferentz or his players?
Ferentz will go down in history as one of Iowa’s greatest coaches ever, but also as somebody who struggled to defeat Iowa State.
Put the two together and it just doesn’t make sense.