IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz starring as the new Kirk Ferentz has been a major hit so far.
He picked the right co-star to play quarterback in C.J. Beathard and is being more aggressive with his in-game decision making, already having called two fake field-goal attempts.
Neither worked, but it doesn’t matter because Iowa is 4-0 for the first time since 2009, with New Kirk getting much of the credit.
But I want to focus on something about Ferentz that hasn’t changed. And that’s his devotion to the fullback position.
Because without the fullback position we wouldn’t have the privilege of watching toughness displayed in an unselfish and courageous fashion.
It takes a rare breed to play fullback, somebody who is willing to sacrifice his body in order to protect his teammates, while also creating opportunities for them.
It takes somebody like 6-foot-2, 244-pound senior Macon Plewa, who is expected to start at fullback for the Iowa football team against Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison, Wis.
From a statistical standpoint, Plewa’s contribution appears small. He has just one catch for three yards and zero rushing attempts in four games.
Statistics hardly measure his impact, though, or the impact of fellow Iowa fullback Adam Cox.
“He and Macon are really — it’s a shame we can’t get them out there all the time because they’re top-notch guys,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “Basically same story, walk-on linebackers, converted to fullbacks, and boy, they both play well. They’re doing their part leading, I can assure you of that.”
Plewa and Cox often take turns speaking with the media. It made sense that Plewa was made available on Tuesday because he’s from the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin, Wis. Plewa’s grandfather also played football for the Badgers. Most of Plewa’s friends while growing up in Wisconsin were Badgers fans, but he has managed to convert a few, along with his extended family.
“My true (friends), my boys, they’ve definitely converted,” Plewa said, flashing a proud grin. “My girlfriend, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin and she’ll be wearing black and yellow, and obviously, my grandpa is black and yellow.
“So yeah, there are some true friends that stuck with me rather than the home team.”
Plewa (pronounced Plev-uh) joined the Iowa program as a walk-on linebacker in 2011 after also considering his home-state Badgers.
“I was talking to their coaching staff and tried to join their team, but it just didn’t work out,” Plewa said of the Badgers. “And then Iowa reached out to me and I thought it was a better fit.
“I’m glad it worked out that way.”
Saturday’s game at Camp Randall Stadium is the Big Ten opener for both teams. It’ll be a chance for Iowa to end a three-game losing streak against the Badgers and to be 5-0 for just the second time in 17 seasons under Ferentz. The other time was in 2009, which is also the last time Iowa defeated Wisconsin.
“Every game I try to lay the wood and get as many (blocks) as I can,” said Plewa, who switched from linebacker to fullback prior to 2013 spring practice. “But, obviously, there always is a little added incentive playing Wisconsin, especially since they’ve been kind of the powerhouse in the West Division.
“They’ve been what we want to be. So, obviously, we’re going to try and get after them.”
The growth in popularity of the spread offense is the biggest reason for the decline of the fullback position. More coaches are choosing to put another receiver in the slot over keeping a fullback in the backfield.
Iowa and Wisconsin are two of the exceptions.
Both programs still rely heavily on their fullbacks to do the not-so-glamorous things that are essential to winning, like picking up blitzes, blocking at the point of attack and playing on special teams.
Playing fullback is as old-fashioned as a vinyl record with scratches, but still largely effective for some teams.
“It’s one of those no-fear-dodging games,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to be a tough, hard-nosed physical football game. They’ve prided themselves on that for quite some time and done very, very well at it, and our better teams have done the same thing. From that standpoint, it ought to be a great contest.”
As Iowa’s starting quarterback, Beathard depends on the fullback for protection. And with that role comes a great deal of respect.
"Fullback is very unselfish position and I think our fullbacks are great players, hard-nosed guys, very unselfish," Beathard said. "They’ll sacrifice their body for their team to get a big play. And that’s what they do. They don’t get a lot of recognition, but they do a great job of what they’re doing."
Plewa relishes the opportunity to compete against Wisconsin’s talented group of linebackers that are led by senior Joe Schobert and junior Vince Biegel. Schobert leads the Big Ten with 9 ½ tackles for loss and is second in the conference with six sacks.
“Oh, yeah, we’re definitely going to be up on the linebackers,” Plewa said. “They’re all really good players, so it’s going to be a tough assignment. We’ve got to play physical.”
Whatever happens between the fullbacks and linebackers should go a long way in determining Saturday’s outcome.
“It’s going to be a physical, hard-hitting game,” Plewa said. “It’s definitely two teams that pride themselves on running the ball and they kind of look the same and sound the same when they run. So it’s definitely a fullback dream game.”
And proof that some things don’t have to change.