By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Well, here we are again.
We’re at the all-too-familiar point in an Iowa football season where you’re either with Kirk Ferentz and his crew or you’re not.
The 2017 season is either still salvageable or is a lost cause depending on your mood in the wake of Saturday’s 17-10 overtime loss at Northwestern.
Ferentz is either a resilient and stable head coach who ultimately will figure things out, or the game has passed him by and he is too stubborn to change in order to catch up.
I’m not necessarily saying all of those things, but you the fans are saying it to me.
And that is your prerogative as a fan.
And some of you are willing to wait it out before assuming anything good or bad about Ferentz or the team because I've heard from you, too.
I predicted a 6-6 record for Iowa this season, so the current situation really isn’t that surprising.
Sure, it’s disappointing and maddening to come so close in the three losses, which have come by a combined 16 points. But to sort of borrow a line from Kirk Ferentz himself, that’s Hawkeye football under his watch.
I’m not defending it, but rather pointing out that this current funk is not unusual. It should be the point where you almost expect it and then hope for the best.
“You have to find a way to win close games, and for us that’s been historic, for the most part, not totally, but for the most part,” Ferentz said after Saturday’s loss. “It just gets down to detail, a little better preparation, a little better practice. I think we had two good weeks. I’m not second-guessing that. I thought the guys practice pretty well.
“But part of that is growing pains, and part of that is we’ve got improve faster and get a little bit better here if we’re going to flip this thing over. And it’s really close. These games are close.”
In 11 of the previous 13 seasons under Ferentz dating back to 2004, Iowa has hit a crossroads in which the season appeared in danger of unraveling or just being average. The only exceptions were 2009 when Iowa finished 11-2 and 2015 when the Hawkeyes set a school record with 12 victories.
The current situation now makes it 12 of 14 years in which Iowa’s season has hung in the balance.
The 2004 squad lost back-to-back games to Arizona State and Michigan by scores of 44-7 and 30-17, respectively, but didn’t lose again.
The 2008 squad went from being 3-3 to 9-4 behind the dominance of running back Shonn Greene, while the 2013 team went from being 2-3 in conference play to winning its final three Big Ten games.
But on the other hand, Iowa won its first two games in 2007, but then lost four games in a row and never fully recovered, finishing 6-6 with no bowl invitation.
The 2012 squad was 4-2 and 2-0 in the Big Ten at the midway point of the regular-season, but didn’t win another game to finish 4-8.
The 2006 squad won its first four games, but then lost three of four and never recoverd, finishing 6-7 in Drew Tate's final season at quarterback.
As bad as things feel after Saturday’s loss to what appears to be an average Northwestern squad, it doesn’t mean the season is beyond repair.
The current situation only feels like the lowest of low points under Ferentz because it’s the current situation and we’re all prisoners of the moment.
The situation seemed more helpless after the 41-14 beat-down at Penn State last season, and yet, somehow Ferentz and his crew managed to pull off the unthinkable by upsetting Michigan on the following Saturday.
This isn’t to suggest that Iowa will do the same against Ohio State in two weeks, but stranger things have happened.
This coming Saturday’s game against Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium is very winnable despite what you witnessed on Saturday near the shore of Lake Michigan.
New head coach P.J. Fleck has certainly brought excitement and hope to the Minnesota program with his non-stop energy and his promotional catch phrases such as “Row the Boat.” But the Gophers are also just 1-3 in conference play, with the one win being a less-than-inspiring 24-17 decision over lowly Illinois this past Saturday in Minneapolis.
A win over Minnesota wouldn’t cure what ails this Iowa team, but would ease the pain and help to fight off the infection from losing.
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley called the Northwestern loss embarrassing and said his team shouldn’t be losing to that team. Wadley could’ve used a better choice of words to describe his frustration, but you also have to appreciate his honesty.
His senior season is in danger of unraveling and Wadley is upset about it.
The same criticisms that surfaced during previous skids under Ferentz are back again. Iowa is too predictable on offense, too slow at the skill positions and boring to watch are three of the most popular criticisms.
Nobody cares about those things when Iowa is winning, or if they do, they mostly keep it to themselves. But during times like now, it becomes a double-edged sword because the only thing worse than losing is doing it in a boring fashion.
You could argue that Ferentz isn’t paid for style points and all that matters is winning. But winning isn’t all that matters to some fans anymore.
With ticket prices reaching triple figures for some games, fans also want to be entertained, but Iowa’s conservative, ground-oriented attack under Ferentz doesn’t always meet that expectation, including this past Saturday.
I kicked a hornet’s nest by tweeting that Saturday’s offensive display under first-year coordinator Brian Ferentz had nothing on previous coordinator Greg Davis. Some fans took exception because they admire Brian’s youthful exuberance and his aggressive mindset, and because they’re convinced that Davis was almost exclusively to blame for Iowa’s offensive woes during his five years on the staff.
Maybe that will prove to be case, but there isn’t enough proof to say it now. Davis is just a convenient excuse.
There is no miracle cure for Iowa’s problems, just like in the previous seasons.
The players and coaches will go back to work and try to fix things.
I’m not ready to call this a crisis or say that major changes are warranted because the current slump is nothing new or unusual.
But for some fans, it's getting old, a feeling described as Ferentz Fatigue. He has been the Iowa head coach since 1999 and has nearly a decade left on his current contract.
I do feel that Brian Ferentz needs to be more creative and flexible in using Wadley because running Wadley between the tackles isn’t working behind this struggling offensive line.
I got the feeling Wadley feels the same when he said “no comment” after being asked on Saturday if he would like to be used more as a receiver.
With Iowa coming off a bye week, I figured Brian Ferentz would've had more up his sleeve than running Wadley 26 times up the middle against Northwestern, especially considering how much the offensive line has struggled this season.
These are tough times for Iowa fans, made tougher by Iowa State’s sudden rise, which now has the Cyclones ranked for the first time since 2005, and by Wisconsin continuing to do what Iowa is known for doing, only the Badgers do it much better.
And while I feel the pain of Iowa fans, they should be used to this by now, or at least prepared for it because this is life under Kirk Ferentz in a developmental program.
It rarely is as bad or as good as it seems. It’s just that we’re dealing with the bad part right now.