By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It happens almost every fall between late October and November, the last exception being 2015 when the Iowa football team won the Big Ten West Division and finished 12-2 overall.
It is similar to Groundhog Day in that Iowa falls short of being special and those who expected greatness, or were led to believe that greatness was about to happen, get upset and frustrated.
Fans then lash out about the Iowa coaches, with most of the disdain directed at head coach Kirk Ferentz, although his son, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, is starting to get his share of the blame, too.
Kirk Ferentz is in his 21st season as the Iowa head coach, so it’s realistic to think that there are some Iowa fans who are tired of and bored with his coaching reign.
That mindset even has a name, which is Ferentz Fatigue.
So when Iowa loses three games by a combined 14 points, as is the case with the current team coming off Saturday’s 24-22 loss at Wisconsin, the frustration boils over and fans use social media as a way to vent.
Fans certainly have the right to air their grievances, and there is reason to be frustrated with Iowa now all but eliminated from the Big Ten West Division race for yet another season. But you still have to be realistic about it, or expect to be disappointed.
I say that to those who insist that Iowa has to clean house, starting with the head Hawk, because that just won’t happen, nor should it happen under the circumstances.
Iowa has a combined record of 15-7 since the start of last season and is bowl eligible for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons.
That hardly is elite, but it’s also not grounds for dismissal, especially when we’re talking about the all-time winningest coach in school history who has represented the football program and the university with class and dignity.
It’s easy to become a prisoner of the moment, and that is often what happens in November when Iowa loses the chance to be special.
It happened last season when Iowa was 6-4 midway through November and saddled with a three-game losing streak. The same criticisms and narratives that surfaced after the Wisconsin loss this past Saturday were prevalent then.
And the same with 2016 and 2017 when Iowa finished 8-5 in both seasons.
Iowa temporarily silenced those with Ferentz Fatigue by winning its final three games last season to finish 9-4, which is respectable.
The strong finish to last season then helped to fuel expectations for this season, but now those expectations aren’t being met and it feels like Groundhog Day all over again.
Disgruntled fans probably don’t want to be reminded of this, but Iowa still could finish 10-3 this season, and it wouldn’t take a miracle, or even an upset during what’s left in the regular season to do it.
I don’t care what you say about Ferentz Fatigue or about Iowa not being able to defeat quality opponents, or about the offense being too passive and predicable, there is no such thing as a bad 10-3 season at Iowa.
Winning 10 games certainly won’t be easy, considering that an undefeated Minnesota squad is up next on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, followed by a vastly improved Illinois team a week later at home and then a road game at Nebraska on Black Friday to conclude the regular season.
Iowa would also likely be matched against a quality opponent in a bowl game should it finish 9-3 during the regular season.
But 10 wins is doable.
Iowa should be favored in the final three regular-season games, and frankly, I like Iowa’s chances at home against the Gophers, who haven’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999.
With all of that being said, however, we’re still talking about an Iowa program that hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004, meaning the drought is nearly at 15 seasons and counting.
That is a long time, but especially by today’s impulsive and sometimes unrealistic standards.
Florida State and Arkansas both just fired their head coaches after less than two seasons.
One problem that occurs during tough times like now is when the media wants to talk about the big picture, but Kirk Ferentz refuses to do anything but live in the moment and take it one game and one practice at a time.
Ferentz was asked about another Big Ten West title slipping away after Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, but he wanted no part of the big-picture conversation.
“It’s hard to do, and there are seven teams, I think, right, on our side, so one’s got to go and six aren’t,” Ferentz said of winning the West Division. “So that’s the way football goes sometimes, and everybody is competing for the same thing.
“I have no idea who will be at the top. I think mathematically we probably still could. I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t burnt much energy on it. But it still could happen, and the way football is, I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
Ferentz then emphasized the importance of getting back up on your feet and winning next week.
“We’ll get global when the season is over and figure all those kinds of things out,” Ferentz said. “It’s a tough conference, like most conferences.”
What Brian Ferentz has to figure out in a hurry is why its offense so often sputters against quality competition.
Why the running game is usually more bark than bite?
And why the individual parts on the offensive line often seem better than whole.
Nate Stanley will leave Iowa as one of the most productive quarterbacks in program history, and as a three-year starter.
But Iowa is also just 12-12 in Big Ten games with Stanley as the starter, including 0-3 against Wisconsin, 0-3 against Penn State and 1-2 against both Northwestern and Purdue.
The defense, more times than not, gives Iowa a chance to win, even against quality opponents. This past Saturday’s game was an exception as Wisconsin shredded Iowa for 300 rushing yards and 473 total yards.
The offense, on the other hand, rarely has delivered against quality opponents with Stanley as the starter.
He is 3-0 against Iowa State, 2-0 in bowl games and his only game against Ohio State turned into one of the greatest victories in program history as Iowa crushed the Buckeyes 55-24 in 2017 behind Stanley’s five touchdown passes.
So to say that Stanley has no quality wins would be wrong. He just doesn't have enough of them against Big Ten opponents to satisfy the fans.
I’ve been saying for years that Iowa should start recruiting mobile quarterbacks because it gives the offense more flexibility and makes it easier for the lineman to provide protection.
There is more emphasis on speed and applying pressure in today’s game, and that can creates problems for an immobile quarterback like Stanley, who was sacked eight times during a 10-3 loss against Michigan on Oct. 5 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Brian Ferentz also should consider playing more up tempo on offense, especially early in games in order to exploit mismatches and to send a message. It seems like whenever Iowa shifts to up tempo late in games, it provides a spark, including against the Badgers this past Saturday.
Iowa shifted to up tempo in the fourth quarter and outscored Wisconsin 16-3.
So why not try it earlier and more often?
Brian Ferentz also should get talented freshman running back Tyler Goodson more involved in space, and use more vertical passing routes.
I kept having to remind myself this past Saturday that Greg Davis isn’t Iowa’s offensive coordinator anymore.
Kirk Ferentz had to know that he was setting himself up for blame and for criticism when he promoted Brian Ferentz to offensive coordinator.
It makes for a great story during good times, but during tough times like now, the 36-year old Brian Ferentz becomes a lightning rod for criticism.
The offense is sputtering, fans are upset and the media wants answers, while also giving suggestions.
It must be November.