By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The bye week was a time for everybody associated with the Iowa football team to exhale and reflect.
From the players to the coaches to the support staff to the media to the fans, having a Saturday off about midway through the regular season was probably beneficial to all because it allowed for everyone to step back and gain some perspective.
Obviously, the 24-7 loss to an unranked Purdue team on Oct. 16 at a sold out Kinnick Stadium sucked.
It was deflating, frustrating, maddening, costly and a horrible way to usher in the bye week.
But it was also Iowa’s only loss in its last 13 games, and its only loss in nearly a year.
To help put that in perspective, Clemson already has lost three times this season, while the University of Southern California is 3-4 and already has fired its head coach.
Indiana was considered a program on the rise, and a dark horse to win the Big Ten East Division. But with Saturday’s 54-7 shellacking against Ohio State at home, the Hoosiers fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten.
Northwestern has gone from winning the Big Ten West Division during the Covid-shortened 2020 season to being 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference, and to being outscored 134-56 in its four conference games.
Penn State has lost two games in a row and it seems Penn State head coach James Franklin gets mentioned as a leading candidate for every elite Power Five job that becomes available, the latest being USC and Louisiana State.
And Scott Frost is in his fourth season as the Nebraska head coach, and the guy who once was considered the savior of Nebraska football, so far, has failed to make his once-dominant alma mater even average with a 15-25 record.
As bad as the Purdue loss was from both a morale and rankings standpoint – Iowa dropped from second to 11th in the Associated Press poll last week – Iowa still controls its own destiny in the West Division since Purdue got whipped by Wisconsin 30-13 this past Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana.
And speaking of the once-beleaguered Badgers, they’re up next on Iowa’s schedule this coming Saturday in Madison, and they appear to have figured some things out on offense.
But Iowa will have had two weeks to prepare, so the Badgers will also face a formidable challenge.
It could be a case in which the first team to score 10 points wins.
If you choose to fester in the misery of the Purdue loss and assume the worst about the rest of Iowa’s season, that is certainly your prerogative.
But what a miserable way to support a team that is 6-1, and a program that has a 59-22 record since the start of the 2015 season.
And while the performance of the Iowa coaching staff against Purdue left much to be desired, especially in regard to two of Iowa’s three coordinators, it isn’t reason to start questioning their acumen.
It was sort of odd that Purdue receiver David Bell didn’t face more double coverage, and that Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called back-to-back quarterback sneaks that failed to get a first down late in the game.
But there was more to the Bell coverage, or lack there of, than meets the eye of a causal observer, such as Iowa’s inability to pressure the quarterback and a breakdown in communication between the cornerback and safety positions.
It was easy to blame cornerback Matt Hankins for Bell setting a Kinnick Stadium record with 240 receiving yards since Hankins was lined up against Bell for most of the game.
But there was more to it than that, and it’s all fixable.
Before the Purdue game, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker was considered one of the best in his profession, some going as far as to call him a genius, and a great candidate to be Iowa’s next head coach after Kirk Ferentz retires.
Parker simply had a bad day against Purdue.
There is something about Jeff Brohm’s offense that Parker has struggled to solve.
The good news is that Iowa won’t face Purdue again this season, and probably won’t ever face Bell again, assuming he skips his senior season to enter the 2022 NFL Draft.
And why wouldn’t he?
Brian Ferentz’s situation is more complicated because for one, the Iowa offense has struggled for most of the season, and because he is Kirk Ferentz’s son.
But still, the backlash against Brian Ferentz in the wake of the Purdue loss was a little over the top, some insisting on Twitter that he had to be replaced immediately.
Good grief. That’s just silly and unreasonable.
There is no denying that being Kirk Ferentz’s son has certainly helped Brian Ferentz rise up the coaching ladder quicker than most assistant coaches.
But again, Iowa is 59-22 since the start of the 2015 season with Brian Ferentz running the offense.
Does he need to improve?
Without question he does.
Iowa has been ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense for most of the season and the running game has continued to sputter.
But a coach is ultimately judged on wins and losses and Iowa is 12-1 over its last 13 games with Brian Ferentz directing the offense.
Brian Ferentz met with the media this past Wednesday, and instead of being defensive and combative, which he has been at times, he was humble and accountable.
He didn’t make excuses, pass the blame or become resentful when asked about the two quarterback sneaks that failed to produce a first down against Purdue.
“If you look at the litany of calls that I’ve made in my career that I wish I had back, I don’t know if we’d have enough time,” Brian Ferentz said. “I think it was really simple. On the first one, I knew we had two downs to make about two yards, and based on recent history, I felt pretty good that we would get it on two sneaks.
“Watching the tape, and sitting there on the sideline and watching us not get it, yeah, absolutely, I wish I would called probably a different play on third down. I don’t know what I would’ve done on fourth down. But I would’ve probably thrown the ball on third down in retrospect.”
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras also has been a target for criticism, which goes with the territory.
But Petras also has struggled at times, especially against Purdue, causing some to question why he continues to be the starter.
The answer to that is simple: Iowa is 12-3 since Petras became the starter last season.
We also don’t get to see what happens in practice every day. But my guess is that Petras has performed better than the backups.
Before the season, I predicted that Iowa would be 6-1 at this stage, although, I had Iowa losing to Iowa State and beating Purdue.
It’s reasonable to assume that most fans heading into the season would’ve been happy with a 6-1 record, especially if it included victories over Iowa State and Penn State as it does.
Iowa currently has as many losses as Alabama, and one fewer than an Iowa State team that many consider the best in program history.
A Big Ten West Division title still is within Iowa’s reach, although, a loss at Wisconsin would be a critical blow.
The good far outweighs the bad with regard to the product that Iowa is putting out on the field this season.
It’s easy to forget that, or to overlook it in the wake of a loss in which your team was favored and playing at home.
That’s why the bye week came at an ideal time because it allowed for everybody to calm down, refocus, and hopefully, realize that Hawkeye football is in pretty good shape as long as it doesn’t have to play Purdue.
Fans owe it to this team to keep the faith.
Iowa’s remaining 2021 schedule
Oct. 30 – at Wisconsin
Nov. 6 – at Northwestern
Nov. 13 – vs. Minnesota
Nov. 20 – vs. Illinois
Nov. 26 – at Nebraska