By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – This is the type of circumstance where in the past, I would’ve reminded fans that it’s never as bad as it seems under Kirk Ferentz, or as good as it seems.
But this is season No. 23 under Kirk Ferentz, so you’re probably tired of being told to step away from the ledge and to look at the big picture and to keep things in perspective.
You probably don’t want to hear that Iowa, which faces a struggling Northwestern team this coming Saturday in Evanston, Illinois, will likely be favored in each of its final four regular-season games, and has a very realistic chance of finishing 10-2 in the regular season, or that Iowa has a 59-23 record since the start of the 2015 season.
You probably don’t want to be told that the Iowa defense performed admirably in Saturday’s 27-7 loss at Wisconsin, or that Charlie Jones stood out as a returner, or that Tory Taylor averaged 49.0 yards on seven punts.
You probably don’t want to be reminded that Nebraska is 15-26 under Scott Frost, or that USC, LSU and Florida all have 4-4 records.
Because you’re upset and frustrated about a once-promising season that is now suddenly spiraling in the wrong direction.
Iowa’s 23-20 victory over Penn State in the first top-five showdown at Kinnick Stadium in over three decades, and the fans rushing the field afterwards was just three weeks ago, and yet, it feels so distant.
Iowa has gone from being ranked second nationally to losing back-to-back games against Purdue and Wisconsin by a combined score of 51-14. Iowa has been held to seven points in back-to-back games for the first since Kirk Ferentz’s debut season in 1999 when Iowa finished 1-10 overall.
Any chance of Iowa making the playoff is over, and Iowa no longer controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West Division.
Iowa also hasn’t defeated a team with fewer than three losses this season.
And what’s really strange is that Iowa has arguably the top collegiate offensive lineman in the country in junior center Tyler Linderbaum, and yet, the offensive line might be the weakest unit on the team.
It struggled to run block and to pass block against the Badgers. And there isn’t much left for an offensive line to do after that.
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras certainly contributed to the misery against Wisconsin by missing on some throws, by struggling with pocket awareness, and by losing a fumble deep in his own territory.
His lack of mobility also made things worse because when a play broke down against Wisconsin, Petras didn’t have the ability to improvise and create something on his own.
The combination of a struggling offensive line and an immobile quarterback is hurting Iowa big time right now.
Linderbaum is performing at a high level, but he can’t do it alone.
It takes five offensive linemen being physical and fundamentally sound, and performing as a cohesive unit to be successful.
“We’ll just keep working, and the good news is I think those guys will get better,” Kirk Ferentz said of the offensive line.
Some of the post-game chatter on Saturday pointed to the offensive line being young and inexperienced.
Maybe that’s true in some ways, but Iowa’ starting offensive line against Wisconsin included fifth-year senior guard Kyler Schott, fourth-year junior tackle Jack Plumb and Linderbaum, who is also a fourth-year junior.
That hardly seems young.
Perhaps the strangest thing occurring on offense this season is the lack of productivity from junior receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr.
He had one catch for six yards against Wisconsin and was only targeted two times.
Tracy now has 13 receptions for 89 yards in eight games this season.
This from a guy who had 36 catches for 589 yards and three touchdowns during the 2019 season.
In fact, in Tracy’s last game at Wisconsin in 2019 he finished with five receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown, which came on a 75-yard catch in which Tracy blew past the Badger secondary.
Tracy’s brothers both expressed their frustration with how Tyrone is being utilized this season on Twitter shortly after Saturday’s loss.
Tracy has had a few drops this season, but you wouldn’t think enough to where he hardly is an option anymore.
Tracy only had 14 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown last season, but it was easy to attribute the decline in numbers to only playing eight games during a global pandemic.
Tracy admitted to being frustrated last season, but he didn’t let it impact his daily approach. He also vowed to make up for it this season.
But for reasons that are hard to explain, it just hasn’t happened.
Another narrative to surface in the wake of Saturday’s loss is that Kirk Ferentz should change offensive coordinators in order to give the offense a new look.
Never mind that would mean firing or demoting his own son, but it also wouldn’t change how the offense looks because this is Kirk Ferentz’s offense.
Ken O’Keefe and Greg Davis faced similar criticism during their time as Iowa’s offensive coordinator, and now Brian Ferentz is feeling the heat.
Kirk Ferentz should tell the media to lay off his son and then remind the media that it’s his offense that Brian is trying to make work. Brian Ferentz certainly has input and influence, but everything he does has to have Kirk’s approval and be within the framework of what Kirk believes.
Iowa’s inability to convert on 4th-and-1 against both Purdue and Wisconsin has fans and the media sort of scratching their head.
Iowa ran back-to-back quarterback sneaks on 4th-and-1 that failed to get a first down against Purdue, and back-to-back fullback dives with Monte Pottebaum on 4th-and-1 against Wisconsin that also failed to get a first down.
Iowa called a timeout before sending the 6-foot-1, 246-pound Pottebaum into the teeth of the Wisconsin defense for a second time.
“Needless to say, we thought it was the best call,” Kirk Ferentz said after the Wisconsin loss. “And needless to say, it wasn’t successful.”
It makes you wonder if junior running back Tyler Goodson was ever considered as an option for any of the four plays that failed to convert on 4th-and-1.
Goodson, sometimes, dances and side-steps in traffic rather than put his head down, so maybe that was a concern.
It just seems kind of strange to have a running back with his talent an experience and not give him at least one shot at making a critical first down.
Fans should be used to what they’re feeling right now because this is Iowa football under Kirk Ferentz.
Peaks and valleys.
Ebs and flows.
It’s easy to overreact during good and bad times, but to say that anybody on the staff should be fired at this point is just silly and irrational.
As bad as things feel right now, and despite how poorly the offense performed in the last two games, Iowa still has won 12 of its last 14 games and has a very favorable remaining schedule.
Maybe we should’ve seen the risk of this happening when Iowa climbed to 6-0 behind a defense that excelled at creating turnovers and behind top-notch special teams.
The Iowa defense has only forced one turnover in the last two games, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Iowa lost both games.
“We just have to fall back on the stuff that led us to our success, practicing hard,” senior safety Jack Koerner said after the Wisconsin loss. “That’s really all it comes down to is understanding what led us to success and we have to kind of fall back on our fundamentals.”
Koerner was asked Saturday what was different about the last two games as opposed to the first six.
“He started by saying he didn’t feel Iowa was quite as ready to go as in previous games, and that certainly raised a few eyebrows, considering Iowa was coming off a bye week.
But then Koerner quickly corrected himself.
“We’re not ready to go is not exactly what I wanted to say,” Koerner said. “We just got outplayed. That’s all there really is to it.
“Credit to Wisconsin. We didn’t play our best game today, and that’s all there really is to it.”
Actually, there is a lot more to it than that, but there is only so much a player should say publicly.
Fans can overreact because that’s part of being a fan.
The players and coaches, on the other hand, will have to stay the course and stay unified to keep this season from getting worse.
Iowa is a mess on offense right now, and most of the problems start up front.
But again, Iowa has arguably the top offensive lineman in college football and a good chance of winning 10 games.
So, just let the season play out before assuming the worse.
And hope that Iowa figures a way to convert on 4th-and-1 and get Tyrone Tracy Jr. more involved before it’s too late.