By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz treats his offense the same way I do my clothes.
I prefer to wear stuff that’s old and comfortable, from old t-shirts in the summer to old long-sleeve t-shirts in the winter.
New clothes, especially t-shirts, always seem too itchy, and nobody hates wearing itchy stuff more than I do.
It’s been that way since I was kid, and it used to drive my mother crazy.
She’d buy me new clothes, and beg me to wear them, especially itchy sweaters, but I always chose comfort over trying to look halfway decent.
And still to this day, my fear of itchy clothes, especially sweaters, still haunts me as you probably could tell from my appearance.
As for Kirk Ferentz, he seems to prefer running an offense that is old and comfortable to him, one that is safe and conservative, one that relies heavily on field position, one that is unbothered by a lack of style points, and one that rarely seems to scratch where it itches.
The fullback still plays a prominent role in the Iowa offense because Kirk Ferentz feels more comfortable with having a fullback as a lead blocker because it feeds his never-ending thirst to control tempo and field position.
Critics will say that Kirk Ferentz is too stubborn and set in his way to update his offense, but it seems more a case that Kirk Ferentz still believes that his approach to offense is best in the long run for a developmental program such as Iowa.
And right now, he’s winning enough games to stand his ground.
Iowa won the Big Ten West Division last season, and 10 games overall, but had to overcome having the 121st ranked offense to do it.
Iowa defeated Iowa State 27-17 last season despite being outgained 339 to 173 in offensive yards, and Iowa will look to extend its winning streak to seven games over the Cyclones when the teams meet on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa State has the flashier offense under head coach Matt Campbell, but Kirk Ferentz, even with his sputtering offense, is 5-0 against Campbell.
Turnovers have been the biggest factor in Iowa’s recent dominance over the Cyclones, especially last season when Iowa won the turnover battle 4-0 in Ames.
Every head coach fears turnovers, but Kirk Ferentz almost seems obsessed with his fear of turnovers, and he believes that playing it safe is the best way to avoid them.
While some fans have been clamoring for Kirk Ferentz to modernize the Iowa offense, he scoffs at that suggestion and says that it basically comes down to doing what we do better.
The problem now is that the Iowa offense isn’t even doing that.
Iowa hasn’t done anything better on offense for quite a while, and if last Saturday’s 7-3 victory over South Dakota State in the season opener is a sign of things to come, this could be one of Kirk Ferentz’s worst offenses, and that would be saying a lot.
Iowa scored its seven points on two safeties and a field goal.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Spencer Petras is expected to make his 21st career start in Saturday’s game against Iowa State, but he’s also coming off probably his worst performance as a Hawkeye, having completed just 11-of-25 passes for 109 yards and one interception in the season opener.
Petras has thrown just one touchdown pass and eight interceptions over the last nine games, and Iowa only has three touchdown passes since defeating Penn State in the sixth game of last season, two of them by backup quarterback Alex Padilla.
Those are shockingly bad numbers, but Kirk Ferentz shows no signs of making any changes at quarterback, or to his offense.
Brian Ferentz has become a source of ridicule and frustration with fans, because in addition to being the offensive coordinator for a bad offense, he is also Kirk Ferentz’s son.
Brian Ferentz calls the plays and coaches the quarterbacks, but Kirk Ferentz ultimately decides who starts at quarterback, and what approach Iowa will use on offense.
Iowa is in a desperate situation at receiver where just two scholarship receivers dressed for the season opener.
But it hardly should come as a surprise because Iowa has lost four receivers in the past year to the transfer portal, including Charlie Jones, who now starts for pass-happy Purdue.
Kirk Ferentz could’ve sought help at receiver from the transfer portal, but he chose not to, and his sputtering offense is now paying the price.
Kirk Ferentz also could’ve made an effort to sign dual-threat quarterbacks, but he still prefers having a pro-style quarterback such as Petras despite the limitations.
Iowa fans saw what a great dual-threat quarterback could accomplish in 2002 when Brad Banks led the Hawkeyes to an undefeated conference record and finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
Former Iowa quarterback Drew Tate also had good mobilty in the pocket, as did C.J. Beathard when healthy.
But most of Iowa’s quarterbacks under Kirk Ferentz have been pro-style quarterbacks, as is the case with Petras, who hardly ever scrambles from the pocket.
One game certainly isn’t enough to judge an offense, but Iowa’s problems on offense have festered since the start of 2020 season.
What happened in the season opener on offense might have been the lowest of lows, but it was also part of a disturbing trend in which the offense failed to do its part.
And while Brian Ferentz and Petras have become easy targets for criticism, Iowa is running Kirk Ferentz’s offense and Kirk Ferentz decides each week who plays quarterback.
Kirk Ferentz apparently feels safer and more comfortable with Petras behind center than with Padilla, and with Kirk Ferentz being safe and comfortable is the best way to run an offense.
He’s ran it that way for over two decades with this being Kirk Ferentz’s 24th season as the Iowa head coach.
Of course, it also helps having a rock-solid defense and one of the best punters in college football.