By Pat Harty
If not for the controversial invalid fair-catch that erased a potential game-winning punt return for a touchdown against Minnesota, the Iowa football team probably would be 11-1 heading to the Big Ten Championship game.
Only two other Iowa teams have won at least 11 games in the regular season, and they, obviously, rank as two of the best in program history; the multi-talented 2002 team that finished undefeated in the Big Ten and 11-2 overall, and the 2015 Big Ten West champion team that finished 12-0 in the regular season and 12-2 overall.
No disrespect to either of those teams, because they might actually have been superior to the current Iowa team, but they aren’t as resilient as this Iowa team.
This is the most resilient Iowa team that I’ve had the privilege of covering dating back to 1992, and that says a lot because Kirk Ferentz has had some very resilient teams in his 25 years as head coach.
But his current team has had to overcome multiple injuries, a woeful offense and the controversial in-season firing of Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who is Kirk Ferentz’s son, and his oldest child.
That’s a lot of emotional baggage to carry, and yet this team, which is led by a talented and influential 20-player senior class, has found a way to win 10 out of 12 games.
The fact that a never-used backup kicker made the game-winning field goal in Friday’s 13-10 victory at Nebraska is more proof of this team’s resiliency.
Starting kicker Drew Stevens was having a rough day, so Kirk Ferentz decided to switch kickers with the game on the line.
Central Michigan transfer Marshall Meeder, who joined the team two days before classes started in August, then made a 38-yard field goal as time expired, etching his name in Hawkeye history and lore forever, and making Kirk Ferentz look like a genius.
Kirk Ferentz became emotional as he talked about Iowa’s win on the CBS post-game interview on the field.
He has been known to be emotional as he talked about his team’s accomplishments, and about his players, because they mean so much to him.
But this season is different because it’s personal.
Kirk Ferentz didn’t just lose his offensive coordinator, he lost the chance to keep coaching with his son, at his son’s alma mater, beyond this season, and it hurts.
Kirk Ferentz isn’t used to having football decisions made for him, and this one was made in season, and by an interim athletic director who with little to no warning fired his son with the approval of Iowa President Barbara Wilson.
Iowa is 4-0 since the firing was made public, another sign of this team’s resiliency and resolve.
In fairness to Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz, who announced the dismissal of Brian Ferentz once the season ends, Friday’s game was yet another painful example of why she felt a change was necessary.
The Iowa offense has been historically bad since the start of the 2022 season, and its performance on Friday left much to be desired as quarterback Deacon Hill only completed 11-of-28 passes for 94 yards and one interception, which came late in the fourth quarter that nearly cost Iowa the game.
Goetz showed a lot of courage by taking a stand because Kirk Ferentz is highly respected and wields a lot of power and influence.
While the decision to announce the firing in season is highly questionable, Goetz apparently had her reasons because she had to realize that it would not sit well with Kirk Ferentz, both personally and professionally, or with some fans.
Kirk Ferentz deserves credit for being able to put his personal feelings aside to keep coaching, leading and inspiring, while Brian Ferentz also deserves credit, even if he doesn’t wear anything with a Hawkeye logo during games anymore.
And really, can you blame him?
Brian Ferentz’s coaching attire has become a polarizing topic in a season filled with adversity and sensitive issues.
This is very awkward situation until this team takes the field and stars competing.
To think that this team is just one controversial call from probably being 11-1 is incredible.
As for that controversial call that was made against injured star Cooper DeJean, Kirk Ferentz made it abundantly clear after Friday’s game how he still feels about it.
“We got screwed,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Take the replay equipment, blow it up and start over. It’s a bunch of sh–.”
That’s about as radical and direct as Kirk Ferentz will speak in a press conference.
But this has been a strange and emotional season for the 68-year-old head Hawk, much of it caused by his offense.
Deacon Hill certainly has his deficiencies as a quarterback, but he also has a 6-1 record as the starter.
He took a pounding in Friday’s game and appeared to be holding his ribs or mid-section after taking a hit in the second half.
But he stuck with it, just like his team.
Iowa will now face being a huge underdog when it plays either Michigan or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game on Dec, 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It’ll be Iowa’s second trip in three years to the title game, but the last time resulted in a 42-3 loss to Michigan in 2021.
And while the same thing could happen in eight days, this Iowa team, even with its poor offense, just seems built differently.
In no way is that suggesting that Iowa will win the title game, but this team will go down scratching and clawing and doing everything it can to win.
This team is on a mission and has been all season.
The decision to fire Brian Ferentz has just added fueled to that mission.
It’s made a team that already was tough, resilient and focused even more driven to win for its beloved head coach and his son.