By Pat Harty
As if we needed to be reminded yet again why Brian Ferentz was fired two months ago, the woeful performance of the Iowa offense in the Citrus Bowl on Monday was more painful evidence why it happened.
Iowa was shutout for the second straight game and had just 173 yards in a 35-0 loss to Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
Iowa was just 2-for-13 on third-down plays, had just 60 passing yards and committed three turnovers, all of which were committed by starting quarterback Deacon Hill.
The situation became so hopeless and embarrassing on offense that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz finally pulled the plug on Hill in the fourth quarter.
True freshman Marco Lainez was inserted in the game after Hill had thrown a pick-six and Lainez actually provided a spark as a runner as he gained 51 yards on six attempts to lead Iowa in rushing.
Lainez was just 2-for-7 as a passer, however, while Hill only completed 7-of-18 passes for 56 yards and two interceptions.
“Obviously, we felt our best chance to win because we started Deacon and played Deacon the majority of the game,” Kirk Ferentz said in his post-game press conference. “We thought Deacon gave us our best chance to win.
“Yet, at some point, you just felt like making a change would be the best thing. So, that’s what always drives every personnel decision.”
Iowa Interim Athletic Director Beth Goetz used a similar approach when she announced with four games left in the regular season that Brian Ferentz would be relived of his duties as offensive coordinator once the season ends.
Goetz apparently had seen enough and she felt that making a change would be the best thing.
Some Iowa fans didn’t agree with the decision to do it in season, but Goetz had her reasons for making such a dramatic move, a move she knew wouldn’t sit well with Kirk Ferentz since it was his son being fired.
But given how poorly the offense has performed this season, and especially in the last two games against Michigan and Tennessee, it’s hard to argue with Goetz’s decision to fire Brian Ferentz.
It’s also hard to believe that Kirk Ferentz would’ve fired his son, and that’s part of the problem in that you never should hire someone that you can’t fire, in this case your son.
The timing might leave something to be desired, but the decision to make a change seems more than justified under the circumstances.
Former Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta made a bad situation worse when just months before retiring this past August he revised Brian Ferentz’s contract by adding silly performance incentives, including that Iowa must average 25 points per game for Brian Ferentz’s contract to roll over.
The offense became even a bigger punchline and national laughingstock, and Goetz was left to deal with the fallout.
And she did, aggressively.
Iowa’s passing attack has been borderline dysfunctional for much of the season, so maybe the struggles in the Citrus Bowl shouldn’t have come as a surprise, even against a Tennessee secondary that was without six players.
If Iowa’s next offensive coordinator was watching this game, he saw how much work there is just to make the offense average.
Deacon Hill doesn’t deserve all the blame as there were at least three or four drops in Monday’s game. But he also made some poor decisions and some poor throws, and he failed to protect the football, which has been an ongoing problem for him.
Brian Ferentz also doesn’t deserve all the blame because the problems on offense go way beyond his impact and influence.
Kirk Ferentz wants to believe that injuries to key players kept the offense from reaching its potential, and while there is certainly some truth to that, it doesn’t explain why the offense struggled before the injuries started to mount, and why it struggled last season.
The Iowa offense has mostly been horrendous since the start of last season, and the performance in the Citrus Bowl was just another case of ineptitude.
Iowa as a Big Ten West member benefitted from playing a favorable schedule this season, but against the three best opponents – Penn State, Michigan and Tennessee – Iowa lost all three games by a combined score of 92-0.
The Iowa defense didn’t play up to its usual high standard in the Citrus Bowl, and when there is absolutely no help from offense, it’s a recipe for a beat down.
Tennessee true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava made his first career start in Monday’s game and he accounted for four touchdowns, including three rushing touchdowns.
The fact that Tennessee pitched a shutout and won by 35 points would be bad under any circumstance, But to do it with a depleted roster just looks worse for Iowa.
The Iowa offense started the game with an impressive 10-play drive, but then it ended in disaster as Hill threw an ill-advised pass into tight coverage in the end zone that was intercepted.
So, instead of getting at least three points, Iowa came away with zero points.
The Iowa defense also struggled in the first half as Tennessee rushed for 126 yards in the first two quarters despite being without its top two running backs.
Iowa trailed 14-0 at halftime, marking the fourth time this season that Iowa was held scoreless in the first half.
And while Deacon Hill missed some open receivers, he also was hurt by at least three drops in the first half.
Iowa only had 82 yards in the first half, including just 29 passing yards.
It was the kind of shabby performance on offense that has become all too familiar to Iowa fans.
The game certainly wasn’t over at halftime, and with Iowa trailing by just 14 points.
But you got a sense that maybe the defense or special teams would have to score some points, given how poorly the offense performed in the first half.
However, that didn’t happen in the second half, while the Iowa offense continued to self-destruct.
Iowa finished the season with a 10-4 record, and with a Big Ten West Division title, its second in the last three years.
So, this season was successful in many ways, but you also can’t help but wonder what could’ve been with just an average offense.
This game marked the end to Tory Taylor’s record-breaking career as the Iowa punter and he capped it in style by setting the record for most punting yards in a season, a record that has stood since 1938.
That record speaks well about Taylor, and not to rain on his parade, but it took a horrible offense for it to happen.
For Kirk Ferentz to have pulled Hill from the game on Monday shows just how bad the situation became on offense.
He has stuck with Hill despite all the dysfunction, and now you have to question that decision with Lainez having provided a spark.
The outcome was all but decided when Lainez took the field, but he actually made some plays.
Assuming Cade McNamara will be fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury that he suffered in the fifth game against Michigan State, he will be the starting quarterback again next season.
He will also have the luxury of throwing to tight end Luke Lachey, who has decided to return next season after having played in just slightly more than two games this season because of an injury.
McNamara will also have a new offensive coordinator running the show next season.
But it will still be the same offense that has been in a stunning decline since the start of last season, and that is cause for concern.
Iowa 0 0 0 0 – 0
Tennessee 0 14 7 14 – 35
T – Nico Iamaleava (Charles Campbell kick)
T – Iamaleava3 run (Campbell kick)
T – Iamaleava 2 run (Campbell kick)
T – J. Pearce 52 interception return (Campbell kick)
T – McCallan Castles 18 pass from Iamaleava (Campbell kick)