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The Morning After: Exposed

Pat Fitzgerald once again schooled Kirk Ferentz in the art of managing the one-possession game

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Halloweens in Kinnick Stadium used to be so much The Hawkeye faithful celebrated the festivities in back-to-back seasons with Ricky Stanzi exposing the Superman “S” against the Indiana Hoosiers in 2009 with an assist from Tyler Sash.

In 2010, they cracked open the crazy a day before Halloween, Sash providing the pièce de résistance as the Iowa Hawkeyes played the hero to Mark Dantonio’s black hat.

There was also Desmond King in 2015 against Maryland & Amani Hooker two years later.

This is not to say Jack Koerner did not do his job by returning a fourth quarter interception to the house but it certainly would have helped. The defense largely did their job, with their hand in two other turnovers which sparked the Iowa Hawkeyes’ only two drives which ended in touchdowns.

After all, giving up 21 points (or less) is a winning formula in 2020. In 145 games before yesterday, teams won 127 games giving up that total for an 88% clip.

What is not a winning formula for Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa? 40 or more passing attempts. Iowa’s just 6-20 in those circumstances. The win total is reduced to a singular victory against Purdue - in 2004 when Iowa’s running back room was...not where it is now - when the sampling of those games is reduced to conference-only (15 losses).

Spencer Petras had 50 (Iowa is 1-3 in games where the QB reaches that total, for what it’s worth). It’s so far removed from the type of football Kirk Ferentz understands that a win under such circumstances is almost impossible to comprehend.

This is what makes it so baffling that Iowa, in broad strokes, played exactly the style of game Kirk does prefer and lost. As he has done more than anyone else in the conference at the time of this writing in 2017,

(I will not go through the effort of tabulating each conference team’s record in one-possession games since 2000 but I have a difficult time believing anybody’s has changes substantially in the 2+ seasons since then)

Truing those numbers up through yesterday, Kirk is 48-54 now for 47% but more importantly, 0-2 on the season. Northwestern, in the same timeframe, is 59-35 — 62% — a winning percentage which stays the same (41-24) if you look at games Pat Fitzgerald has coached.

Both teams are each others’ most frequent one-possession opponents, and Pat Fitzgerald has come out on top in 7 of the 8 games with the 8th including an overtime loss after coming back from a 10-point deficit.

Which begs the question: why the f*ck does Kirk Ferentz keep getting into these games with Northwestern?

Does he not know that he is Pat Fitzgerald’s most popular foil in these efforts? Does each additional one-possession loss to the Wildcats go in one ear and out the other? What would he do if a player continued to demonstrate the incompetence to manage such ineptitude year after year after year?

It is what makes his first quarter decision to kick a field goal while on the three-yard line with a chance to go up 21 frustrating.

It is what makes his willingness to yield three-down territory on Iowa’s next possession and put Keith Duncan out there to attempt a field goal into the wind at the edge of his range frustrating.

It is what makes putting Caleb Shudak into the unfortunate position of having his first career field goal attempt be just outside Duncan’s range into that very same wind frustrating.

Why not go for the touchdown - you might not get that close again? (They didn’t)

Why not try and get an extra yard or two or hey, maybe move the chains? (Thankfully Duncan came through)

Why not put your All-American kicker out there after he just made a field goal? (We’ll never know if his accuracy would have proven to be the difference)

When you live on a razor’s edge like Kirk Ferentz does, each of these decisions could prove to be the reason the team won or lost. It is something he regularly shirks, including Tuesday when he told the media, “I think systems don’t necessarily win or lose for you; I really believe that. It’s really more about execution and what the players do and their belief in the system.”

What about any of the above three decision points had anything to do with execution or belief in the system?

During Northwestern’s West title run in 2018, it was remarked by one broadcast booth how Pat Fitzgerald had binders upon binders of “ways to win” football games and what decisions he can make which might benefit his team.

I found it compelling, and memorable, because it was so contrary to the way Kirk Ferentz approaches - or at least vocalizes - in-game management. Northwestern’s (2-0) 21-20 win over Iowa (0-2) was so demonstrative of the different approach between the two head coaches. it basically played out how Fitzgerald would have written it. Hell, he arguably did because he was so comfortable yielding the ball to Iowa in the fourth quarter.

It was probably in one of his binders.

Halloween was much different for the Hawkeyes this year but it was also a lot of the same. Kirk Ferentz trotted out his tired mindset against the Wildcats which has yielded a 1-4 record the last 5 times they’ve faced off.

Maybe he’ll dress up as Pat Fitzgerald the next time they face off.