WHERE WE'VE BEEN
- SPAM - 2021 Pre-Season Preview (includes an explanation of SPAM)
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 0/1 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 2 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 3 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 4 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 5 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 6 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 7 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 8 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 9 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 10 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 11 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 12 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - Week 13 Preview
- SPAM - 2021 - SPECIAL EDITION: CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK! Plus Week 13 Recap
I promise not to make fun of Minnesota for a week. And! If Iowa wins the Big 10 Championship Game, I promise to pin this to my profile and not make fun of Minnesota until the end of the 2022 regular season.— Bizarro Max ☁️ (@Arch_Hawk) November 28, 2021
About the game.
If you listen to the I's on Big Ten podcast, they summed up my thoughts almost flawlessly. To wit:
1. The game started about as well as it possibly could. Iowa got Michigan off the field and then marched down and probably should have had a touchdown, or at a minimum, 3 points. Everything about the offensive game plan in that opening series was brilliant, and executed almost to perfection. Iowa's line did a great job at neutralizing Hutchinson, kept pressure off Petras, it was just great. Effective, workmanlike, and quintessentially Iowa. It shows that Iowa's base offense is a foundation that can be expanded into something that is interesting, versatile, and effective (which makes it all the more frustrating that this rarely happens). Despite the missed opportunity, I was highly encouraged that Iowa could hang with Michigan.
2. Michigan's 2 subsequent scores felt fluky in the moment. The run was a simple defensive error combined with flawless downfield blocking by the Wolverines. The halfback pass was just executed brilliantly, I'm not sure how you defend that. What a throw. That kind of scoring on Iowa's defense isn't normally repeatable or sustainable, and and Michigan didn't repeat it or sustain it until basically garbage time, when Iowa's offense had quit and the defense was gassed.
Credit to Harbaugh. He knew that Iowa's offensive limitations gave him breathing room with the 14-3 lead, and he was patient while Iowa had the Wolverines pinned deep for the entire 2nd quarter. That's a position where lesser coaches recognize that Iowa gets the ball in the second half, and they start getting antsy, thinking they have to get more points on the board now or at least flip the field to make Iowa put together a long drive. They then turn the ball over deep in their own territory, give up a safety, a defensive score, something. While it felt like Iowa won that quarter, I actually think Michigan did. Iowa was in prime position for a defensive or special teams play, and Michigan didn't give one up.
3. If Iowa's first TD drives scores, this might have been a different game. Michigan probably still scores on the ensuing drive to make it 7-7, but I'm not 100% sure they still dial up that halfback pass. Even if they do, that second quarter might play out differently in a 14-10 game. With Iowa getting the ball consistently at midfield, plus getting it back to start the second half, Harbaugh and the Michigan offense and special teams units might be less patient, less sure deep in their own territory with just a 4 point lead under those circumstances. Iowa would be positioned to blow it open and take a potentially insurmountable 24-10 lead, letting the Hawkeyes hunker down on defense and start running down the clock. Maybe Michigan makes that critical mistake in that circumstance. We'll never know, of course.
4. I have nothing bad to say about the players on the field. But, Iowa's mercurial playcalling continues to befuddle me. I understood not YOLO'ing on 2nd and 25 or whatever. When that penalty hit, I turned to my wife and said, "The smart thing to do here is probably to run twice up the middle and punt, live to fight another drive, there's plenty of time yet." I believe it was a one score game at the time and there was every reason to think the Hawkeyes could hang around.
But that decision made far less sense to me halfway through the fourth quarter, down by three touchdowns. There's no way Iowa's coaching staff could have had any realistic expectation that the usual game plan this year of "wait for the opponent to screw up" was going to work fast enough (if at all; it hadn't yet). It was time to start YOLOing down the field but we didn't. Head-scratching. Maybe the coaching staff knew the O-line couldn't get enough time in the pocket to attempt those throws and they wanted to avoid a strip-sack or turnover. I don't know. But, who cares? I mean, Iowa ended up turning it over deep in its own territory anyway. What's the worst that could happen if you just open the engine and start heaving? It backfires and you get humiliated on national TV in a 39 point loss and exposed as the fraudulent division champion?
Cuz that happened anyway.
5. None of this is going to change until Kirk retires, so you can settle down and stop complaining about it. I love Captain Kirk, I really do. I'd love to see him ride out in a blaze of glory on the heels of a B1G Championship. But, I think he means it when he says he'll coach for another 5 years, and I think Iowa is hanging on to Barta to appoint Kirk's replacement and then retire, so Barta's replacement isn't responsible for that hire if it goes sideways.
On the 6 year Zombie Iowa cycle, that means we're probably dealing with this until 2027.
6. Impossibly, this offense has gotten worse since Greg Davis left.
It doesn't need to be elite. If Iowa could field an average P5 offense, they'd be in this championship game every couple of years and might even win one here and there. I don't think wholesale change in philosophy is necessary or even advisable. The "complementary football" thing works. We're really damn good at it, and Iowa doesn't grow the kind of speed you need to run something more explosive. We're good at the Big Ugly identity.
But it doesn't have to be impotent. We've seen Iowa, and this offensive coordinator, put together and execute brilliant and explosive offensive gameplans against blueblood opponents before. Ohio State 2017. USC 2019. In that USC game in particular, Steven Godfrey Tweeted out, "Computer, show me erotic Iowa." And we saw a glimpse of it in the first half of this Michigan game.
The base Ferentzball offense is a foundation on which you can build something more than what it is. We've seen it happen. The fact that Iowa does not do so with any regularity is a conscious choice that might make sense against an opponent like Northwestern or Nebraska, and it even made sense in the 2015 championship game vs. that Michigan State team. But it was very clear after the first half of this game that it absolutely would not be enough to win.
6. As much as I just dogged Iowa's coaching staff, they did somehow manage to take the nation's 124th or 127th or whatever-ranked offense, and rattle off ten - TEN - wins and get to a conference championship game. Maybe they knew preseason that Petras hadn't improved, the O-line was soft, and there was no help coming. Maybe they knew Iowa was going to have an historically terrible offense and they put together game plan after game plan to work around those limitations.
Maybe I'm looking at this wrong. Maybe I should be grateful that this team is 10-3 instead of 6-6. Iowa State, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois - those games were all highly losable. Maybe this is one of the greatest coaching jobs Kirk Ferentz has ever done, given the limitations.
I'll sign on to that. And I can both sign on to that and also stand by my criticisms of the play calling in this game.
7. In the final analysis, this team is 10-3 and could finish 11-3. That's tall cotton, and we'd have all taken that at the beginning of the year. I remember back in the early 2010s, we were all inflamed over how the program was heading in the wrong direction, and I asked the loudest voices in the "FIRE KF" peanut gallery what they expected from Iowa year in and year out. What's realistic? And the most common answer was, basically, "Virginia Tech or LSU." Teams that consistently win 9-10 games per year and legitimately contend for conference title every few years.
Despite the awfulness of Iowa's offense, we're not far off that mark. Some perspective is healthy. We can appreciate what we've got, while being disappointed about what we don't. But please, for the love of God, don't be a petulant, childish asshole about it. And never forget how much shit we gave Nebraska for firing a head coach who "only" won 9-10 games per year but couldn't win a conference title, and it wasn't good enough for that fan base.
How's that working out for them?
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
This is the final post of my SPAM "column" here on BHGP. If you've ever done anything in the creative and expressive arts, you know that it's a labor of love, and the drive to keep doing it comes from the enjoyment you see it give others. These posts get little engagement here, and so I want to take the concept in another direction for next season and expand on it.
If you're reading this, you're one of those people who (in theory) gets enjoyment from these posts, and you're why I've been spending Sundays and Mondays in the fall writing up these posts for years.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading them. I'll be back next year with a new iteration of SPAM in a new format, hopefully you'll find me then.
Yours in irrational Hawkeye fan exuberance,