I made a serious attempt to put together this column in my typical manner this week. That normally entails spending several hours going through stats and poring over the video to pull clips of impact plays, and to be honest, I just couldn’t do it. Maybe if Coop’s PR TD hadn’t been overturned (I’ve got more to say about this) I could have forced myself to spend time reviewing film from another ugly win, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. PJ Fleck finally realized that to beat Iowa, you have to be Iowa, and for at least the next 365 days he’ll have the pig to prove it.
Saturday’s loss to Minnesota wasn’t surprising, it’s the loss I’ve been expecting all year, it’s a loss I’ve come to expect 2-3 times per season. Another game where the Defense and Special Teams had to be perfect and drag the bloated corpse of the Offense across the finish line. Another week of hearing national media opine about Kirk Ferentz’s legacy, nepotism, and Brian’s ineptitude. Another Saturday of my heart rate being far too high while watching something so thoroughly underwhelming. The only silver lining, I suppose, is we don’t have to spend the next two weeks awash in “Talk to your kids about an 11-1 Iowa” memes.
Earlier this season I used the word enervated to describe the Iowa football team after a disastrous performance against Penn State. I’m now going to use that same word to describe my feelings toward Iowa football. We’re 8 weeks in and I am emotionally spent. While I know the bye week will not help this team get its 3 most important offensive pieces back, it may give me enough time to find the desire to watch them play their last 4 (or 5 or 6) games.
I know full well that the focus over the next two weeks will be squarely on Brian Ferentz, but in all honesty, we’ve crossed the Iowa football Rubicon and, in my opinion, we need to start taking a really hard look at Kirk Ferentz, because I am no longer sure that he’s actually got the program’s best interests at heart.
Brian Ferentz – QB Coach
Since Brian Ferentz took over the QB coaching role after Ken O’Keefe’s retirement, the bottom has completely fallen out of this offense. In the Covid shortened 2020 season (KoK’s last season as QB coach) Iowa’s offense (discounting defensive and special teams scores – but including PATs as “offense”) averaged 23.62 ppg with Spencer Petras under center. In 2021, with Brian coaching the QB’s and the same QB under center, that number plummeted to 14.5, in Petras’ third year under center, it fell further to 10.23. So far this year Iowa’s offense is averaging 11 ppg (buoyed by a single 40+ point performance against MAC bottom dweller WMU) and falling fast. (Sidenote: WMU’s offense is averaging 23.9 ppg, putting them a full 25 spots higher than Iowa). If you remove the WMU game, the offense is averaging just 9 ppg.
Regardless of his potential/performance as an Offensive Coordinator (which has and can be successful) he has proven that he does not know how to coach quarterbacks. Whether that’s due to the scheme, his playcalling, or the “complexity” of the offense is irrelevant, adding QBs to his list of responsibilities may have been the single biggest mistake of Kirk’s coaching career.
I am not going to spend the next few paragraphs ragging on Spencer Petras, but he’s the most recent poster boy for Kirk’s inflexibility. Spencer Petras is a good kid who played his heart out for this team and took a metric shit-ton of abuse for it. He was a 3 star QB out of HS who had offers from two other P5 schools (Cal, Oregon State) and several G5 teams. Was he the best QB in the country? No, but he 100% fit the profile of an Iowa QB, and under Ken O’Keefe he performed fairly well. Once Brian took over at QB coach (and the offensive line became Tyler Linderbaum and a MASH unit), his stats plummeted. But Kirk stuck by him, through thick and thin. Kirk showed loyalty to his guy, right up until he didn’t. That
stubbornness loyalty cost us 2 3-star QB’s (Padilla and May) and a 4-star QB (Hogan) with only one of them ever getting a chance to show anyone what they could do. All we know is that they didn’t practice well enough for Kirk to take a chance on them.
Sticking with Petras (and now with Deacon Hill) is emblematic of Kirk Ferentz’s “loyalty” and will likely cost this team more games this season. Kirk is no more likely to bench a QB with starting experience than he is to adjust his offensive philosophy, regardless of who the
OC QB is.
Kirk likes to talk a lot about being successful in all three phases and about playing “complementary football”, though he certainly doesn’t like to answer any questions about his offense not holding up it’s end of the bargain (and he’s not afraid to throw the defense under the bus when it has been completely hung out to dry). Here are a few stats to put into perspective how complementary Iowa football is in 2023:
- 20% of Iowa’s possessions (22/106) have lasted for 1 minute or less
- 31.8% of Iowa’s possessions (29/106) have lasted less than 2:30
- Iowa’s ToP splits have gone from 50/50 in 2021, to 47/53 last year to 32/68 this year
- 3rd down conversions have gone decreased significantly every year since 2018 (43.5%) with this year’s rate currently sitting at 26.4%
All of the above have led to a significant increase in the number of snaps the defense sees every game. In 2021 the defense averaged ~5 more snaps per game than the offense. In 2022 that number nearly doubled to just over 9 snaps per game. Through 8 games in 2023 the defense is averaging ~19 more snaps than the offense. Kirk devotes a lot of words to the idea of “complementary football”, but the numbers don’t bear it out.
There is nothing complementary about the defense spending 68% of a game on the field. The fact that this defense (which averages 75 snaps per game - ~10 snaps higher than any other top 10 defense) is #8 in scoring, #4 in YPP, #1 in SP+, and #7 in stop rate is a testament to how good Phil Parker is and for Kirk Ferentz to level any, and I do mean any, criticism towards his defense is gross and cowardly.
For most of the last 7 years people have routinely asked if Brian is really calling the shots on offense, and while I have certainly not defended him (nor will I do so now), it has become more and more apparent that Brian is not the disease, he’s the band-aid. Yes, Iowa has scored a lot more points under other OC’s, but Iowa under his leadership has averaged 25.69 points per game every season. Obviously the last two seasons have been well below that mark, but Brian’s overall average (25.37 ppg) is just slightly below that historical average (and that’s with this year’s stats included).
If you weren’t around for it, there were plenty of people that hated Ken O’Keefe’s offense (25.77 ppg) and even more who hated Greg Davis’ offense (25.92 ppg) and they both had multiple season’s that were well below Brian’s own private Mendoza line (O’Keefe - 6, Davis – 2). Honestly, when Brian was promoted I had high hopes that he would be able to convince his dad that Iowa needed to modernize the offense, not just to survive in the B1G, but to go from being the occasional Dark Horse to regularly challenging for conference championships and playoff berths. But what we got was an Offensive Coordinator that seems to have no even less ability to stand up to Kirk as his predecessors.
Kirk Ferentz means a lot to this program, possibly more than Hayden Fry meant to this program (though that’s not a debate I’m going to get into here). But he is not a god, and he is not irreplaceable. The way I see it Kirk is standing at a fork in the road, down the left is a path to a team that embraces modern offensive theory and can compete with the top teams in the B1G and the rest of the country, down the right is a path to continued mediocrity and decline. Sadly, I think we all know which path he will choose.
One last thing...
I said it more times than I can count on Saturday and I will say it again, Coop got robbed. Now, I don’t say this because I’m an Iowa fan (though I’m only thinking about it because I’m an Iowa fan), I say this because the NCAA rulebook agrees with me. Also, I cannot take credit for this proof, because I’m not wonky enough to go down this particular rabbit hole, but thankfully someone on reddit (shoutout to u/empathydoc) was.
Hop over to the r/Hawkeyes subreddit for the full breakdown, but the crux of what he found is this, there are 7 things that a kick can be reviewed for, and exactly zero of those things are an “invalid fair catch signal”. Now, given that the play was ruled a touchdown on the field, by multiple officials, and no fair catch signal (as defined by the rulebook) was made, reviewing the touchdown for an “invalid fair catch” signal is a direct violation of the NCAA’s stated rules on what is/is not reviewable on a kick. Iowa deserved to lose that game, but they won the game, and for possibly the first time in my life, Aaron Rodgers and I are in agreement: