Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa’s win over Purdue the Hawkeyes offensive issues were “well-documented,” with a smile on his face. That’s because Iowa’s “dead offense” gained 258 yards in the first half of that game and downed the Boilermakers 24-3.
But there was a point in time where Iowa’s “well documented issues” were hampering them from winning, no matter how excellent their defense and special teams played. After starting 3-1, Iowa dropped three straight to Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State — all frustrating in their own way.
Jim Harbaugh had never won at Kinnick, yet his Wolverines departed Iowa City with a 27-14 victory. Then, the Hawkeyes caught a break with Fighting Illini quarterback Tommy DeVito leaving the game in the first half. Their defense capitalized, limiting them to nine points. Which would’ve been great, if the Hawkeyes didn’t score six.
Following a bye week, the then 3-3 Hawkeyes ventured to Columbus to take on No. 2 ranked Ohio State. The expectations were low, considering Iowa came into the game as a near 30-point underdog. And the Hawkeyes left with a 54-10 crushing, a quarterback controversy and more questions than answers about what the remainder of the 2022 season from hell could hold.
The Hawkeyes were in their darkest hour and their longest losing streak in four years. Kirk Ferentz was asked if things could get turned around.
“I don’t just think it’s possible, I believe it’s possible. And I believe it’s going to happen,” the Hawkeyes head coach said.
Team captain Jack Campbell had a message for anybody thinking the team was going to roll over and give up.
“When outsiders say like, ‘Why not just give up on the season? No offense to them, but I feel like that might be why you’re an outsider,” Campbell passionately spoke. “You’ve just got to have the right mindset to be able to do this at a high level. And I’m not saying everyone is built for this and if you don’t play football you’re lazy or anything like that. I feel like it’s applicable to anything you do in life. If you’re just going to give up when stuff gets harder, I just feel like that’s not the right way to look at things.”
So, what is the right way to look at things?
“You’ve got two choices. You keep pushing forward or you surrender,” Ferentz said on Tuesday. “Got 12 games scheduled, so have a bad one or a real good one, you’ve got to move on and see what you can do about the next opportunity. That’s all we’ve tried to do.”
Fast forward post-Buckeye beatdown, Iowa’s won three straight. Those who called beating Northwestern 33-13 a fluke couldn’t say the same about Iowa’s 24-3 Purdue purge or their 24-10 Wisconsin win. Many oddsmakers tagged the Hawkeyes as underdogs in both games, but they won convincingly.
Has the offense been great? Absolutely not. But it’s been better (130th out of 131 teams in total offense). Kirk Ferentz almost hilariously emphasizes winning the turnover battle, which they have over the last three games 6-1.
If Iowa wins each of their next two games, and Michigan beats Illinois at home Iowa will win the Big Ten West. That will require the Hawkeyes to take Floyd back, timeouts or not, and beat Nebraska at home on Black Friday.
Spencer Petras was asked who led the way in righting the ship.
“It starts with our head coach, just in our team meetings and just the messaging he gives us,” the Hawkeyes quarterback said. “When you have a head coach like we do, it’s easy to follow him. Really easy to believe in him and what he’s telling us. And I think that’s what our team has done.”
I asked Ferentz at Tuesday’s presser if there was a season that paralleled 2022, and he took me back to 1982.
“That year I remember after we won the Peach Bowl, maybe it was as gratifying a win as I can remember because where that team came from at the onset,” Ferentz recalled. “Talk about two bad offensive performances, Nebraska and Iowa State to lead it off. Look it up. I mean, it’s ridiculous.”
With Kirk Ferentz coaching the offensive line under Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes scored seven points against No. 3 Nebraska, and Iowa State to open the season. Sound familiar?
But as Ferentz mentioned, Iowa beat Tennessee 28-22 to win the Peach Bowl, and won eight of their final 10 games.
“So to end up being a pretty good football team at the end of the year, it was really gratifying and the players felt good about it. That’s the most important thing when it’s all said and done.”
Iowa’s already clinched a bowl, so maybe the Hawkeyes can win eight — or nine, or 10? — games and ride off into the sunset. Regardless, Iowa has flipped the script and stood tall in the face of adversity with Kirk Ferentz leading the way.
“That’s competition. It’s the real world.” – Kirk Ferentz