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Harty: Time to execute better is now

[ 0 ] October 28, 2012 |

One of my lasting impressions of the Iowa football team’s annual media day in August was Brian Ferentz so skillfully holding court with reporters.

It was his first media day as his father’s new offensive line coach and you could sense the energy and enthusiasm and unwavering optimism that Brian Ferentz brought back to his alma mater.

He showed an edge, too, especially when asked why the Iowa program had fallen from contender status in the Big Ten. Brian Ferentz said it was simply a case of Iowa not doing the little things to win close games, or in other words, a lack of execution.

He was adamant that the program was still clicking on all cylinders and still capable of competing for conference titles.

It was the kind of talk that’s common at media day, but this was different because Brian Ferentz, a former Iowa offensive lineman, seemed offended by even the suggestion that the Iowa program was moving in the wrong direction under his father’s watch.

Brian Ferentz would really be offended by what’s being said now about the Iowa program and about Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz in the wake of Saturday’s 28-17 loss at Northwestern. Blaming things on a lack of execution is still the company line eight games into this season, but fans are growing weary of that explanation.

Iowa (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) plays at lowly Indiana (3-5, 1-3) on Saturday in a match-up that looked promising when the season started, but now looks dangerous.

Unlike Iowa, the Hoosiers are getting better, even without injured starting quarterback Tre Roberson.

Iowa is getting worse and is nowhere closer to establishing an identity two-thirds of the way through the regular season.

Just when it looked as if Iowa might thrive behind a power running game and an overachieving defense, injuries derailed the running game and the defense became a weakness in the last two games against Penn State and Northwestern that many expected it to be heading into the season.

It was almost surreal watching Northwestern dominate the line of scrimmage against Iowa, because the line of scrimmage is supposed to be one area where Iowa takes a backseat to nobody and because Northwestern is supposedly a finesse team that tries to spread the field and elude you in space.

The Wildcats behind quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark did plenty of eluding in space while rushing for 166 and 162 yards, respectively. But they also benefited from some massive holes carved from Iowa’s sieve-like defense.

“When you dominate the line of scrimmage and control the clock, that’s always a good thing,” Colter said after Saturday’s game.

For the team being dominated, though, it’s a painful example of what’s wrong.

The running game is still Iowa’s best weapon, but that’s partly because the passing game has been in shambles.

“We have to get better, execute better and process better,” Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenberg said after Saturday’s loss. “I think we’re all on the same page and we’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”

Opposing defenses also seem comfortable with what they’re doing.

Vandenberg’s decline, which includes throwing just three touchdown passes in eight games, is perhaps the biggest story within the story of the 2012 season.

It has fans wondering if first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis is the right fit at Iowa, if another quarterback will ever get a chance to replace Vandenberg, if Iowa will upgrade its speed at the receiver positions and why Kirk Ferentz has a guaranteed contract that runs through the 2020 season.

There have been several peaks and valleys during Kirk Ferentz’s reign at Iowa, which is now in its 14th season. However, this current valley seems the most alarming because it’s happening now and because Ferentz is so far along in his career at Iowa.

It’s rare these days for a college football coach to stay at any one BCS school for longer than a decade as evidenced by Ferentz being the fourth-longest tenured coach in the country. It’s a sign of stability during good times, but that same stability is considered stale during tough times.

It’s easy to say that the Iowa coaches have to recruit better, but it’s the truth. With all due respect to the current players, Iowa is suffering from a lack of talent more than anything else, especially at the skill positions.

Greg Davis looked crafty and creative as the offensive coordinator at Texas when he had Vince Young and Colt McCoy running his plays. But without them, Davis became ordinary and ultimately dispensable.

Iowa’s ongoing struggle with attrition can be traced to a few things, but most of the players bailed because they were in over their heads competing at the BCS level. It’s hard to think of any recent transfers besides linebacker Dezman Moses who had success after leaving Iowa. Moses resurrected his career at Tulane and is now a rookie with the Green Bay Packers.

It’s also hard to think of any players on the Iowa roster besides junior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan Walsh and true freshmen defensive linemen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie that had scholarship offers from some of the truly elite programs like Ohio State, Southern California and Michigan.

Iowa’s rise under Ferentz was fueled by numerous rags-to-riches stories with players such as Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark coming out or nowhere to achieve stardom. But for every one of those cases, there are countless others that never materialize.

Ferentz is criticized for being too stubborn and too set in his ways, but the guy still knows how to coach. He knows more about the game of football than 99.9 percent of society and he knows how to treat people and earn respect.

He just hasn’t figured out how to maintain the talent level to where Iowa can compete for a conference title on a regular basis and probably never will.

Hayden Fry struggled with the same thing during the latter stages of his 20-year run as the Iowa coach. He lost some talented and influential assistant coaches and the talent level dropped over time.

Fry also stayed at Iowa for six more seasons compared to where Ferentz is now in his run.

Ferentz has eight years left on his contract after this season. The hope is that Brian Ferentz will help upgrade the recruiting effort.

And judging from Saturday’s loss, much help is needed.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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