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Bryce Miller: Lack of playmakers, not Ferentz, causing Hawkeyes’ woes

[ 0 ] November 8, 2012 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. Listening to WHO radio on Wednesday night, the discussion flowed from hurt feelings to emotional debate about dealing with the families they loved.

What do you do when things aren’t going right? When you care like crazy, but change is needed, what’s the next step? A voice or two was raised. Awkward moments were bridged. Reason and deep breathing was advised.

But when, exactly, did the Kirk Ferentz Show end and the Dave Ramsey Show begin?

Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz looks ominously at the game clock during Iowa’s game against Penn State on Saturday evening, October 20, 2012. Benjamin Roberts / Iowa City Press-Citizen

Ramsey, who dissects personal finance topics, pulled no radio dial punches in situations where someone was “emotionally bullied,” telling callers to get a “dad-gummed” clue or counseling others to direct someone in their lives to simply “shut up.”

Wanna guess how much the buttoned-down Ferentz, Iowa’s football coach, would love to go the straight-shooter route when Bill from Clarinda calls with both barrels loaded on Line 1?

Iowa football fans are a fractured group right now, from the angriest and most disenchanted corner, to the understanding grandmothers knitting Hawkeye quilts in Louisa County. This is the first season Iowa has been on the wrong side of .500 during a regular season (4-5) since 2007.

Athletic director Gary Barta stopped short of saying fan and booster discontent is at a crest, in either volume or vitriol, compared to other seasons. Barta said however, that the gripe-ometer has felt in line with 2007 — when Iowa finished 6-6, suffered a pride-bruising loss to Western Michigan and committed its only bowl whiff in a stretch covering a decade.

“The intensity goes up and down based on wins and losses,” Barta said. “We’ve lost three in a row, so there’s intensity and passion in our fan base. I don’t know if it’s more or less, but there’s frustration.

“But our players are frustrated, our coaches are frustrated, (and) the athletic director wants to win more.”

In interviews this week, Barta voiced common ground with former athletic director Bump Elliott and all-America kicker Nate Kaeding on one point: The issue is not the man coaching the team.

“There are many reasons I support Kirk,” said Barta, whose backing of his even-keeled coach has been voiced most loudly with a long-term deal that still guarantees Ferentz about $21 million. “I’ve been around a lot of football coaches as a player, as an administrator — over 30 years — and he may be the best coach I’ve ever worked with for many, many reasons.”

So when is a football season skidding off the rails simply a “down year” and when is it something more — a trend or sign of things to come?

Tough question. Tougher, still, to find sure-fire answers. Judging college football progress, like gallery pieces at The Met, can be in the eye of the beholding ticket-holder.

Kaeding, for his part, said football is a fragile game. The difference between being at the top of the NFL’s all-time kicking accuracy chart (which he is) and losing your job can be a few gusts of wind or a slip in the rain-soaked sod.

Iowa actually has benefited from close calls in 2012, despite struggling — sitting two plays away (Northern Illinois, Michigan State) from possibly being a two-win team.

“Do I get upset, throw the remote a little bit when we (Iowa) lose? Yeah, I do,” Kaeding said. “Ten seconds later, though, I’m putting my Iowa hat back on. I know fans get so high and so low during a season.

“But you ask anyone who’s been inside that locker room, there’s great leadership with the Iowa football program.”

So, as three-quarters of the 2012 slips less-than-remarkably into the record books, where’s the “why” in all of this?

Start with talent — or Iowa’s current lack of it. It’s clear there’s a gulf between this team and Iowa teams that have gone on to bigger things. Though the current group is young, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team with fewer potential pros on the field under bowl-era Ferentz.

Right now, the list of possible NFL players is thin. Defensive back Micah Hyde is mentioned most often, while center James Ferentz is a logical contender with kicker Mike Meyer a possible third.

How many current Hawkeyes, though, would start on the Orange Bowl teams of 2002 or ’09? I can only think of two who might trump the 2009 lineup — Ferentz over Rafael Eubanks at center, and Meyer in front of top leg Daniel Murray.

In 2002, Hyde could have cracked the lineup, and current linebacker James Morris probably would have landed in front of Kevin Worthy. That might be it.

The Orange-splashed teams averaged 5.5 NFL draft picks, with 2002 producing at least nine pro players and ’09 a salty 15. Does anyone project 10 to 15 NFL-bound bodies from this season?

Attracting and developing players who can compete in the Big Ten is the responsibility of coaches, too, of course. At Iowa, however, the margin for error is thinner and even the best crystal ball misses as much as it hits.

Iowa City isn’t awash in the blue chippers who invade Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Columbus, Ohio — and probably never will be. Kirk Ferentz never dials up poor-me speeches about talent in down seasons, even when it’s obvious in the film room. That’s simply not his style.

Ferentz has eclipsed the 100-win mark in the Big Ten — something only 11 others have done in history — and won six bowl games. The blueprint has worked with different players in different seasons.

The Hawkeyes of this season, though, played a stretch of 187 minutes and 40 seconds — including the entire month of October — without holding a lead during regulation.

At this point, even with new offensive and defensive coordinators, the reason appears to be a lack of playmakers — especially on offense, where Iowa rarely threatens to stretch the field throwing, and struggles to run with injuries galore to tailbacks and linemen.

So what’s wrong with Iowa football now, in a season with a forgiving schedule, as the radio rambling heats up? First and foremost, it’s a lack of weapons on the field.

What it’s not, though: Kirk Ferentz.

Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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