Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz looks on as his team warms up before playing against Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)
IOWA CITY — Iowa’s defense had just limited No. 2 Ohio State to 184 yards shy of the Buckeyes’ average in their first six games. Iowa’s offense had just turned the ball over six times and hadn’t reached the end zone for the second game in a row.
Mike Hlas of The Gazette asked Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, “How do you explain to (the defense) why you’re 3-4 when they played so well?”
Ferentz responded in the post-match press conference with a two-word phrase that has infuriated the fanbase once before in the midst of a disappointing 2014 season.
“It’s football,” Ferentz said before asking to withdraw his statement because he “got in trouble for saying that” last time.
Ferentz gave another “it’s football” on Tuesday when asked to keep the defense motivated. This time, there was no retraction despite Iowa Sports News excluding it from the official transcript.
It may be football, but it’s definitely not winning football.
Iowa has relied on elite defensive units and special teams to offset an offensive unit that is either the worst or one of the worst in the nation in several key stats.
Ferentz acknowledged on Tuesday how unsustainable the current situation is.
“It hasn’t worked out for the past few weeks,” Ferentz said. “Obviously we want to change that formula.”
Iowa’s defensive production should be good enough for the Hawkeyes to have a winning record, according to data analyzed by The Gazette.
Iowa is one of 13 Power Five teams to allow less than 5 yards per play. The other 12 teams have a combined record of 67-20. Iowa is 3-4.
Of the 40 teams to allow less than 5.5 yards per play, Iowa is one of 10 to be under .500.
On the other side of the ball, having an offense as reckless as Iowa almost always spells trouble.
Iowa is the only Power Five team to average less than 4 yards per game. Six teams — Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech — are averaging under 4.8 yards per game, and all six are under .500.
Of the 16 Power Five teams averaging below 5.6 yards per play, 13 are below .500.
Ferentz is aware of the need to get “the offense in a place where we can be successful”.
“And we’ve done that in the past,” Ferentz said.
But Iowa hasn’t been in an offensive crisis of this magnitude in Ferentz’s last 23 seasons in charge of the Hawkeyes.
The 2022 Hawkeyes’ 227.3 yards per game, 3.9 yards per play, 27% conversion rate and 52.3% completion rate are all the worst in the Ferentz era – even below of Iowa’s 1-10 team in Ferentz’s freshman season in 1999.
Any drastic changes to improve the attack during the season are unlikely.
Ferentz expressed skepticism about trying something different if it’s “not something you tackled during camp or spring.”
“When you start drawing things, it usually doesn’t work out so well,” Ferentz said.
While Ferentz is “always looking” for things to tweak or come up with a twist on what Iowa is already doing, he also thinks “you can’t stray too far.”
Kirk Ferentz has already ruled out firing his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator this season and hit back at an Ohio columnist who wrote that Brian Ferentz should be fired.
Doug Lesmerises, a nationally known sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, urged Kirk Ferentz not to fire Brian Ferentz amid lackluster offensive results.
Kirk Ferentz, out of the blue, then brought up at his next press conference what he initially described as the “interrogation” of Lesmerises.
“The only good thing about it was I came home – I said, ‘As bad as today was, it could have been worse because I could have been that guy. ‘” Ferentz said. “I could have been that guy. He had his job and had to act like him.
The next day he issued an apology to the Iowa media through his secretary, saying he ‘shouldn’t have looked down on any of your colleagues’ and that Lesmerises’ questions were ‘fair’ .
“You ask tough and pointed questions, but do so with a high degree of professionalism,” Ferentz wrote. “I tell our players to take the high road, and yesterday I didn’t do the same.”