In the same sense that there is no good way to jump into a pool of donkey piss, there are only bad options for jumping into a recap and discussion of this abhorrent pile of spoiled sludge of a Big Ten Championship Game. Some shitty cliches do come to mind. Something like “Tis’ better to have Big Ten Championshiped and lost than to have never Big Ten Championshiped at all.” This isn’t a bullseye, but it at least hits the board. Because sure, yeah, I would much rather take a shot at a title, however infinitesimal, even if it comes with a much higher chance of getting shellacked. If Iowa’s lot is to be the sacrificial Hawk at the altar of the Big Ten East in Indy every December, bummer, but I prefer that to jealously watching Wisconsin have the honor.
But sweet baby Jesus, that cliché does not account for just how miserable this game was. This was “What was the point of even getting off the goddamn bus?” bad. If I hadn’t been watching this team all-year, I would have sworn the Bowling Green Falcons were the team in black and gold. So the cliché that I can’t shake is the old adage “If something IS broke, absolutely do not fix it, update it, or replace it. Just say the thing is complementing something else that does work.” I realize this is me blasting a broken record to the choir into the back of an empty void, but there is no sound justification for the offense being as terrible as it is.
I’m not trying to let the defense off the hook. This wasn’t a banner game by their lofty standards. Those two long touchdowns they allowed in the first half simply cannot happen. The defense was excellent in the first half outside of those two plays, but if Iowa was going to win the game, literally, those two plays could not happen. When Blake Corum went streaking down the field with a cavalcade of blockers and nary a Hawkeye in his vicinity, the game was lost. Michigan had plenty more points coming, but they would not need a single one of them.
That isn’t really fair to the defense, but that statement is as harsh as it is true. That isn’t how it should be. Even after another blunder by the defense, a fake RB-screen turned 75-yard wide receiver pass, that shouldn’t have been the death knell for Iowa’s hopes of beating Michigan. The offense should be able to walk over to the defense and say some version of “No worries. We got you.” The problem is, Kirk doesn’t want an offense that is capable of that, on principal.
So instead, up 14-0, all Michigan really needed to do was sit on their two-score lead, like a mama eagle planting herself on an egg up in her eyrie while Iowa’s offense bumbled at the bottom of the mountain, entangled in a mass of pickaxes and rope. Sure, the Iowa defense gave up a touchdown early in the third quarter, robbing us of our last bit of hope for two fluky touchdowns to pull yet another grotesque win out of our asses. But giving up 21 points is only a big deal because it is a total that Iowa’s offense is expected to match or exceed. This is not a hopeless ask for most college football teams, but asking that of Iowa’s offense is the rough equivalent of asking a rock to write a book on quantum mechanics.
There are more about the specifics of the game we could talk about, but you saw what I saw. The offense was spicy for the first quarter, with a lot of play-action rollouts and some passes over the middle that worked pretty well, but Iowa could not cross the hallowed ground of the end zone on two early trips into the red zone. Unfortunately “running a fuck-ton of play-action bootlegs” isn’t really a viable game plan for four quarters. Once Michigan sniffed those plays out, all Iowa was left with were 1-yard runs, Spencer Petras overthrowing a covered wide receiver, and later, panicky Alex Padilla checkdowns. Down 21-3, Iowa punted. It was blocked. The defense could not get a stop on the short field and even the most irrationally optimistic parts of my brain had its energy zapped like those pod people in The Dark Crystal, as we played out the string from there. (The offense couldn’t even muster up a touchdown in what amounted to a quarter of garbage time.)
I know I am belaboring the point here with all of these strained metaphors, but I keep thinking of “The Three Little Pigs.” The defense and special teams are shitkicking badasses that painstakingly built their house out of bricks. Way more often than not, they can weather the onslaught of the wolf until it dies from exhaustion, even as their dipshit little brother sits to the side, gnawing on some straw from his busted house while noodling on a banjo. But sometimes a whole pack of wolves rip apart those houses brick-by-brick, and the only help the brother can provide is to point their finger at the wolves and go “Pew! Pew!” as he talks about his “complementary” carpentry skills. It doesn’t have to be this way though. The offense can build their house out of, if not bricks, at least some goddamn sticks.
This begs the question, “Where do we go from here?” Like a lot of you, I am pretty tired of seeing Iowa bump their head on the ceiling of their potential, but I am not on the “Fire Kirk” bandwagon. Consistently beating (most of) our rivals, going to warm bowl games and occasionally making the Big Ten Title game are results I can live with. What is a lot harder to stomach is seeing Kirk treat scoring points like an unwanted stepchild he is stuck with, rather than a way to actually help his defense, kneecapping the ability of his football team to strive for more. (Consider this: Was there ever a more fun time this year football-wise than watching teams try to come-from-behind on this defense?)
I’m in no better position than any of you to figure out where Brian’s sucktitude on offense ends and Kirk’s begins. Certainly Brian did not deserve the job when he got it. After five years of on-the-job “training,” there isn’t a shred of meaningful evidence that he should keep it, but removing Brian would only be the smallest step towards an offense that can occasionally exceed mediocrity. If I were granted the ability to possess Gary Barta, I would call a press conference and announce my retirement. Before that, though, I would fire Brian and tell Kirk, “We are going to sit-in on several interviews for new offensive coordinators. We are not going to interview the running backs coach from the 1979 Pittsburgh Panthers or anybody else that believes football peaked as a sport in 1986. I’m going to spend the entirety of these interviews staring at your face. Whichever person whose offensive ideas makes you the most uncomfortable is who we are hiring. They do things their way and get three years to prove they are worth a damn, and if the performance by your defense dips in that time, we aren’t putting that shit on the offense, OK?”
What would my answer be in this hypothetical scenario if Kirk threatened to retire if I made him go through with this? That is a real Sophie’s Choice. Do I hit the variance button and cut Kirk loose or do I live with the non-variance of Iowa’s consistently putrid offense hanging as a millstone that artificially lowers the other very real limitations that already exist for this program? I honestly don’t know.
Of course this is all moot and make-believe. None of that will happen. Iowa’s offense will get a dead cat bounce next fall, proof that Brian is “improving” as a play-caller. Iowa will continue to have good seasons, though probably no breakthrough ones. But I will be stoked to be wrong. At least we can hope the next time Iowa has a Top Ten defense and special teams it will coalesce with one of the rare years Iowa’s offense is only a little bit stinky.
* Props to Michigan's special teams. They didn't concede an inch in the punting game. I was genuinely impressed.
* Who's leaving: Petras or Padilla? My head and my heart say Petras.
* I'm still excited to see this team one more time, offense-and-all.