Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz found himself down 14-6 with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin. Iowa had the ball, facing 4th & 5 from the Wisconsin 20. It was the deepest Iowa had taken the ball in the second half, and the first time his offense had managed a mere first down in the last four series. Even against Wisconsin's vaunted defense, the situation demanded Iowa go for a first down; even with a field goal, Iowa would still have to score a touchdown (or kick two more field goals) to catch the Badgers, and time was running out.
Ferentz opted to kick the field goal, a decision so conservative and contrary to the basic rules of logic that it genuinely begged the question of what he was thinking. After the game, we found out what he was thinking: That Iowa was actually down nine, maybe?
Q. This will sound like second-guessing. It’s 14-6, you go for the field goal. You’re still going to need a touchdown. What was the thought process there?
COACH FERENTZ: You have to score twice. It gets down to that. Somehow, some way you’re going to have to score twice. If there’s a little bit less, fourth-and-two, something like that, we probably would have gone for the touchdown.
Q. 14-6, if you get the touchdown and the two-point conversion, you have a tied ballgame.
COACH FERENTZ: The situation we were in, we felt that was the best play. Fourth-and-five against these guys is not easy, especially down there in the red zone. We didn’t see that as a high-probability play. We’re going to have to get back there again. Kind of the thinking there.
For anyone questioning whether Ferentz was simply thinking of the 17-6 field goal kick later (which would correctly reduce the game to one score), the full video (via @marcmorehouse) shows that the entire scenario was laid out for the coach by the questioner:
Ferentz was using sound strategy if he was down nine, or ten, or even eleven points, in which a successful field goal could reduce Wisconsin's lead to a single score. Ferentz was using sound strategy if the two-point conversion did not exist in college football, which would make this a two-possession game. But Ferentz does not live in those worlds. He lives in this one, where a touchdown and two-point conversion would have tied the game without a second possession. This is not typical Ferentz conservative philosophy. This is no philosophy at all. This is kicking field goals without thought. This is cro-magnon football nihlism.
Two years ago, in the aftermath of a loss at Nebraska in which his team melted down, Ferentz famously summed up the dumpster fire with the phrase "That's football," a tacit admission that he had no answers for what was wrong with his program. That admission cost him an offseason of goodwill, as Iowa fans openly questioned whether he still understood what was happening or, more importantly, cared.
The 2014 answer was a shrug, a blowoff response to reporters who deigned to question his ability. But this answer, an admission that, at least on that day, he didn't understand the basic math of the game he was coaching, is far worse. Ferentz has three coordinators who call plays. His responsibility on gameday is clock, personnel, and down and distance. This is not a pass where a run should have been called or an ill-timed blitz. This isn't execution by his players. This is his bailiwick. Any kid with an XBox and a copy of Madden could tell you what the proper call was on Saturday, whether the defense on the other side of the field was Wisconsin or the '85 Bears. Kirk Ferentz couldn't, and his failure might have cost Iowa a winnable game against a top 10-rated rival, a chance at the Big Ten West championship and a spot back in the Top 25. Maybe we should have given that buyout to the kid with the XBox.