Ah, unrequited love.
We've all been there before, desperately seeking that special someone only to be constantly spurned or ignored. We have all read body language or otherwise-innocuous small talk for clues that the object of our affection might be turning. We have all felt the angst of that moment when she chooses THAT over THIS? and leaves us stranded, alone. In the movies, the unrequited love eventually is requited, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Unfortunately, life isn't the movies, and all too often, the Friend Zone becomes an unescapable black hole of despair. Usually there is a singular event -- marriage is usually a pretty good sign, for instance -- that reinforces that nothing will ever change. And while our jilted lover may not get the one she wants, at least she gets some closure. She can accept that it's never going to happen and move on with her life.
So let's talk about the Iowa offense.
I'll be honest: I've been the jilted lover of the New Kirk Ferentz Offense for something like a decade. I've fallen for it more times than I can count. I fell for it in 2010, when Iowa was running some spread-ish stuff in September, only to return to its old love, the outside zone, in the fall. I fell for it in 2011, when Ferentz and Ken O'Keefe went four-wide no-huddle to beat Pitt, shifted from 22 personnel into a five-wide set on the first play against Louisiana-Monroe...and then abandoned it all after a quarter at Penn State the following week. Oh, I fell for it so hard in 2011.
I thought Iowa would maybe come into this millennium when O'Keefe left after 2011, but then Ferentz hired Greg Davis and talked about "foolin' around with tempo" and "merging" Davis's offense into his, which of course meant that Iowa would go back to the run-first, run-second outside zone at the first sign of failure, and it did. There were even some moments in 2014 where it seemed the Hawkeyes would break out of their 15-year funk, but of course they didn't.
The moment where I quit looking for clues of a turn: "That's Football," the two-word missive following the 2014 meltdown loss to Nebraska, a game in which Iowa only needed a modicum of second-half offense to win and couldn't find it among all those stretch plays. That was it for me. I was never going to get what I wanted. Kirk was always going to be Kirk, and there was no need to keep reading the tea leaves for clues that he would do otherwise. For the last four years, I haven't even bothered. I have moved on.
So when Mark Emmert at the DMR wrote this week that Iowa is now a passing offense, it was like seeing that my old love had finally divorced that bastard. It didn't get me any closer to my dreams of seeing a modern Iowa offense, so much as it resurrected all the old emotion that came with waiting by the phone for a modern offense to call.
I don't want to go back to that frustration and self-loathing.
I've done so well at not getting hung up on Ferentzball. It's been four years. I've moved on. He can just ride that stretch play to eight wins a year until he eventually retires. Whatever.
I really don't want to go back to that.
Indiana is a pretty good football team. The Hoosiers have a win over Virginia -- the Hoos are pretty terrible, but at least they're ACC -- and a near-miss against Michigan State. They haven't been held under 24 all year; last week, they scored 26 on Ohio State. Their quarterback is a versatile scrambler in the mold of other Indiana quarterbacks who have beaten Iowa before, and he's up against an Iowa defense that will apparently start two freshmen at cornerback and a brand new outside linebacker again.
And so, like last week, Iowa will probably have to score some points if it wants to win Saturday. In the past, this is the scenario where Ferentz reverts to his old ways and just tries to bleed enough clock to make a 17-10 lead hold up. And when it doesn't, well, that's football, he says, and I hate myself for believing that he's changed.
You would never get Ferentz to change his stripes to look like Oregon or Louisville, because he's a pro guy applying pro principles to the college game. But Iowa's offense hasn't resembled a pro-style offense for nearly a decade, and maybe Brian came over to the house and turned on Kansas City or the L.A. Rams a couple of weeks ago, and Kirk saw what was possible. Maybe Kirk saw where the opportunities at that final, career-defining Big Ten run were missed against Wisconsin and has vowed not to let his infatuation with a single running play diminish his legacy any longer. Maybe that's why we saw the reins loosened in Minneapolis last Saturday, and why we might see even more in Bloomington tomorrow.
Oh God, it's finally happening, isn't it?