The Good: The Defense for Three Quarters
Iowa’s defense actually played well for the three quarters that this was a sporting football contest. Well, I suppose you could argue that it was never actually a sporting contest but maybe that’s a conversation for later. After giving up two big plays that led to a 14-0 Michigan lead, the Wolverine offense did the following:
Three and out.
Three and out.
The Wolverines only truly put together a sustained drive that made Iowa look bad when they came out of half and went 10 plays, for 82 yards and a touchdown. And even then, when Iowa’s offense stalled out after a 14-play, 60-yard drive, Iowa’s defense held strong one last time, forcing a three and out to close out the third quarter.
The Hawkeye offense only put together a measly 13 yards on the next drive, Tory Taylor’s punt was blocked, Michigan took over at the Iowa 36-yard line and at that point, Phil’s valiant unit just couldn’t do it anymore. The flood gates were then opened. For the overwhelming majority of the first half, Iowa's defense did the job and made it a football game. The offense didn't return the favor.
The Bad & The Ugly: The Exposure of the Ferentz System
You could do a thousand words of post mortem on this game. Patrick did a Twitter thread with his thoughts, which are similar to mine. Before we get there, let’s talk about something Kirk Ferentz did multiple times in the Big Ten Championship Game. After going down 21-3, Iowa finally made the decision to go with Alex Padilla, and the result was a 14-play drive that ended with…whatever the hell this is:
Iowa fans, you deserve better than this. pic.twitter.com/BZ0D9URAwY— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) December 5, 2021
A lot to be said about Iowa running a passing play out of a Power-I formation with one wide-receiver but hey, that’s not the point. Following that drive, Iowa’s defense held firm and forced Michigan to punt, giving the Hawkeyes the ball back at their own 23 yard line. The offense sputtered, ending up at their own 36 yard line, facing a 4th and 8. The result was…a punt. A punt! Down 21-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, Kirk Ferentz punted. And I’ll do you one better!
After Michigan blocked that punt and scored to go up 28-3, Iowa’s offense took the field, once again stalled, facing a 4th and 5 on their own 30-yard line and Ferentz…decided to punt! Down 28-3 in the fourth quarter! Guess what happened when Michigan got the ball back?! They drove right down the field and scored, making the game 35-3!
When Ferentz punted down 21-3, I knew Iowa was waving the white flag. That saddened me. What also saddened me was that I think Kirk believed that Harbaugh would be chivalrous, recognize that Iowa was waving the white flag and as a fellow gentleman, wouldn’t embarrass the Hawkeyes off the field. As a gentleman, if Kirk Ferentz were up 21-3, that’s what he would do.
But Jim Harbaugh isn’t paid to be a gentleman. Jim Harbaugh is paid to win football games. And with the opportunity to finally win the Big Ten after six seasons of “underachieving,” he was going to do it, in convincing fashion. And he did.
With that, I came to a few realizations. The first was that Iowa will not win a Big Ten Championship under Kirk Ferentz before he retires. Over the past 5-10 years he has unquestionably raised the floor of this football program. Iowa will not have bad seasons. However, with the system he has in place, there will not be elite seasons, either. By elite I mean winning the conference. Iowa will come close. They might even make a Big Ten Championship Game again. But what I saw on Saturday was that Michigan was simply superior to Iowa in both athleticism and play-calling. The system allowed Iowa to keep it close for a while. But that same system failed on offense, the defense wore down, and the result was a blowout.
Second, chivalry is dead. Extremely Decent Person Kirk Ferentz is, by all accounts, an Extremely Decent Person. But he’s not paid to be a Decent Person. Like everyone else, he’s paid to win football games. He does, for the most part, win football games. But he does not, for the most part, win those football games against elite competition, when those games actually matter. So, for example, you’ll see that Kirk Ferentz has been dominating Minnesota and Iowa State as of late. Great! That’s fun for shit-talking purposes. But Minnesota and Iowa State aren’t the class of the Big Ten West. Wisconsin is the class of the Big Ten West. And Kirk Ferentz is 2-5 against Paul Chryst.
Third, this is how it is. Kirk Ferentz will not change his player development, laughably conservative offense, and bend don’t break defensive system. Those parts make up the greater Ferentz System. He will not fire Brian Ferentz. He might “reassign” him but anyone he replaces him with will run the same style of offense. He will always start the “safer” option at quarterback and if the “riskier” option somehow wins a quarterback contest, he will condition the risk out of that quarterback. If the most talented player on the field fumbles, that player will be taken off the field. Union cards defeat raw talent. These are a few axioms of the System. They will not change.
So, for the fourth year in a row and the eighth time in the past decade, Iowa will play in a respectable, not New Year’s Six, bowl game. Their opponent is someone familiar to Ferentz, someone that has built his own System and established a floor of respectability at Kentucky, a historical SEC doormat. Will Ferentz coach to win the game, in convincing fashion? Or will he coach to be chivalrous to a member of the Stoops family? Here’s the worst question of all: In the grand scheme of where Iowa football is going, does it really matter?