Nov. 12, 2006
Kirk Ferentz this week faces the greatest challenge in his eight years as Iowa’s football coach.
his Hawkeyes are staggering down the stretch and someway – somehow — Kirk has to bring them across the finish line with their heads up, smiling about a victory.
This is an unfamiliar scene for Hawkeye fans, who have become accustomed to watching their favorite team play its best football in November. In the last four years Iowa won 85 percent of its November games. The record was 11-2.
But that is not the case in 2006. The Hawkeyes lost their first two games this month – all the more stunning because both were at Kinnick Stadium — and have only one more chance to break into the victory column.
The opportunity comes Saturday at Minnesota.
Ferentz and his staff have some serious coaching to do this week. They’ve got to find a way to stop the bleeding, beat the Gophers and ensure a sixth straight winning season for the Hawkeyes.
The coaches and players – to say nothing of the fans — need to end the regular season on a high note and go to a bowl game with their heads up. They need a win to regain some confidence and self esteem. And don’t forget Floyd of Rosedale.
At midseason Iowa would have been a solid favorite at Minnesota, but that is no longer the case. The teams are going in opposite directions. While the Hawkeyes have slipped this month, the Gophers have soared, scoring 94 points while beating Indiana and Michigan State.
Even more troublesome, Iowa is going to face a hot quarterback in Bryan Cupito, a battle-tested, record-setting senior. That is bad news for a Hawkeye defense that has just made two little-known quarterbacks look like Heisman hopefuls.
Iowa can take comfort in its five straight victories over the Gophers. The 2002 and 2004 Hawkeye teams went to the MetroDome needing a win to guarantee a Big Ten championship, and they both got it.
Those teams had playmakers and exceptional senior leadership. They also had momentum and the wind at their backs.
The current Iowa team is swimming upstream against a current that gets stronger every week. Yes, Kirk Ferentz has his greatest challenge as Iowa’s coach this week.
Kirk Ferentz told the press after the Wisconsin game, “We have not played consistently in any area.” Then he repeated the same words for emphasis. Some of the inconsistencies that unfolded against the Badgers:
P.J. Hill, the big Wisconsin tailback who leads the Big Ten in rushing by a wide margin, was not a factor. Iowa’s defense held him to a meager 77 yards in 28 carries. But Tyler Donovan burned the Hawkeyes with quarterback draws and scrambles, and many of his runs were critical in scoring drives.
Iowa’s offense was unstoppable in the second quarter, with 183 total yards and two well-executed scoring drives that featured big plays. In the third period the Hawkeyes had only 17 yards and no first downs.
Iowa’s defense held the Badgers to five three-and-out possessions. But the visitors had a 97-yard, 15-play drive to score their fourth and deciding touchdown.
Iowa’s offense averaged a season-high 6.1 yards per play. But the Hawkeyes ran only 50 snaps from scrimmage because it had the ball only 21 minutes.
Four Iowa defenders – Marcus Pascal, Mike Klinkenborg, Edmond Miles and Matt Kroul – all had 10 or more tackles, mainly because Wisconsin had the ball for 39 minutes.
Drew Tate equaled a career-high three touchdown passes, but he completed only seven other attempts and had 21 incompletions.
Tate and Scott Chandler hooked up on a 64-yard pass. It is Iowa’s longest play of the year and set up a touchdown. It was also the only pass Chandler – Iowa’s leading receiver — caught.
CRADLE OF COACHES
During its telecast of the game, ESPN had graphics and photos that highlighted five major college coaches who played at Iowa. Bret Bielema is at Wisconsin, Chuck Long at San Diego State, Dan McCarney at Iowa State, Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Mike Stoops at Arizona.
Bielema and Bob Stoops will have their teams in January bowl games. Mike Stoops got his biggest win at Arizona Saturday night when his Wildcats upset California.