Iowa Hawkeye Football: What Happend to the Bullies of the Big Ten?
I am not from Iowa.
I never attended the University of Iowa.
I never lived in the state of Iowa.
But I am an Iowa Hawkeye football fan.
My connection to the Hawks comes from my significant other, who is from Iowa, went to U of I, was born into a Hawkeye family and has been a Hawkeye fan since birth. In other words, she's much the same as 90 percent of all other Iowa fans—her connection is entirely emotional.
I met her in 2000 and shortly thereafter, was introduced not only to Iowa football but college football—being an East coast native, I'd always been into pro football.
Slowly but surely, I fell in love with Iowa football. Third-year coach Kirk Ferentz, after two years of slow but painful progress, led his squad to bowl eligibility, and, for three miraculous seasons—2002-2004—the Hawks were in the upper echelon of college football.
It could be said that my timing was just right to get on the Iowa bandwagon, but that wasn't it.
I appreciated the way Ferentz ran his team. His philosophy was simple and reflected the state that his program represented. The focus wasn't on flash and dash or the emergent spread schemes. His team played smart football.
Everybody had his role, whether it was the quarterback, right guard, strong-side linebacker or a blocker on the punt team.
Defensive players were solid, fundamental tacklers, receivers didn't drop passes, linemen on both sides of the ball knew their assignments and there were never special teams breakdowns.
Moreover, player development was key. Iowa couldn't—and can't—get the top recruits. In effect, juniors and seniors that had spent time in the system and in the weight room made the greatest contributions.
Most importantly, the team progressed as the year went on. The squad that suited up in November was palpably better than the one that took the field in early September.
My connection to the Hawkeyes was intellectual—an appreciation for the way Ferentz ran his football team—and that intellectual connection led to an emotional connection.
Wins weren't the issue, but according to Ferentz's philosophy, if the little things were taken care of, the big things would take care of themselves. Thus, by being sound and smart football players that were committed entirely to the team, the wins would, and did, come.
With this in mind, fast forward to 2012, or more specifically, 2012 after Iowa lost to Indiana and fell to sub-.500 for the first time since 2007.
The past three years have seen the Hawkeyes slide from a program that played consistently smart football—and because of that could reasonably be considered one of the top 25 programs in the country—to a team that regularly shoots itself in the foot and seems ill-prepared for almost every situation in which they are involved.
Players don't seem to know their roles. For evidence of this, see the Central Michigan onside-kick fiasco.
Defensive players regularly forget how to tackle. See the final minutes of the first half of the Indiana game for corroboration.
Receivers drop balls. A lot of them. Pick virtually any game during the 2012 football season.
Meanwhile, this season, there has been scant evidence of the most important element—player development.
In some fairness, Iowa is one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten, but those young players haven't shown much improvement as the year has worn on.
Even worse, the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes—the ones that should be leading the team this year—have experienced severe attrition or have failed to make major contributions (as recently detailed by Hawkeyenation).
Furthermore, the few upperclassmen that have been major contributors this season have, by and large, regressed or stagnated from where they were last year.
Complicating all of these matters is Kirk Ferentz himself.
I understand conservatism. I am as conservative as they come. I despise change, I double-knot my shoelaces and all of the bills in my wallet face the same direction, ones on the outside and higher denominations on the inside.
However, Ferentz's issue is not conservatism. He is risk-aversive to the point of having his head in a cloud.
Down by three and punting the ball on 4th-and-inches with 4:43 to go in the fourth quarter, thereby putting the game in the hands of a defense that had been unable to stop its opponent—that is not conservative.
More than anything else, that is not smart football.
As such, it is difficult to understand where Ferentz is going or if he's lost his way.
It is understood that college football ebbs and flows much more than the professional version, and this is especially true at a non-blue blood program like Iowa.
The problem is the program's current trajectory does not seem to be a matter of ebbing and flowing or even wins and losses.
It is sloppy football. It is ugly football. It is unpleasant-to-watch football. It is young players that are failing to develop. It is coaches that seem intent on fitting square pegs in round holes.
It is boring football.
It is losing football, but the wins and losses aren't the issue.
I still believe the style of football that Kirk Ferentz ran in 2002 could work in 2012, despite the hyper-offensive age that college football has now entered.
The problem is the only thing that remains from the 2002 version of Iowa football are the schemes. The attitude and philosophy seem to be gone.
There is nothing about the 2012 Iowa Hawkeyes that resembles the smart football that drew me in, and that makes it difficult to maintain the emotional connection that has kept me waiting and hoping for a turnaround.
Because the fact of the matter is this football team is stupid, boring and almost impossible to watch.
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