Thursday, September 23, 2004

Iowa 'Not a Real Strong Team Now'

Kirk Ferentz isn’t trying to fool anyone.

“We’re not a real strong football team right now,” Iowa’s football coach said as the countdown continued toward Saturday’s Big Ten Conference opener at Michigan.

More than a few of us began wondering if Iowa might be headed for trouble after it survived Iowa State, 17-10, a couple of weeks ago.
Then reality came last week at Tempe, AZ.

Lightning struck more than once in the game against Arizona State.

The Sun Devils won, 44-7, and there was nothing pretty to report from the Iowa sideline.

The Hawkeyes have been sliced and diced every way possible in the days since. We’re back to hearing that Ferentz can’t coach his way out of a paper bag to offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe couldn’t get a game plan together that would score a touchdown against Solon High School.

I didn’t realize Ferentz, who won 11 games in 2002 and 10 in 2003, got so dumb in such a hurry.

Suddenly, the guy who was supposed to be able to turn a bunch of stiffs that played tight end two years ago into offensive linemen like Robert Gallery, Eric Steinbach and Bruce Nelson doesn’t know Drew Tate from Drew Brees.

It wasn’t long ago that Iowa was ranked 12th nationally. Now guys who think they know football say the Hawkeyes won’t win another game.

ABC quickly jumped on the Iowa-Michigan game for one of its regional telecasts Saturday. After all, Michigan is….well, Michigan.

The fight song, “Hail to the Victors.” The winged helmets. Tom Harmon. The 105,000-seat stadium aka the Big House. Fielding Yost. Fritz Crisler. Bo Schembechler. Gary Moeller. Lloyd Carr.

Well, delete Gary Moeller.

Lloyd Carr, too.

Carr, whose Michigan teams have lost two straight games to Iowa – 34-9 at the Big House in 2002 and 30-27 before 70,397 unbelieving spectators last season in Iowa City – is somehow still doing the coaching.

Consequently, Iowa [overrated or not] will always—repeat, always—have a chance.


To illustrate that emotions are running high when it comes to Hawkeye football, my West Coast Correspondent just checked in with his latest thoughts via special delivery.

Well, special e-mail delivery anyway.

Here goes:

The Hawks weren't the only ones to suffer a total breakdown last
weekend. I left L.A. for Tempe on Friday with a planned stop in Palm
Springs to see a gal friend. I didn't step foot out of the beautiful
Coachella Valley until departing for L.A. at 2:30 a.m. Monday. It
turned out to be the best decision I've made in a while.

Needless to say, I didn't see a stitch of the game Saturday night. So
as far as the reaction of Iowa fans and friends in the media, I can't
say, although I have been in contact with numerous witnesses to the
carnage. I finally got the courage to view the tape Monday night and
have a few comments.

I didn't understand Ferentz calling a timeout with 20 seconds left in
the first half. Like Iowa was going to block a punt or something, maybe
even score an offensive touchdown? Koetter threw it in his face, having
Walter throw yet another long pass that resulted in a field goal.
Nobody saw this coming from Arizona State. Northwestern had more yards
than the Sun Devils did when the teams played the previous Saturday.

That's the same Northwestern that gave up 525 yards and 48 points to
TCU, a member of Conference USA, an odd collection of BCS wannabes that
includes Southern Mississippi, which brazenly treaded upon the Tiger
Hawk copyright and hired former Iowa public enemy No. 1, Larry

In a nutshell, I'm not sold on the ASU defense, but they might begin to
think they are good with the way they handled Iowa. Little do they know
it has more to do with Iowa's inept horizontal offense than anything
ASU did. But hey, they're kids and you can make them believe almost

Walter is the real deal if not pressured. He couldn't beat you or I in
a five-yard dash, but Iowa didn't get close to touching him. Arizona
State made sure of that. Koetter resists the urge to flood the field
with receivers and keeps Walter surrounded by blockers. Given time,
Walter will pick apart a defense.

Jovon Johnson was Walter's primary victim. He looked like a fool out
there. But the good news: Jovan and the rest of the Hawkeyes won't be
seeing a thrower like Walter the rest of the season. Orton will be the
closest thing.

If this sounds like an indictment of the defense, it's not. They will
respond and clean up their tackling. My concern rests squarely with the
offensive line. They can't knock anybody off the ball. If Walter Payton
ran behind this rag-tag bunch, his NFL career would have been over in a
season or two. At this point, they couldn't sustain a block to save
their lives.

Expect more of the same in the coming weeks: teams stacking the box and
blitzing from all corners, challenging Iowa to beat them with the pass
because they can't run. The problem here is that it's difficult to pass
with rushers making a beeline to the quarterback. To add to the mix,
the running backs are lousy blockers. Countless times I watched an ASU
defender run through or over an attempted block by a back to pressure
quarterback Tate. Unacceptable. Rest assured that Hawkeye opponents
will be viewing this tape like it's "Passion of the Christ."

Michigan is no great shakes, starting a freshman quarterback, but I'm
not sure Iowa is going to score. Outside of Illinois -- maybe --
there's not an easy game left on the schedule. You are probably looking
at a 4-7 or best-case 5-6 unless the offensive line has a sudden
transformation that baffles all. I suspect by the seventh or eighth
game they will get it together, but at that point, what will be left to
play for?

I fear for Tate's health. Unless, of course, the three-and-outs
continue, which translates into fewer opportunities for him to get
seriously injured. If that's the case, they better get punter Bradley's
backup ready. At this rate, Bradley is likely to suffer leg fatigue by

Amazing, isn't it? A program wins 21 games in two seasons, then falls
-- as Johnny Cash would say -- into a burning ring of fire at Tempe. I
suspect Ferentz will start playing kids the second half of the season
to build for the future. And why not? Without hope, what do you have?
Unfortunately, longtime Iowa followers know this drill far too well.
I'm glad the use of alcohol was OK'd in the luxury suites they are
building at Kinnick Stadium because if this continues, expect record
sales. Maybe it's not too late to turn that planned plaza just south of
the Kinnick into a vineyard or something to help meet the swelling

The Hawkeyes come West about once every six years, it seems. I guess
some Iowa fans had last weekend circled for years. What a
disappointment for such great people. I remember that humbling 1994
loss at Oregon. That summer in Autzen Stadium, the Grateful Dead sold
out the joint. A forgettable 3-8-1 Hawaii team visited Oregon two weeks
before the Iowa game and humbled the Ducks, 36-16. Then Utah roared
into Eugene and shredded the hometown team, 34-16. Realtors were
badgering Coach Rich Brooks for the expected sale of his house when he
was fired at season's end. What is a floundering Pac-10 team to do?
Play the Hawkeyes.

Autzen was half-empty that Saturday, and half of the crowd donned the
black and gold. But true to the formula, the Ducks had their way with
the Hawkeyes with a 40-18 victory. And like Saturday's game against
Arizona State, Iowa's best play was a punt return for a touchdown, this
one punctuated by a questionable 15-yard penalty for excessive
celebration (a nice touch when you are getting drilled). The sleepy
campus, known best for being the backdrop of "Animal House," suddenly
had something to celebrate other than John Belushi's seven years of
college down the drain. The given-up-for-dead Ducks used the victory as
a springboard to the Rose Bowl.

And who could forget that 1998 game against Arizona in Tucson? Dick
Tomey was on the hot seat and not much was expected of the Wildcats. In
come the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats ran them over, 35-11, leading to
Hayden Fry's exit at season's end. The Wildcats? Tomey's troops
finished a school-best 12-1, including a victory over then-powerful
Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

Given Iowa's follies on trips West, Pac-10 teams should be lining up to
play the Hawkeyes.

If memory serves me right, Iowa's next journey to Pac-10 territory will
be in 2010 to Tucson. Oh joy! The Wildcats are the only Pac-10 team to
have never played in the Rose Bowl, despite Iowa's mighty contribution
to the cause in 1998. If Stoops doesn't have Arizona in the Granddaddy
before then, Wildcat fans certainly have something to look forward to.
And Iowa fans know what to expect on that Saturday. I hope to be in
Palm Springs that weekend.

A tad harsh? Perhaps. But after 44-7, the 2004 Hawkeyes won't find a
shoulder to cry on in L.A.


Michigan 25, Iowa 14

Vol. 4, No. 259
Sept. 23, 2004