Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Iowa-Ohio State Whether You're from Mars, Hollywood or Chicago

Kirk Ferentz acted as though the question came from Mars.

And maybe it did.

Or at least Hollywood, where there’s always a lot of make-believe.

After all, the questioner said her name was Jennifer Jones, and a very attractive actress named Jennifer Jones won the 1943 Academy Award for best actress for her role in the movie “The Song of Bernadette.” Jones also wasn’t bad in “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” in 1955.

But this Jennifer Jones [and I know absolutely nothing about her looks, or if she’s ever appeared in “The Song of Bernadette”] said she worked for the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m betting she’s a sportswriter.

It was today’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference—something all coaches love to participate in. I think most of them compare it a lot to being called into the athletic director’s office and hearing the words, “You’re not winning enough games and, if you don’t beat the last five teams on the schedule, I’m firing you.”

Ferentz was fielding questions about the conference opener his Iowa team will be playing at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ohio State.

“Hi, coach,” Jennifer from Chicago asked. “With this game against Ohio State this week, what do you think is at stake in terms of any national title hopes and also the Big Ten title?”

[This was when I think Ferentz was wondering if Jennifer from Chicago was really from Mars or Hollywood].

“Well,” responded Ferentz, whose team has a 2-1 record, “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the way we played the first three weeks. We’ve been playing OK at best and certainly not OK a couple of weeks ago [in a 23-3 loss at Iowa State].

“We did a lot of good things this past Saturday [in a 45-21 victory over Division I-AA Northern Iowa], but a lot of things really need attention. We’re not even thinking about that [I assume he meant the national and Big Ten championships].

“We’re a little bit more smaller-focus kind of football team. I’m more focused on us starting conference play. Knowing the strength in our conference and, obviously, I think Iowa State—err, Ohio State—has every right to be thinking about the national title picture…..they’re used to that, they’ve earned that right. We look at their football team and the challenges they present, and we’ve got our hands more than just worrying about this weekend.”

Ferentz added that “it’s going to be a very challenging eight-game [Big Ten] stretch we have in front of us. If we don’t start improving a little quicker, it’s not going to be good.”

Jennifer Jones – the one from Chicago, not Mars or Hollywood -- wasn’t finished.

“Even the Big Ten title you’re not thinking about?” she asked Ferentz, seemingly not believing what she just heard.

“I think that’s more media talk,” Ferentz said. “And fan talk. All I know is that if you’re going to have a chance to win a title, that really becomes apparent in November—if you’re in the race or not.

“If you don’t take care of business in September and October, none of that is going to matter. I’m just more in tune with what our concern areas are right now. Hopefully, we can improve those real quickly because, knowing the strength of the conference, if we don’t get moving here, we’re going to get left behind real fast.”

Ohio State is a 6 ½-point favorite – a smaller spread than some people might expect –to win in a game that will be televised regionally by ABC. The Buckeyes have lost only to Texas in three games.

Ohio State lost last season at Iowa, 33-7, and the Hawkeyes outgained the Buckeyes in total yardage, 448-177. I’ve been paying attention to Ohio State football for well over a half-century, and that was the worst game I’ve ever seen the Buckeyes play.

I think coach Jim Tressel’s necktie was even a little crooked after the game.

I’m also pretty certain that Woody Hayes rolled over in his grave that afternoon. Not just once, either. A half-dozen times. I mean, the whole cemetery rocked.

But I didn’t feel sorry for Tressel or his players on that Oct. 16, 2004 afternoon. I remember when Ohio State poured it on Iowa, 83-21, in 1950—even though I’m not blaming Tressel or his players for that one.

I assume Tressel permitted all of his guys to board the team plane after the whuppin’ they took in Iowa City. Tressel showed that he knows something about coaching, taking Ohio State to an eventual 8-4 record.

“I think the Big Ten is going to be a very strong conference this season,” Tressel said today, “and we start out with an awfully strong opponent in Iowa. They’ve dropped a game, but they didn’t have their quarterback that day.”

Hawkeye quarterback Drew Tate left the game against Iowa State early after suffering a concussion while making a tackle.

“We haven’t done the little things across the board,” Tressel said. “Everyone talks about what we haven’t done at quarterback, but we could talk about everything down the line where we need to get better. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Of last year’s loss at Iowa, Tressel said, “Like all Big Ten games, if you don’t play great you’re going to learn some very difficult lessons and have some harsh reality brought forward. I just think that after that game we did a good job of slowly trying to get better.

“We thought by the end of the year—in games 11 and 12—we were playing much better. But we faced a very good Iowa team, and every year Iowa is a good team. They took care of things from top to bottom [against us].”

Vol. 4, No. 379
Sept. 20, 2005