Dienhart: Iowa builds season to remember

Minnesota has been lauded for its feats this season. And rightly so. Michigan State also has received many plaudits for a stunningly successful season that saw the Spartans clinch the Legends Division today. Ohio State has been in the spotlight all season, stacking win after win after win. Impressive.

But what about Iowa? Yep, it’s time for the Hawkeyes to take a bow.

Today’s methodical 24-21 win over Michigan was a perfect snapshot of this year’s team—and of the Hawkeye program during the steady stewardship of Kirk Ferentz: Low on style and panache. High on grit and determination.

“We’ve been taking it a step at a time, a week at a time. It all started right after the season when we met,” said Ferentz. “We figured we’d get plenty of suggestions, plenty of critiques from the outside, so we didn’t spend too much time on that. But our attitude is we’re going to go back to work and try to do what we do, do it better, do it with more quality, and just see if we couldn’t improve.”

Iowa 2013 results
Date Opponent Result / Time
8/31 vs. Northern Illinois L 27 – 30
9/7 vs. Missouri State W 28 – 14
9/14 at Iowa State W 27 – 21
9/21 vs. Western Michigan W 59 – 3
9/28 at Minnesota W 23 – 7
10/5 vs. Michigan State L 14 – 26
10/19 at 4 Ohio State L 24 – 34
10/26 vs. Northwestern W 17 – 10
11/2 vs. 22 Wisconsin L 9 – 28
11/9 at Purdue W 38 – 14
11/23 vs. Michigan W 24-21
11/29 at Nebraska 12:00 ET

Mission accomplished. What’s going on today in Iowa City makes last season seem like a lifetime ago. No doubt, 2012 may have been a nadir under Ferentz, as Iowa went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten. The grumbling was loud, as Iowa missed a bowl for the first time since 2007.

The coaching staff had been altered, with the biggest change being new coordinator Greg Davis coming aboard with the specter of sprucing up an offense that had grown stale. But, the results weren’t overwhelming.

Iowa finished 11th in the Big Ten in total offense (310.4 ypg) in 2012. The passing game was a big disappointment, finishing seventh in the league (187.4 ypg) and throwing a conference-low seven touchdown passes. It was frustrating.

But fast-forward to 2013, and it’s a much brighter picture in Iowa City. But the season began with questions nagging the 2013 Hawkeyes. That’s why they were almost a universal pick to finish fifth in the Legends Division, ahead of only Minnesota. It seems funny now, huh?

Then, the season began with a tough 30-27 loss to a good Northern Illinois team. Hindsight has shown that loss wasn’t bad. And since then, the Hawkeyes have moved forward. The defense has been the backbone. The unit entered the day No. 3 overall in the Big Ten (319.2 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring defense (18.7 ppg).

“I think during the course of the year they’ve really grown,” said Ferentz. “I think our front guys have done a good job. They’re working hard, they’re digging hard, and for the most part did a pretty good job of containing today which we struggled with a year ago at this time. That was good to see, and our linebackers have been playing super all along. The secondary I thought played really aggressively too and that was outstanding.”

The offense also has been outstanding … some of the time. Still, it’s improvement is what has allowed Iowa to reach these unexpected heights. Entering today, the unit ranked seventh overall in the Big Ten (398.4 ypg) and seventh in passing (204.0 ypg). But most important, the Hawkeyes are 7-4 with a shot at perhaps landing a New Year’s Day bowl bid.

On this day, the Hawkeyes notched 408 yards with 169 coming on the ground and 239 in the air, as Iowa was able to overcome four turnovers and still prevail. The Hawkeyes outscored Michigan, 17-0, in the second half after trailing 21-7, beating the Wolverines for a third time in a row in Kinnick Stadium for the first time ever.

Quarterback Jake Rudock wasn’t at his best, hitting 19-of-30 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and three picks. So, this was a day Iowa turned to running backs Mark Weisman (88 yards rushing) and Jordan Canzeri (50)—along with that killer defense led by coordinator Phil Parker.

“I think the biggest thing, I think we grew up a little bit today,” said Ferentz. “So some of the younger guys caught up to the seniors a little bit, and that was good to see.”

A closer look at Iowa’s record is more revealing, as the teams (Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State) that the Hawkeyes have lost to are a combined 37-3. Iowa finishes the season on Friday at Nebraska.

“I don’t want to say mistakes totally, but we made it hard on ourselves,” said Ferentz. “Any time you turn it over a couple of times, which we did, give them the short field, which we did, that really made it tough. So we were doing some good things, but not enough.”

Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, arriving in 1999 and now in his 15th season. Some wondered about the direction of the program. Since going 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten in 2009, things seemingly had flattened out under Ferentz. Iowa was 19-19 overall and 10-14 in the Big Ten the three seasons prior to 2013. Now, order has been restored to this proud program. The lesson: never doubt Ferentz.

What’s next for Michigan? The Wolverines finish the regular season at home vs. Ohio State. And it will do so with an offense that remains, well, a mess. Michigan had just 158 yards, the third time in the last four games the attack had less than 200 yards. The Wolverines couldn’t run (60 yards on 29 carries) and couldn’t pass (13-of-28 for 98 yards) in what has become an increasingly frustrating season for Michigan. For Iowa, the fun seemingly is just beginning.

“I’ve said it many times, I continue to give to credit to our senior class,” said Ferentz. “They’ve done a wonderful job, and our juniors have been great too. We have a lot of guys that act like seniors in that junior class. They’ve set the tempo.”

And it’s time for all of the Hawkeyes to take a bow, in what has become a season to remember.

***

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Show Comments (8 Comments)
8 Post Your Comment
Faygo on 11/23/2013 @ 6:38pm EDT Said:

Good for Iowa. I don’t really like them very much, but respect them, and suspect that’s all they want. Beating Meechigan and their endlessly underdeveloped 4 and 5 star recruits is very satisfying for this Spartan. I’ll be rooting for the Hawkeyes and the conference in the nice bowl game they will no doubt end up in.

johnny football on 11/23/2013 @ 8:55pm EDT Said:

Never question Ferentz? C’mon, Tom. Kirk has so many issues it would take a book to catalog them all. Iowa’s players not only have to overcome the opponent but their own incredibly inept offensive and special teams coaching. Play calling and personnel decisions, fake punts allowed, onside kicks given up, clock mismanagement… It goes on and on. With decent coaching, Iowa should be no worse than 9-2 now. Kirk took a Rose Bowl or national championship caliber 2010 team filled with NFL draft choices and turned it into a 7-5 train wreck. The man makes $4 million a year, plays a creampuff schedule filled with the likes of Missouri State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Arkansas State, and Northern Iowa and is happy to be one of 70 teams that are “bowl eligible.” Color me unimpressed. This season will be nothing special at all unless Iowa goes to Nebraska next Friday and comes back to Iowa City with a win. Anything less and the 7-5 record will be little reason to celebrate for those who are paying attention.

matt on 11/24/2013 @ 10:50am EDT Said:

As a Hawkeye fan, a ‘Season to Remember’ is a bit much. 2009 was a season to remember and 2012 was definitely a season to forget. This season is a nice turnaround though and reminds me a lot of 2001 when after coming off some horrific seasons, Iowa more or less won all the games they should have and lost a few where they were outmatched. I hope like 2001, this year leads to a season like in 2002 for the Hawkeyes, which was definitely another ‘Season to remember’…

John D. Hinckley on 11/24/2013 @ 6:54pm EDT Said:

Johnny football and matt are right on the money., Ferentz and his horrible coaching staff don’t care about winning. They care only about the money they make. The biggest problem is Ferentz has a humongous buyout in his contract if the university fires him and they can’t afford it. So we are stuck with him.

keith on 11/25/2013 @ 12:28pm EDT Said:

Ferentz definitely has his issues. His greatest strength however can not be overlooked. He takes 3 star talent and make NFL players. He may be the best developer of talent in all of college football. Yes, he has had shortfalls and players that have never came through physically, issues with players mentally, and staffing changes. These are gambles that our program will have to make in order to be successful . We are lucky to have Ferentz. If he was a coach for Michigan or Nebraska they would be unbeatable. Though I have to admit, he is no Hayden Fry. Who may be the best developer of coahing talent in CF history.

Richard Thomas on 11/25/2013 @ 9:39pm EDT Said:

Two BCS games, 10 bowl games total, 3-2 record in bowl games against SEC teams…I’d say Kirk has done just fine given the hurdles that come with what is now the second smallest state by population in the Big Ten (Nebraska became No. 1 in that category when it joined the league.). A superior coach who also graduates his student-athletes and contributes to the community…. I agree with Keith. Give Kirk what the resources they have at PSU, OSU, UMich and you’d have a program that would be unbeatable.

Derek on 11/26/2013 @ 12:27am EDT Said:

Agree 100% with Keith, very lucky to have Ferentz. He may be paid alot but in this completely different world of college football(compared to when Hayden was coaching) he is doing pretty darn good for a state like Iowa. Fans like John and Johnny are the type that make me embarrassed to say they are Hawk fans. But they will disguise it as they just want to win and dont want to settle for mediocrity junk. Open you eyes and educate yourselves, this isnt a video game. Good job Ferentz. Go Hawks.

    John D. Hinckley on 11/26/2013 @ 11:56am EDT Said:

    Derek, you must be a very mediocre person with a very mediocre life. Anyone that would say what you said has to be satisfied with always being 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th best. Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like to be a champion year after year in what you do? I have been a die hard Hawkeye for almost 60 years and seen really good teams with good coaching and really bad teams with bad coaching(Frank Lauterber or Bob Commings ring a bell?) Don’t you ever say anything about me like you did in your post. You have no idea who I am. It’s obvious to me that you are a snot-nosed kid who doesn’t know anything. And, who would name their kid Derek??

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