STATE COLLEGE, PA. –
Kirk Ferentz still had some coach in him late Saturday afternoon.
During a week when life forced him to fill so many roles, coach probably seemed the least significant.
Ferentz’s father, John, 84, died last Sunday in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., after a lengthy illness. Kirk and his son, Brian, a guard for the Hawkeyes, left the team Tuesday and didn’t join the travel party until Friday afternoon.
The Iowa coach delivered the eulogy at his dad’s funeral Friday. Saturday, he coached the Hawkeyes to a tense touchdown-less 6-4 victory Saturday over Penn State.
Son, brother, dad and coach, it was an emotional churn that ended with the coach holding the game ball in the Iowa locker room.
“What he did, how he handled (it), just showed that he doesn’t want us thinking about him. He wants this about the team,” wideout Ed Hinkel said. “That shows how strong he is. I’m so proud of him.
“Anyone would want to play for a coach like that.”
Sophomore Kyle Schlicher kicked two 27-yard field goals and the Iowa defense made them stand. The No. 25 Hawkeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) have five consecutive victories over Penn State (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten), including four in a row at Beaver Stadium.
Iowa’s defense forced five turnovers, including an interception from each of the four defensive backs.
The crushing turnover came when tackle Tyler Luebke sacked and stripped the ball from quarterback Michael Robinson at the Nittany Lions’ 14-yard line with 2:30 left. Penn State had the ball, 2 minutes and two timeouts. But Iowa’s defense played all day as if it would have the final say. And it did.
Linebacker Chad Greenway recovered, and the Iowa offense held on, draining the last 2:30 off the clock. And it took a little chicanery for that to happen, with quarterback Drew Tate using a hard count to draw PSU offsides on fourth-and-2, picking up one of Iowa’s three first downs in the second half.
“I know what my dad would’ve wanted,” Coach Ferentz said. “My dad was a Hawkeye fan. I darn well know what he wanted. He wanted us to push forward.”
The Ferentz family is a football family, through and through. All but Kirk’s mom, Elsie, and a great-aunt were among the 108,062 fans at Beaver Stadium. Elsie Ferentz might have made it, too, but the great-aunt had to take her to a dialysis treatment Saturday.
“I’m fortunate to be surrounded by great people,” Ferentz said. “I was able to do what I had to do, be with my family, which is the most important thing.
“Today was the best medicine for the entire family. The ache is still there, but this certainly helps.”
What unfolded in front of Ferentz when he put on the headphones Saturday was a three-hour headlock.
It required major-league decision-making. It required a coach at the top of his game.
Ferentz made the call to give Penn State a second safety with 8:04 left in the game. It wasn’t an easy decision, allowing the Lions to pull within two points. But with Iowa’s defense at full bore, it was the right decision.
“It was a gamble,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. “But his defense was playing well. He has a good kicker, and we weren’t going anywhere.”
The play after Ferentz gave Penn State two points, cornerback Jovon Johnson picked off Robinson.
“You could see the game was setting up that way,” linebacker Abdul Hodge said. “We were playing strong, why not put it on us?”
The Hawkeyes held Penn State to 147 yards total offense, the fewest yards given up by a Ferentz-era team.
Free safety Sean Considine, strong safety Marcus Paschal, corner Antwan Allen and Johnson had interceptions. The Hawkeyes came into the game with four interceptions, two by linebackers.
“We definitely had that stat in our heads,” Johnson said. “Coaches brought it up. We knew all about it and so we went out and did something about it.”
Considine, playing his first game since spraining a foot Sept. 25 at Michigan, broke up three passes. Outside linebacker George Lewis knocked PSU quarterback Zack Mills out of the game in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes hounded Mills, knocking him down seven times and hurrying him six more in the first half.
“It makes it really easy when you’re playing behind a front seven like we have,” Considine said. “It’s not like we have to be concerned about them running it down our throats.”
Defensive end Matt Roth had two sacks. Linebacker Chad Greenway and Hodge had 11 tackles apiece.
“That’s what we want our defense to be, the backbone of this team,” Roth said. “It came down to defense and we got a good stop.”
Iowa’s offense saw the toughest defense it’s played since Michigan and couldn’t do anything with it. Tate was off target all day, completing 14 of 31 for 126 yards and an interception. Iowa rushed 40 times for 42 yards.
Tate’s hard-count offsides, fullback Aaron Mickens’ 10-yard run on a third-and-8 to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter, little things like that massaged the defense’s effort. Just enough to win with a baseball score.
“We came in here and won, that’s unreal,” Tate said. “I took a knee against Joe Paterno. That’s going to be with me for a long time.”
It was a scrapbook game for all involved.
The defense, the program, the sliver of black-and-gold fans in the corner of Beaver Stadium end zone.
And for Ferentz, the son, brother, dad and coach.
When his son’s Hawkeyes won a game, John Ferentz would belt out a long “sooey.”
The “sooey” wasn’t there Saturday. But the spirit sure was.