AMES — You know it works more than it doesn’t. Still, when you see it and it doesn’t work, your blood pressure shoots to 350,000 over eleventy billion.
Iowa doesn’t go for it. It’s not coach Kirk Ferentz’s way. It wasn’t in 2009, when Iowa had first down at its 33 with 52 seconds on the clock and a timeout.
And Iowa didn’t go for it in Saturday’s 44-41 triple-overtime loss at Iowa State.
After ISU quarterback Steele Jantz hit Darius Darks for a 4-yard TD with 1:17 left to tie the score, 24-24, the Hawkeyes had the ball at their 20 with 1:17 left on the clock and two timeouts.
First play was a handoff to running back Marcus Coker for a 2-yard gain. Iowa was called for a false start before the next play, making it second-and-13 from Iowa’s 17. That essentially froze the playbook.
Coker rushed for 4 yards and the clock ran to overtime, the first in the Iowa State-Iowa series.
The foot came off the gas. That’s the Tao of Iowa and Kirk Ferentz. Who knows what would’ve happened, but what did happen was overtime. After 13 years, you have to know it’s coming, but, no, that’s not helping your blood pressure at the moment.
“Had we gotten the ball out there, past the 30, we probably would’ve gone with it,” Ferentz said. “We ran the ball on first down, didn’t get much and just got out of there.”
The questions are asked. The answers also won’t do anything for that BP.
The other one you’re not going to like any better.
On Iowa’s third overtime possession, quarterback James Vandenberg tried to find wide receiver Keenan Davis. The pass hit Davis in the 6 on his jersey and fell incomplete to set up a fourth-and-6 at Iowa State’s 21. That’s a no-brainer field goal in every coach’s book.
Then, Iowa State was called for illegal substitution, a 5-yard penalty making it fourth-and-1 at ISU’s 16. Now, it’s a tough call.
On one hand, it’s fourth-and-1. At times Saturday, Iowa’s offensive line drove the Cyclones to Nevada. The first OT possession was one 7-yard pass to Marvin McNutt and four Coker runs into the end zone. So, that’s there. On the other hand, Iowa’s defense couldn’t stop Jantz. The 6-3, 223-pound juco continually broke contain and simply made plays, eventually driving the Cyclones to three overtime TDs.
Iowa probably wasn’t stopping the Cyclones. The Iowa coaches knew this. They watched Jantz compile a pass efficiency of 166.58, which would’ve led the Big Ten last season. Iowa forced just two three-and-outs all afternoon.
Ferentz made the call to put it on the defense. Sophomore Mike Meyer drilled a 34-yard field goal to give Iowa the short-lived 41-38 lead.
“I thought just get the points right there,” Ferentz said. “I was confident we’d get a stop, or I was hopeful we would get a stop.”
The conservative percentage approach is what Iowa is under Ferentz. It has worked more than it hasn’t. It has worked with better defenses. Jantz shredded the percentages Saturday.
Jantz set off a storm of students bull rushing the field. Jantz sent the Cyclones streaming to the Iowa sideline for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Iowa receiver Nick Nielsen got caught in the middle and nearly swallowed.
It took a second for the Cyclones to find the trophy. They didn’t seem to mind its interim status.
Every game is “Jenga” for the Hawkeyes. You know, the puzzle game where players pull pieces and score points before the wooden blocks collapse. This is why Iowa hasn’t lost by more than nine points since 2007. Every game is close, percentage close.
That is the “works more” of the Ferentz way in action. It’s also a blessing and curse that the “than it doesn’t” times scream out. You screamed at Ohio State 2009, first down, 33-yard line, 52 seconds and a timeout. You screamed it again Saturday.
You screamed when the clock ran down in regulation. You screamed again on the fourth-and-1 field goal. You love Ferentz during the “works more.” You meltdown during the “than it doesn’t” moments. And you should, that’s your part in this. Of course, it won’t move Ferentz.
And you know that even in their hearts if the players wanted go for it, they weren’t going to say that out loud in front of cameras and notebooks.
“Those plays always give you a feel for what kind of moment you’re going to get,” McNutt said. “Coach Ferentz gave us the signal. We believe in his word and we do what he tells us to do.”
This is Ferentz’s plan through and through. This was a “than it doesn’t.” And hypothetically speaking, there are no hypotheticals in the Ferentz plan. The 1:17 and fourth-and-1 are gone when the decision is made.
You will scream again. And there will be another “works more.”