EVANSTON, Ill. — At some point, you might stop waiting for Ferentz 3.0.
Kirk Ferentz finished 1-10 in his first season as Iowa’s head coach in 1999. He built the Hawkeyes into an undefeated Big Ten juggernaut that enjoyed an Orange Bowl trip in 2002. Just two seasons ago, Iowa fell in overtime at Ohio State vying for a Rose Bowl berth, but rebounded to win the Orange Bowl, Iowa’s first major bowl victory since 1959.
Ferentz 1.0 was 8-0 in the Big Ten and won a share of another conference title in ’04. The 2.0 version put a trophy full of oranges in the lobby of the Iowa football offices.
And now, you wait for Ferentz 3.0. After the last two games, you wonder not so much when but if for a third revival.
Right here, right now in 2012, Ferentz 3.0 remains in development. And, judging by the coach’s call-in radio show, social media outlets and general edginess of the fan base, some of you are done waiting.
After Saturday’s 28-17 loss at Northwestern, which saw the Wildcats rush for 349 yards, the Hawkeyes (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) only remain mathematically alive in the Legends Division. A team that allows 349 rushing yards, the most since 433 at Indiana in ’04, isn’t good at math and has serious football questions to answer.
After saying stuff about the same page and executing and all the things they’re programmed to say after losses — two in a row now by a collective score of 66-31, worst back-to-back losses since 2007 — quarterback James Vandenberg said all he needed to say.
“We’ve got to play better, that’s it,” said Vandenberg, who completed 24 of 38 for 214 yards and was sacked three times. “There’s nothing else to say.”
The Wildcats (7-2, 3-2) did all of the talking when it mattered and, pretty much, the entire day before 44,121 at Ryan Field.
Northwestern scored on its first drive and led 7-3 when running back Venric Mark broke through the line of scrimmage from NU’s 1 and went 72 yards before being chased down by Micah Hyde. NU quarterback Kain Colter finished the drive and the Cats led 14-3 at halftime.
Any hopes for a Hawkeye 2.0 were crushed in the opening sequence of the third quarter. After Iowa went three-and-out on its opening possession, Tyris Jones sprinted through the middle of the punt team, splitting sophomore safety John Lowdermilk and linebacker James Morris, and blocked Connor Kornbrath’s kick, giving NU a first down at Iowa’s 4. One play, a Colter TD and a 21-3 lead.
Iowa answered with a three-and-out. Four plays later, Colter found wide receiver Christian Jones for a 47-yard TD, beating linebacker Christian Kirksey and making it 28-3 with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
A week after the Cats fell by a point here to Nebraska, coach Pat Fitzgerald gave the keys to Colter, who rushed for three scores and completed 6 of 9 passes for 80 yards and the TD. Colter rushed for 166 yards, while Mark had 162. It was the first time since Minnesota’s Marion Barber (167) and Laurence Maroney (156) did it in 2004 that the Hawkeyes allowed two players to rush for more than 150 yards in a game.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” said Morris, who injured an elbow early in the game and played with a heavily taped right arm. “We had some wrinkles and we had them stopped at times. It’s a breakdown here, it’s out of position here, it’s not understanding what your responsibility is in this particular defense.
“I have complete confidence in what we run, we just need to do it better.”
Iowa came back, but you can distill the effectiveness of that into the Hawkeyes getting hit with a delay of game penalty, its third of the game, while in the two-minute offense. Ferentz 3.0 is going to need a software upgrade with that kind of efficiency.
Running back Damon Bullock rushed for 107 yards after missing four games with a concussion. Running back Mark Weisman suffered a leg injury and didn’t return. Iowa’s rebuilt O-line — with tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Andrew Donnal knocked out for the season last week — had a hand in those three sacks.
“We just have to keep playing hard,” said senior Matt Tobin, who slid from guard to left tackle, “keep working hard and keep doing what the coaches tell us to.”
The Hawkeyes went for it on a fourth-and-13 at the end of the first half. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis called for a back-shoulder throw from Vandenberg to wide receiver Keenan Davis. This play hasn’t worked all season and it didn’t work Saturday.
Between the lack of communication, or whatever causes delay of game penalties, and the inability to complete a back-shoulder throw, it’s not any one thing. The dropped passes (five), NU’s dizzying 7.1 yards a carry on 42 rushes, Colter rushing for 39 yards on a third-and-5 to close out the game, it’s not any one thing.
“The thing we have to work on is solutions,” Ferentz said. “It’s a matter of getting the right people in the right spot and just getting better at it.”
They’re still alive mathematically in the Big Ten. Realistically, they have four games to gain bowl eligibility.
And it’s everything.