IOWA CITY — It turned out to be a dog chasing his tail, the whole Kirk Ferentz-meet-the-press postgame in the wake of Iowa’s fourth straight loss.
The contentiousness was forced on Ferentz’s part. He wanted to argue about whether or not the Hawkeyes’ efforts in victories over Minnesota and Michigan State were strong. They were and they also were five weeks and four straight losses ago.
This felt like deflection after the latest loss, a 27-24 defeat at the hands of Purdue, a program that will likely be searching for a new coach in a few weeks. Iowa (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) is headed into No. 23 Michigan (7-3, 5-1) a program looking for cover. Ferentz did his best in the postgame.
It started to deteriorate during a question about tackling. “You were at the game, right?” he said. From there, it was a question asking how easy is it for opposing defenses to prepare for Iowa.
“Well, if we don’t block better, throw better, run better routes and run better, that’s the name of the game,” he said. “It’s execution, it’s about playing well fundamentally, and that’s kind of what I was trying to hint at, particularly talking about our first half, we just weren’t playing well enough. They weren’t coached well enough, and that’s fundamentals and [they] didn’t play hard enough to expect to win.”
The fact of the matter is Iowa didn’t do anything well enough Saturday and really hasn’t the last four weeks. Ferentz does say blame the coaches, and then puts it in the general blend of execution and fundamentals. No names will ever be named. You know that, right?
Ferentz was asked specifically about blocking Purdue’s big defensive tackles, Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, who dominated up front.
“We’re not as stout right now as we’ve been in the past,” Ferentz said. “Nobody is going to come in and we’re not going to get any free agent players coming in this weekend. We’re going to play with the guys that we have and try to get better, try to avoid some of those negative-yardage plays and run routes better, catch better, throw it better and run the ball better, too.”
A question about Iowa’s fourth-and-3 play that ended up being a James Vandenberg pass to tight end Zach Derby for 1 yard, turned out to be a condescending lecture about how passing games work.
The simple answer is it’s everything. Ferentz answered the questions and tried to protect a roster he recruited and a coaching staff he hired from scrutiny.
Saturday, Iowa was an offense that couldn’t complete a 3-yard pass on fourth down. That should be doable for any offense and even this offense, which still averages 5.8 yards a pass attempt (tied for 114th in the nation).
“We had little to no positives today,” Vandenberg said. “We were terrible on third down, the negative plays on first and second down, didn’t execute a lot of the plays that were there. You never know when we make that 7-yard completion or convert that third-and-4, what that can do for a drive. You have to make those plays when they’re given to you.”
Saturday, Iowa was a defense that couldn’t tackle. During one 16-yard run in the first half, Purdue running back Akeem Shaver broke four tackles. On Ralph Bolden’s 56-yard run that set up a TD, Iowa defenders couldn’t get to him and didn’t wrap. In November, the Hawkeyes have allowed an average of 6.09 yards on 158 plays. The two November games were against Indiana and Purdue (combined 3-9 in the Big Ten) and that number is No. 82 in the country.
It gets worse for the Iowa defense. Look who wasn’t on the field in the second half. Going into Michigan, which gutted out an overtime victory over Northwestern behind QB Devin Gardner, who filled for injured Denard Robinson with 286 passing yards and two TDs, Iowa could be without linebackers James Morris (undisclosed) and Anthony Hitchens (undisclosed) and defensive end Joe Gaglione (illness).
“It’s the end of the season,” Morris said. “Football is a physical game and it takes its toll.”