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Harty: Life under Ferentz is impossible to predict

[ 25 ] December 30, 2010 |

Besides keeping you awake past your bedtime, the 2010 Insight Bowl also probably changed the way you feel about the 2011 Iowa football team.

Just when you thought the Iowa program was in a serious funk, Kirk Ferentz’s crew rises up to defeat the 12th-ranked team in the country. And did so by doing what it does best, which is grind, grind and grind some more.

Iowa’s 27-24 victory over Missouri on Tuesday was vintage Kirk Ferentz football in how the Iowa offensive line asserted itself well in the trenches.

It showed that Ferentz’s conservative approach, which relies heavily on running between the tackles, still works when executed properly and when the players and coaches are on the same page.

It proved that you don’t need to have a potent spread offense to beat a potent spread offense.

And it served as yet another reminder that the situation usually is never as bad as it seems under Ferentz.

There are a number of things that make Ferentz a successful head coach, not the least of which is his ability to stay level-headed in the face of adversity but also during good times.

Ferentz has an uncanny ability to live in the moment and to provide a spark when most assume the fuse is gone.

Iowa was left for dead after it closed the regular season with three consecutive losses, including an inexplicable 27-24 setback against lowly Minnesota.

The situation then showed signs of becoming a crisis after Iowa’s leading receiver (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) was booted from the team following his arrest on drug charges in early December and after its leading rusher (Adam Robinson) was suspended for the Insight Bowl.

But now with Iowa winning the Insight Bowl, fans can cling to hope that the November collapse was more of an aberration than what happened in the desert Tuesday.

Nothing can change the fact that Iowa failed to meet expectations in 2010 by losing five games. But there wouldn’t have been such high expectations if Iowa hadn’t exceeded them in 2009 by winning 11 games.

Some of the glow has rubbed off the program from a national perspective. But that could be good for Iowa because Ferentz’s teams perform better when they’re the hunter instead of the hunted as evidenced by the Insight Bowl.

The national pundits have little tolerance for Iowa failing to meet their high expectations. Being wrong once usually is enough for them to change their perception of the Iowa program, at least until the team overachieves again.

Next year’s team won’t have the burden of high expectations, so perhaps the same chip on the shoulder that Ferentz used to rebuild the program a decade ago will give the 2011 squad an edge.

But next year’s team will have the burden of replacing its starting quarterback, three starters on the defensive line, two starters at linebacker, the school’s all-time leading receiver, an all-Big Ten punter, an all-Big Ten tight end, a three-year starter at fullback and possibly three-fourths of its starting secondary if all-Big Ten strong safety Tyler Sash and all-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater both bolt for the NFL a year early.

Junior receiver Marvin McNutt also appears to be considering leaving early for the NFL, which would make an already suspect position even more vulnerable.

You hate to put pressure on just one player, but it’s time for former Cedar Rapids Washington star Keenan Davis to make an impact at receiver. He is half way through his college career, but only has 15 catches and two touchdowns to his credit.

And as much as 69-year old defensive coordinator Norm Parker means to the team as a leader, as a strategist and as a mentor, his ongoing battle with diabetes will continue to complicate things whether Ferentz wants to admit it or not.

Parker has earned the right to retire on his terms, much like Joe Paterno has at Penn State.

You just hope for Parker’s sake, but also for the sake of the team that the worst is over because the players and coaches need him around on a regular basis to keep the machine running properly.

It’s already challenging enough without having Parker on the recruiting trail. He can’t be a part-time coordinator.

Breaking in a new starting quarterback also is a challenge, but at least James Vandenberg or whoever replaces Ricky Stanzi as the starter next season, will have the luxury of playing behind a rock-solid offensive line and handing off to Marcus Coker.

One game doesn’t make a star, but Coker’s 219-yard rushing performance against what was considered a pretty good Missouri defense makes it easier to be optimistic about next season.

And it certainly didn’t hurt Iowa’s chances to land Coker’s former high school teammate, Cyrus Kouandjio, who is considered by many the top high school offensive lineman in the country.

Kouandjio had to be impressed with the cohesiveness and physicality of the Iowa offensive line as it carved out holes for his friend.

But even if Kouandjio doesn’t pick Iowa, Ferentz won’t waste any time thinking about what could have been. It’s just not Ferentz’s style.

As for the 2011 schedule, which will conclude with a much-anticipated game at Nebraska, it looks manageable on paper.

But so did the 2010 schedule, whereas the 2009 schedule looked more like a death march.

Iowa is predictable in how it plays offense and defense under Ferentz, but not with how it tackles expectations, either high or low.

So go ahead and predict where you think Iowa will finish in 2011. But after what happened in 2010, why even bother?

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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