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Harty: Are Hawks suffering from an identity crisis?

[ 20 ] October 9, 2011 |

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz took exception when asked after Saturday’s 13-3 loss to Penn State if his team was suffering from an identity crisis.

Ferentz thought using the word crisis was blowing things way out of proportion.

“Crisis, that’s like a tsunami or a hurricane or a tornado,” Ferentz fired back. “Nobody got killed out there, I don’t think, right? I think we’re safe.”

What happened Saturday at Beaver Stadium was not a crisis by its true definition.

But try telling that to the Iowa fans who invest so much time and resources into following their beloved football team, which is 3-2 heading into Saturday’s game against Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium.

The fans don’t sign Ferentz’s paycheck, but they’ve played a major role in making him one of the highest paid coaches in college football at more than $3 million a year.

So it’s only natural for fans to demand more than what the coaches and players gave them on Saturday.

The question probably wouldn’t have bothered Ferentz so much if the reporter had asked if Iowa was suffering from an identity problem because it’s hard to deny that at this stage.

Ferentz always strives for balance on offense between the run and the pass. But it’s usually the run that helps to set up the pass.

That changed during the fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17 and for the entire game against Louisiana-Monroe a week later.

Iowa switched to a no-huddle offense out of desperation against Pittsburgh and it worked so well that the coaches stuck with it until things started to sputter against Penn State.

There were times Saturday when Iowa tried to revert back to its usual approach of running between the tackles and other times when the Hawkeyes tried to spread the field and throw the ball.

In other words, they looked like a team searching for an identity.

“We’re going to be OK,” Ferentz said. “We’re going to be an OK football team. We still want to be balanced. That’s our goal.”

Now it’s up to the fans if they want to believe Ferentz or not.

He’s proved the naysayers wrong many times before by turning what seemed like a bleak situation into something special. Now he has to do it again because judging from the post-game reaction many fans seem ready to write this team off.

You can’t blame the fans for being worried after what happened last season when Iowa lost its last three Big Ten games.

Nobody saw the collapse coming because the 2010 team was stocked with future NFL players, including three starters on the defensive line, and was coming off an 11-2 season the year before.

So now fans are thinking if that team couldn’t get it done with all its talent, why should the current team be any better?

None of the current starters on the defensive line seem destined for the NFL, and it showed Saturday with Penn State rushing for 231 yards and averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

In fairness to the defensive line, it wasn’t expected to be the driving force for Iowa this season.

Iowa was thought to have one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten, but it wasn’t even the best offensive line on the field Saturday.

You keep waiting for all-Big Ten left tackle Riley Reiff and his cohorts to perform at a high level, but it’s only happened in spurts this season.

And if we learned anything more about junior quarterback James Vandenberg, it’s that he is still very much a work in progress.

Vandenberg looked like an all-Big Ten quarterback during the fourth-quarter comeback against Pittsburgh and for the entire Louisiana-Monroe game. Against Penn State, however, he looked mediocre at best.

And his receivers, even all-Big Ten senior Marvin McNutt, didn’t look any better.

“We’ve got some things we’ve got to get better at clearly,” Ferentz said.

One thing we know about Ferentz is that he won’t panic. He’ll tell his players to flush the Penn State loss and move on to the Northwestern game. The last thing he wants is for the Penn State loss to linger and contribute to another loss.

“I think that’s huge,” Vandenberg said. “We couldn’t get it done (against Penn State), but we all know that we can’t let this affect us for next week.

“We’ve got to push through and play better next week.”

It won’t be a crisis if Iowa loses to Northwestern for the sixth time in seven games this Saturday.

But it would be Iowa’s fifth consecutive Big Ten loss dating back to last season. So it’d be hard not to at least call it a disturbing trend.

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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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