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Harty: Reboot proving to be a failure this season

[ 0 ] November 11, 2012 |

Heading into the 11th game of the season, it has become painfully clear that Kirk Ferentz’s attempt to reboot his football program has failed.

The latest example came Saturday when Big Ten basement dweller Purdue overcame 10 penalties, three lost fumbles, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and playing in a hostile environment to hand Iowa its fourth consecutive loss, a 27-24 setback at Kinnick Stadium.

Up next for Iowa (4-6) Saturday is a Michigan squad whose players are just licking their chops waiting for a chance to defeat the Hawkeyes, especially the Michigan seniors because they’ve never done it before.

The three Michigan seniors who attended the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in late July in Chicago spoke as if they had the Iowa game already circled on their calendar.

“People kind of overlook certain things, but Iowa is a great school,” Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said. “It’s real cool to play them because it’s more or less what you see is what you get.

“They’re not going to try and trick you, not a lot of stuff, not a lot of twists.”

No disrespect to Lewan, but the same predictability for which he praised Iowa now is perhaps the thing that bothers Iowa fans the most about the current team. Being predictable only works when you’re winning.

It seems unlikely that the Michigan players would overlook Iowa, even with their annual showdown against Ohio State scheduled for the following week, and even with Iowa struggling. Lewan and his cohorts have a score to settle with the Hawkeyes, and the current Iowa team might have to suffer because of what the previous three Iowa teams did to Michigan.

It’ll also be Senior Day at Michigan, increasing the likelihood that Iowa will get Michigan’s best shot. It’s uncertain if Michigan will have the services of senior quarterback Denard Robinson, who missed the last two games because of an elbow injury.

It shouldn’t matter, though, based on the level at which Iowa is playing right now.

Coming up with an up-to-date list of positives about the Iowa program isn’t easy, but the three-game winning streak against Michigan has to rank near the top. Iowa never had defeated Michigan three times in a row until last season.

Imagine how many times the Michigan seniors will be reminded this week about their dubious place in school history because of Iowa.

Iowa’s 24-16 victory last season at Kinnick Stadium came as a surprise because it came on the heels of a 22-21 loss at Minnesota the previous week and it came against a Michigan squad that was in the midst of an 11-2 season.

It was another reminder that things usually aren’t as bad as they seem under Ferentz. There have been lots of those reminders over the years, and Ferentz could sure use another one ASAP.

But do you really see that happening based on how poorly Iowa is playing on offense and defense right now? If this isn’t the low point in Ferentz’s near 14-year reign since rebuilding the program, it’s darn close.

The 2006 season always will stand out for the wrong reasons because Iowa lost six of its last seven games and because Ferentz referred to his players as “fat cats,” suggesting there was a sense of entitlement festering within the ranks.

The 2006 team still was light years ahead of the current Iowa team, though, especially on offense behind senior quarterback Drew Tate. The Hawkeyes pushed defending national champion Texas to the limit in the 2006 Alamo Bowl before losing 26-24.

Iowa’s 2007 season also left much to be desired, with the Hawkeyes scoring fewer than 14 points in five games and more than 30 points just twice. But that team still finished 6-6, which looks pretty good right now.

Iowa also combined to finish 15-11 in the 2010 and 2011 seasons, but neither of those teams seemed as overmatched or as helpless and out of sync as the current team.

The 2010 and 2011 teams both had six players selected in the NFL draft, whereas it’s hard to envision more than perhaps senior center James Ferentz and senior cornerback Micah Hyde being drafted from the current team.

Sophomore left tackle Brandon Scherff showed pro potential before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Penn State. He still has a ways to go, though, probably even more so now because of the injury.

Hiring Greg Davis as his new offensive coordinator was part of Ferentz’s reboot, but so far it’s been a colossal failure. Watching the Iowa players try to run Davis’ system, which includes short, horizontal passing routes, is like trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

Davis’ offense relies on shifty and speedy receivers to gain yards after the catch. The problem is that Iowa is severely lacking in that area.

Davis’ offense also looks better suited for a dual-threat quarterback, which senior quarterback James Vandenberg is nothing like.

As for the defense, there just aren’t enough playmakers. It’s no coincidence that Iowa has had its best seasons under Ferentz when it could pressure the quarterback.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, a lack of talent is mostly to blame for Iowa’s current skid. If ever there was a time to recruit some junior-college players, it would seem now is the time. That’s not to say the coaching has been flawless because there are times when Iowa’s play calling is as predictable as Bo Pelini’s mood.

Ferentz also blamed the Purdue loss on coaching, while his players pulled out the old execution excuse again.

The players are right in saying that Iowa is suffering from a lack of execution. But it’s happening on the recruiting trail before it happens on the field.

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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