IOWA CITY, Ia. – Promise. That fuels Purdue football coach Darrell Hazell these days.
It’s been a season long on agony of defeat and short on thrill of victory for the Boilermakers in Hazell’s first season as coach. Purdue is 1-7 overall, 0-4 in the Big Ten and been outscored in its last two games at Ross-Ade Stadium by Nebraska and Ohio State, 100-7.
“I feel good about the future of this program,” Hazell said Tuesday. “Very optimistic.”
Iowa, 5-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Ten, comes to town Saturday as a two-touchdown favorite to become bowl eligible against a team that hasn’t run an offensive play from the red zone since Sept. 28.
“Anything can happen,” Ferentz said. “It’s a new week.”
Coaches are pessimistic by nature. Gimmies don’t exist on the schedule. But you can’t blame Ferentz for his cautious approach to Saturday game, because he’s walked in Hazell’s shoes. In 1999, Ferentz inherited a 3-8 team from Hayden Fry and got his brains beat in. Iowa was 1-10 overall, and 0-8 in the Big Ten.
“I think any time you try and make a transition to a new program, chances are there are going to be challenges,” Ferentz said. “Not always, but chances are. You take it a week at a time, and just worry about moving forward and give yourself the best chance possible each and every week.”
On paper, Iowa should win Saturday and finish the season in a bowl game for the 11th time in the last 13 seasons. Privately, I don’t know what Ferentz thinks about Saturday’s game.
But publicly, he was at his predictable best Tuesday.
“We’re going to have to be at our best,” the 15th-year Hawkeye coach said.
The 1999 season fuels his caution. Sure, the Hawkeyes got blown out a lot that season. Nebraska kicked off the Ferentz era with a 42-7 victory at Kinnick Stadium. There was also a 49-3 loss at Michigan State, a 31-7 loss to Penn State, a 41-11 drubbing at Ohio State and a 41-3 pounding at Wisconsin.
But there was also a 25-21 home loss to Minnesota in the regular-season finale, a Gopher team that was ranked 17th, won eight games and played in the Sun Bowl. Iowa also lost at Northwestern, 23-21, and to Indiana at home, 38-31.
Ferentz is preparing for the Purdue team that lost at home to Notre Dame, 31-24, and the one that gave up one offensive touchdown in a 14-0 loss at Michigan State.
Speaking of the Spartans, that is where the Ferentz era gained traction. His first Big Ten victory came in 2000 against Michigan State, 21-16. There’s nothing like a win to create some positive feedback.
“They probably doubled us statistically, but we found a way to win the game,” Ferentz said. “It’s huge. Any time you can win and experience success, that’s a good thing.”
I’m sure another reason for Ferentz’s cautious nature rests in recent games with the Boilermakers. The Hawkeyes didn’t come ready to play last season and were embarrassed at home, 27-24. Iowa won on its last trip to Ross-Ade in 2011, 31-21, but it was a struggle. And in 2008, a week after knocking off No. 3 Penn State, the Hawkeyes had to bat away a Hail Mary on the final play to survive at Kinnick, 22-17.
Hazell, who inherited a 6-7 team that lost to Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, would love to pull a Ferentz in West Lafayette. Hazell went to true freshman quarterback Danny Etling – a player Ferentz looked at in last year’s recruiting class – three games ago. He’s been sacked 19 times.
Etling was one of three true freshmen to start on offense in last week’s 56-0 loss at home to Ohio State, and eight different freshmen played against the Buckeyes.
“Obviously, they’ll help us in the future, but that wasn’t the plan,” Hazell said. “The plan was to try and win right now. It’s still to win right now.”
But silence the coach-speak.
Here’s the bottom line.
The Boilermakers can afford another loss on Saturday. Iowa can’t.
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. He covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football