IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz gathered his Iowa football team for a meeting shortly after a loss to Nebraska ended a humbling 2012 season.
His message was simple. And, as things turned out, prophetic.
“You have two choices,” Ferentz told the returning members of a team that lost its last six games to finish 4-8. “You can get back to work and do something about it, or you can sit around and make excuses.”
This spring, as he traveled the state on the I-Club circuit, Ferentz said he was getting a similar offseason vibe from his team to the one that dedicated itself to rebounding from a 6-6 record and bowl-free season in 2007.
That 2008 team went 8-4 in the regular season, including a 5-3 mark in the Big Ten. And after losing their first game in November, those Hawkeyes won the final three to earn an Outback Bowl bid. The 2013 team has followed the same script to the same overall and conference records.
“The short answer is, they’re one game away from proving it,” Ferentz said when asked about the similarities between the two teams. “But the long answer is that I thought there were a lot of parallels.”
The “one game” Ferentz speaks to is the Outback Bowl, and a matchup against No.14 LSU on Jan.1. The 2008 team beat South Carolina 31-10 in Tampa, Fla., to finish 9-4.
“That team (2008) had a lot of great stories,” Ferentz said. “This one has already. The thing I think is very similar is these guys will be very anxious to perform their best in their last ballgame. The 2008 group did that. They took that challenge and rode it right into the last game. That’s the challenge that’s ahead of us now. But there are a lot parallels. Again, it gets back to the high quality group of guys who were committed to making sure we got back to where we wanted to be.”
Ed Podolak, a football standout at Iowa and in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, has been a close observer of the Hawkeyes in his current role as an analyst on the Hawkeye Radio Network. He points to Ferentz as the catalyst for the rebound season.
“You’ve got to believe in what you are doing, and you don’t change what you do just because that (2012) happens,” Podolak said. “If you stay with what you believe in, which he did, it works. They believe in him.”
There are plenty of other striking similarities between the 2008 and 2013 teams.
Both teams started with uncertainty at quarterback. In 2008, Ricky Stanzi beat out Jake Christensen during the course of the season. Jake Rudock emerged from a three-man competition that included C.J. Beathard and Cody Sokol to win the starting job in fall camp. Stanzi, like Rudock, was a redshirt sophomore.
All-American and Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene set a school single-season rushing record with 1,850 yards in 2008. The team averaged 188.7 yards per game, up from 126.2 the year before. The 2013 team has averaged 188.6 yards a game, up from 123.0 in 2012.
The 2008 team was 3-3 at one point, stubbing its toe at Pittsburgh, but won five of its last six regular-season games, including a 24-23 upset of No. 3 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium. The 2013 team was 4-3, losing its opener to Northern Illinois, before winning four of its last five, including a season-ending 38-17 triumph at Nebraska.
Statistically, both teams responded to bowl-free seasons with significant improvement on both sides of the ball. The positive attitude and offseason dedication in the weight room — at the heart of the vibe Ferentz noticed in the spring — was as vital to the turnaround as the adjustment to six new assistant coaches during a two-year period.
Asked which position made the biggest jump from a season ago, Ferentz points to the defensive line. Podolak agrees.
“I think the improvement of the defensive line, from last season to this season, is the biggest jump I’ve ever seen in any part of a Kirk Ferentz team,” Podolak said. “Last year they were athletic, but they were young and undersized. They just weren’t big boys. This year you can see their technique is improved. But more importantly they got bigger and stronger. And (watch out for) what’s ahead for that group.”
The way this team played down the stretch also stood out to Podolak.
“I know that Kirk’s teams don’t give up, and he’s going to get the best effort out of them,” Podolak said. “And I don’t know of an experience in my years of covering the team that I was more impressed by than what the team did in those last two games (against Michigan and Nebraska). You could just feel it in this team.
“They worked hard, they had good leadership and they were going to get there, no matter how many doubters there were.”
Much like 2008, upperclassmen paved the way for success in 2013 by taking ownership of the challenge ahead.
“They all accepted the fact that we wanted to change things in a positive way,” Ferentz said. “And they were committed, most of all, to doing the hard work that’s involved.”
That commitment wasn’t based on shortcuts or quick fixes.
“It really comes down to just doing things better,” Ferentz said. “That was the thing we emphasized a year ago. Not necessarily anything harder, or any longer. Just doing things better. And I think our guys really embraced that.”
A TALE OF TWO BOUNCE-BACK SEASONS
Category 2007 2008
Total offense 316.3 370.4
Passing yards per game 190.1 181.7
Rushing yards per game 126.2 188.7
Points per game 18.5 30.3
Opponents’ total offense 351.2 291.3
Opponents’ passing yards per game 229.2 197.3
Opponents’ rushing yards per game 122.0 94.0
Opponents’ points per game 18.8 13.0
Category 2012 2013
Total offense 310.4 388.9
Passing yards per game 187.4 200.4
Rushing yards per game 123.0 188.5
Points per game 19.3 27.3
Opponents’ total offense 381.6 303.2
Opponents’ passing yards per game 219.5 182.4
Opponents’ rushing yards per game 162.1 120.8
Opponents’ points per game 22.9 18.8
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football