Howe: Low Risk, No Reward

With a chance to get out of Ames with a win on Saturday, Iowa chose to shut it down at the end of regulation and play for overtime. It turned out to be the wrong call.

AMES, Iowa - Nobody would ever confuse Kirk Ferentz's offensive approach with that of his predecessor at Iowa, Hayden Fry. The latter's "exotics" gain more fame with time, but his successor finds success by limiting risk.

Ferentz plays things close to the vest. Some critics would call that an understatement.

With a chance to go for the win late in regulation here on Saturday, Ferentz ran out the clock and cast his lot in overtime. Rival Iowa State made that a questionable choice by knocking off the Hawkeyes, 44-41, in three extra sessions.

Iowa State tied the game at 24 with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in regulation. After a touchback, the Hawkeyes took possession at their own 20 with two timeouts in hand.

Iowa ran it on first down for two yards. A false start pushed them back to the 17. Then, Ferentz let the clock run out.

"Had we gotten the ball out there past the 30 (on Coker's run), we probably would have gone with it," the coach said. "We didn't get much on first down and we got out of there."

Iowa kicker Mike Meyer finished the day true on all four of his field goal attempts, including a career-best 50-yarder and one from 42. With two timeouts and some pretty good offensive weapons, you had to like the Hawkeyes' chances to threaten getting the sophomore in range.

It's just not the Ferentz way. He's not going to come out on first down winging the ball to get something going. If Coker gets 12 yards instead of two, I'm still not sure he opens it up.

Ferentz has won a lot of games in his career utilizing this approach. No one should have been surprised by what happened at the end of the fourth quarter. He did the same thing in Columbus two years ago and lost in OT to Ohio State.

That was the right call in 2009. It wasn't on Saturday.

Both games concluded with Iowa losses, yes. The game at Ohio State felt different. And Jim Tressel had done the same thing on the Buckeyes' previous possession.

Iowa State opened it up on Saturday. The Cyclones had their way with the inexerpienced Hawkeye defense and wore it out. Give your more seasoned offense, albeit with a first-year starter at quarterback, a chance to win the contest behind a veteran line.

Again, it's not Ferentz. He wins games with a low-risk play on both sides of the ball. He's praised when it works, and rightfully so.

Yes, hindsight is 20-20. It works on Saturday and I'm not writing this column. But I am because the Ferentz way cost his team a chance to win.

The Iowa players weren't going to come out and rip their coach's approach and decision making. You could tell wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis would have gone for it if it was their choice. They didn't really have an answer as to why they sat on the ball in that situation.

"Any time you go on the field, you want to have the confidence that you can score," McNutt said. "That's the confidence you want to go in with and we practice those things. Maybe it didn't feel right or something (to the coaches), so we decided to sit on the ball."

Said Davis: "We were ready for our two-minute offense. I guess the coaches felt like the best decision was to go to overtime. They felt like we should come together in overtime."

Maybe that would be the way to go if your defense was excelling. Iowa's wasn't. The Cyclones were over 400 yards in regulation and the D-Line was gassed from chasing around (ineffectively) ISU Quarterback Steele Jantz all day in 80 degree weather.

On top of that, Iowa handed it off to Coker to start that final drive of regulation. That's a risk. The sophomore had fumbled earlier in the game and three times in the last two weeks.

Then, in double overtime, when Iowa's coaches are feeling more desperate as they see their exhausted defense wilting and they're down a touchdown, they call a reverse option pass for McNutt, which failed miserably. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, James Vandenberg threw a dart to Davis for a 23-yard score on the next play.

Overall, it's hard to get too worked up about Ferentz's system. It works. Just not all of the time.

The coach had a chance to play to his strengths on Saturday and shied away. It backfired. Iowa State went into overtime with more confidence because they had tied the score at the end of regulation, while Ferentz failed to show faith in his best unit.

Like McNutt said, the coaches must have felt something at the end of regulation that led them to play for overtime. It's the same feeling that has prevailed for 13 years.

Don't be surprised when it happens again. Chances are real good that it will.

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