IOWA CITY, Iowa - When Iowa players and coaches discuss remedying their failures by going back to work and getting better, fans cringe. They clench their teeth hearing the Hawkeyes talk about executing better. Critics believe the issues are deep-seeded and a complete overhaul is required.
Days like Saturday justify what Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has been preaching for 16 years. Success comes to those teams that block and tackle. It's his basic formula, one that goes back to the leather-helmet days.
Iowa steamrolled visiting Northwestern, 48-7, in a game that was every bit as lopsided as the final score would indicate. The Hawkeyes became bowl eligible for the 13th time in the last 16 years employing the lunch-pail approach Ferentz instituted when he took charge.
People beyond the walls of the Hayden Fry Football Complex howl for change. They call for different players. Some want the coach ousted.
That's their prerogative. And a new coach with a different approach certainly could succeed at Iowa, although that's not a guarantee, right Michigan?
Someday Ferentz will ride off into the sunset. Detractors will rejoice. Until then, Iowa must maintain the coach's approach.
That's not to say Ferentz is always right. He can be second-guessed. He and his assistants make mistakes.
No, what can't change is fundamental philosophy. Compromising it crumbles the foundation and everything else falls down with it.
The Hawkeyes played miserably at Maryland two weeks ago. During the bye, they didn't dismantle everything they worked on to this point. There was no panic.
Saturday's performance represented well the Hawkeyes in the Ferentz Era - Hard-nosed, physical football won in the trenches. They lived all of the cliches.
"I know that everybody has been all over Iowa here but when I watch them on tape I didn't see issues," Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I saw a team that got down and had to throw the football (at Maryland). We saw the same old Iowa. That's what we talked to our guys about the last two weeks."
Fitzgerald played and coached at this level for a long time. He and his Wildcats received no surprises on Saturday.
"Nothing really new that we didn't anticipate but that's when you play Iowa," Fitzgerald said. "I didn't see anything different schematically. We saw the routes that we expected to see. I think we saw the protections. I think we just got beat one on one. We had one-on-one battles up front and we didn't get close to the quarterback."
Iowa dominated both lines of scrimmage. It didn't bench the quarterback or reinvent the wheel.
"For the history of Iowa, we're not about being flashy. We're about playing hard and we're about playing as a team and that's what we did today," Hawkeye Safety Jordan Lomax said.
The biggest news of the week centered around somebody who didn't participate in Saturday's win. Derrick Willies' decision to transfer provided ammunition for the anti-Ferentz crowd, who felt the freshman receiver was being wasted on the bench. Many of those same people have lashed out of the coach for playing favorites instead the guys they think should be in there.
That notion always rings hollow. Ferentz wants to win as much as anybody. To think he'd sit athletes who could help him to do that is terribly misguided.
"We just try as coaches to evaluate things as smartly as we can," Ferentz said. "You're never going to be 100 percent right. We try to do what's best for our football team."
Don't make the mistake of dismissing Saturday's effort because it came against Northwestern. The Wildcats won in a blowout at Penn State, a team that took Ohio State to overtime. They also defeated Wisconsin.
Iowa played lights out. The Hawkeyes enjoyed a 298-55 yardage advantage in leading 38-7 at the intermission.
Each of its last two opponents, Indiana and Maryland, gashed Iowa for more than 200 yards rushing. It demoralized the Hawkeyes.
Again, it wasn't about wholesale changes. They returned to working on fundamentals.
"As a competitor, and we have a bunch of those on this team, it eats at you and it sucks," Iowa Defensive Tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat said. "That motivates you to perform better, practice harder and we did that."
While plenty of individuals performed well on Saturday, the accumulation of what they did created the desired results. Running Back Mark Weisman ran for 94 yards and three touchdowns and was named the player of the game by whomever sponsors that in the stadium. He wasn't about to take credit.
"The offensive line should have gotten player of the game; offensive line, tight end, fullbacks," Weisman said smiling, realizing he was giving the reporter the answer he wanted. "I couldn't care less about that. I don't think anyone on this team really cares about that kind of stuff. We just want to win games. When we can feed off each other, that's good Iowa football."
Weisman reflects the spirit of his coach as much or more than anyone on the team. He understands that Iowa must be a better whole than the sum of its parts.
It's another aspect of the program that causes defamers to bang their heads against the wall. They desire flash and video-game highlights.
If that's what you're after, hold tight. Maybe that arrives after Ferentz departs.
For now, what you saw Saturday is what works best for this football program under its current leadership. It's not changing and it shouldn't.