Howe: Going Back to Work Might Not Be Enough

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and his players held to the company line Tuesday as they prepared to rebound of the Minnesota disaster with a trip to Illinois this coming weekend. While cliches pouring out of the Hawkeye complex is a common occurrence, HI Publisher Rob Howe looks at if this team is in position to meet goals set by it and its fans.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Iowa football team is going back to work this week. It's trying to get better, clean up some things and execute better.

Coach Kirk Ferentz and his players told the media that Tuesday here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex. While unnecessary, it's what they do, however mind numbing it's been to hear it over and over and over again through the years.

Saturday's 51-14 butt-kicking at Minnesota demanded answers. Fans raged. The program stuck to the company line.

If you're surprised, you've not been paying attention during the Ferentz Era. The Hawkeyes weren't going to drastically change everything after 16 years of this approach.

Now, if you're among the crowd calling for new leadership, you're out of luck. The coach isn't going anywhere anytime soon and he's not shifting philosophies. You'll, at best, be given slight modifications.

There's no sense in continuing to hope for something that's not coming. Iowa basketball starts Friday. Wrestling is coming around the corner. Move on.

The rest of us ponder a 6-3 team heading down the home stretch dragging behind it one of the worst cliches in sports - an identity crisis clouded by inconsistency. It's a mystery.

"No. No," Ferentz said Tuesday when asked if he could talk about some of the reasons why his team has been a conundrum.

"Teams ebb and flow.  What are you going to do?  We'll just go back to work and try to get ready for this ballgame."

Ferentz certainly has said more to his team then he'll reveal publicly. The conversation likely is more homogenous than his team has been in alternating wins and losses the last four games. It's not sinking in, however.

Perhaps the speeches don't matter. While the coaches and players must believe better results await them around the corner through hard work, a distinct possibility exists that this team simply isn't talented enough. Maybe it can't be fixed.

We'll have our answer in three weeks. Division leaders, Wisconsin and Nebraska, invade Kinnick after the trip to Illinois. They're arguably the most talented teams on this year's schedule.

It's good news that none of the remaining opponents are invincible. Iowa could, if it plays its best and the foe does not, win out. It's an unlikely scenario based on what we've seen through three fourths of the slate.

It's great that players on the defensive depth chart got together during Monday's off day to watch film. They discussed improved communication and learning each other's assignments. They should be commended for taking that initiative to help.

Two things come to mind, though, when hearing of the gathering: 1. Players only meetings produce mixed results and sometimes are a sign things are too far gone to be saved, and, 2. They practiced together since the spring and they're trying to communicate better.

The three teams that defeated Iowa - Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa State - all pressured defensive deficiencies. They spread out the Hawkeyes and attacked with speed on the edges. Read option acted as kryptonite.

It's intelligent scheming. It neutralizes tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis and forces an inexperienced linebacker corps to make plays.

Iowa historically has gotten into trouble when it's pushed players into action too soon. It occurred on the defensive line in 2011-12. Three guys in their second years on campus have taken a lot of reps at linebacker this season and been picked on.

Of course, greenness doesn't explain Iowa's Jeckyll and Hyde offense. The line play might best symbolize the team's overall roller coaster ride this fall. Veteran receivers and tight ends struggle to break open, and the quarterback isn't going to put the unit on his back.

Well, it came together against Indiana and Northwestern, you say. They're a combined 2-9 in the Big Ten. Even a win at Illinois (4-5 overall, 1-4 conference) Saturday fails to provide an answer as to whether or not this is a good team.

The goal is, and should be, to win a very winnable West Division. It likely will take running the table to make it happen.

The Hawkeyes rescued '13 by winning their final three contests after being handled by Wisconsin the week before the streak. Few people saw that coming after a 4-8 nosedive the year before.

That kind of turnaround can't ruled out now. Perhaps if they just go back to work, clean up a few things and execute better, it will happen. From what we've seen to date, that's an awful big "if."


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