Miller: Time to Take Inventory

This is not the season that Iowa fans or media members expected. It's not the season that the Iowa players and coaches expected, either. A fifth-straight January bowl game is out the window, and with two regular season games left on this year's schedule, what can be done to turn things around? Where is the program headed? Jon Miller tackles these questions and more...

It's after 9pm central time on Sunday night as I type this. Most of what I am about to write, I wrote in my pre-show notes on Saturday afternoon, just before going on the air with ‘Soundoff', the three-hour post game call in program that I do with Jim Zabel on 1040 WHO.

As I typed those talking points, I tried to be certain that I was not being emotional or knee jerk in what I was going to say, since I don't care for that sort of thing. Things are typically not as bad as they appear or as great as they appear. Life is not about absolutes; it's about shades of gray.

What I find interesting, more than 24 hours later and after reading all of the state's columnists and writer accounts of what we all saw against Northwestern yesterday, is that the overwhelming majority of the press wrote the same things.

What you have from the media is near consensus; this isn't the Iowa Football Program we have come to expect under the leadership of Kirk Ferentz.

I would also hazard a guess and say that it isn't anything near what Kirk Ferentz expected going into this season.

When I had him on my radio show on KXNO back on June 12th, he said something about this season that took me aback; he allowed himself to say that this could be a special season if the breaks went right, if the injury situation went right, etc. Yes, those were qualifiers, but Ferentz rarely talks about expectations, period.

I was both surprised and excited to hear him say what he said on that late spring day.

Nearly five months later, the qualifiers certainly came to bear, but something else has, too.

As most of the post game articles reported, Ferentz said that his team was akin to "fat cats". That's not a good thing, and that's not a term that any of us has ever associated with a Kirk Ferentz led Iowa team.

But it was the head man making such a statement, not us writers and commentators.

That comment is both alarming, and refreshing.

It's alarming for the obvious reasons and some I have already stated, but it's refreshing because it's likely going to be a part of Iowa's next mantra.

Iowa broke the rock, they climbed the mountain and they held the rope. But they failed to reach 212 degrees this year.

That was the 2006 mantra; 212 degrees is the temperature at which water boils. Not 208 degrees, not 211 degrees, but 212.

This year, the Hawks have been luke warm, at best.

As Senior Writer Rob Howe pointed out in his column from yesterday, Kirk Ferentz has retooled things before and has had success after doing so.

This is an excerpt from Howe's column:

After the '02 Orange Bowl loss against USC, the coach redesigned his postseason approach for the better. Following last season, the Hawkeyes worked on improving in September and responded with a 4-1 in that month this fall. It might be hard to see the forest through the trees right now, but Ferentz and his coaches have succeeded in finding answers in the past. Be disappointed, the coaches and players certainly are, but be sure to look at the whole picture. Two of the other teams that had joined Iowa in playing in January the last four years, Florida State and Georgia, also have four losses.

There is no doubt that the events that have transpired thus far in 2006 will fuel some changes in the Iowa Football Complex. I am not talking about coaching changes, as I don't think Iowa needs to do that. They didn't all of the sudden go from being considered among the best coaching staff's in college football to being stupid.

But I suspect that attitude change will be in the air this winter, spring and into next summer and fall.

Here are the pre-show notes that I wrote at roughly 3:00pm central on Saturday, shortly after Iowa lost to Northwestern yesterday.


-There is a need to take a look around the Big Ten and the nation, as Iowa seems to be very conservative on offense when the game in general is going a different direction. Robert Gallery, Bruce Nelson, Eric Steinbach, David Porter, Ben Sobieski, et al, are gone and they have no more eligibility. Gone too are Dallas Clark, Mo Brown, C.J. Jones and Ed Hinkel.
-Iowa seems too predictable. I know that is an easy thing for armchair quarterbacks to say, especially when we are quite familiar with this team and their attack, so that sense of familiarity is something to be taken into account. But this year, Iowa's opponents have publicly said after games that they knew what was coming.
-Iowa's offensive formations seemingly put it behind the eight ball. It's base pro set (one wide out on each side, no slot receiver) with either one or two tight ends, and one or two backs depending on the number of tight ends, keeps too many defenders in the box. That makes it hard to run against, and when you do try to pass out of those formations, defenses can cover more easily, plus there are not many big play opportunities.
-Iowa seemingly lacks playmakers at the receiver position. On one hand, you have to catch the balls that are thrown your way, and that is not a given this year. Teams are not respecting Iowa's receivers, and that puts more pressure on the running game and it allows teams to blitz more to disrupt the passing game. There are just not many receivers getting open this year, and some of the formations Iowa tries to pass out of just don't make it hard on defenses, as previously stated.
-I am not an offensive coordinator, and it's not as easy as it sounds here. In this age of PS2 and X-Box, everyone thinks they are an offensive coordinator, and I fall into that trap at times, too. Perhaps it's just that this year, Iowa is a victim of its past success with its offensive philosophy. If that is the case, it looks like putting round pegs into square holes; the offensive philosophy is not matching up with available personnel. In fairness, the injury card enters into this equation; even though you won't hear the coaches go to that card. But it's there; if Tate doesn't hurt his oblique on August 18th or thereabouts, the sharks on the other teams don't smell as much blood and Iowa might not be seeing as many blitz packages as it has this year. But then again, how many times have we heard about Iowa being a ‘blitz magnet'? Why is that? Is it because of its offensive philosophy?


-I am not sure what happened from the last three regular season games from a year ago to this year against the run, when Iowa shut down Sutton, Calhoun and Minnesota. Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are no longer in the picture. They were two of the best ever to play linebacker at Iowa, but Iowa seemingly got more penetration from its defensive line last year, late in the season. Perhaps the loss of these two is that significant. Perhaps its that significant when Ken Iwebema is injured for much of the year and didn't play yesterday. His backup Alex Kanellis was also out, and when Ryan Bain went down for a bit, a walk on from Tipton, Iowa was your defensive end.
-Iowa has fared well against spread offenses in recent years, but not this year. Again, maybe a common denominator was numbers 52 and 18. This year against spread offenses, or teams that use a lot of spread formations, Illinois rushed for 121 yards, Purdue 202, Indiana 158 and Northwestern 225. Those are arguably four of the six worst teams in the Big Ten this year. I didn't throw in OSU's 214 because they ran for over 300 against Iowa last year. Perhaps Iowa's offense could take a cue here.
-I have said this for years; using linebackers to defend slot receivers is playing with fire. In the past, Iowa had great defensive lines as the equalizer. It has not had that last year or the year before. Again, it's lining up philosophy to match personnel. The 2002 team was perhaps the most total, all around best football team of the last 20 years. The 1985 team was in the same ball park. In 2003, Iowa won 10 games. It had Robert Gallery as its left tackle, and it had the nation's best field goal kicker, or at least the second best behind OSU's Mike Nugent. It blocked punts, it covered kickoffs. But most importantly, it stopped the run to the tune of 92.7 yards per game.
In 2004, the team won 10 games. If there has ever been an Iowa team in my lifetime that overachieved to the highest exponent, it might have been that team, down to its 5th string running back and everyone knowing that its entire offense went through a sophomore quarterback. That team stopped the run to the tune of 92.5 yards per game and it had one of the school's most lethal inside and outside penetrating combinations ever in Matt Roth and Jonathon Babineux. It yielded just eight rushing touchdowns all season long. Tate was a magician, but the defense was the reason that club was Big Ten Champions.
Alas, those two moved on to the NFL, and since then, Iowa has allowed an average of 129.27 rushing yards per game. That average would be 53rd in the nation this year. Iowa is 67th in sacks this season and 68th in tackles for loss. It's defensive line is not disruptive, or rather, it's front seven is not disruptive. It's certainly not disruptive enough for linebackers to be on slot receivers, and to Norm Parker's credit, he has used several different defensive alignments in recent weeks. It appears he is trying to push some buttons. But when this team blitzes, it just doesn't get home.


-There seems to be a lack of leadership on this team. When you have seen the two worst losses of the competitive Ferentz era teams within 20 days of one another, I don't think that is hyperbole. This team more resembles the 2000 team from the early portion of that year's schedule than it does any other team.

-Kirk Ferentz is a big picture person. He will evaluate things at the end of the year. There will likely be some soul searching that takes place in every nook and cranny of the program. That is coaches looking at things, and players looking within themselves. There might be some players that won't want to stick around and go through the hot fires of change and self introspection that are likely to ensue this winter.

-This program wasn't built over night, and it took hard work to get it to the heights we have all enjoyed. It also won't fall apart overnight, and as disappointing as this year has been for those on the outside of the program, it's worse for those in the program. The kids and coaches don't want to lose just as the fans don't want to see them lose. But there is a fly in the ointment right now, and the head coach referring to his team as "fat casts" is the first shot across the bow.

Since the team is 6-4, something like that is a good thing, in my opinion. Kirk Ferentz isn't throwing anyone under the bus; he took the blame for the coaching aspect of things after the Indiana game and after the Northwestern game. It doesn't seem as though there are any buttons he can push this year; something is amiss from within. What that is, well, that will be his out of season challenge, and the challenge of every coach and player; figure it out, and fix it.

All this being said, I would be shocked if Iowa came out next week and didn't put on a good showing against Wisconsin in its final home game.

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