Howe: Ferentz Down in the Dumps

After a two-hour scrimmage in front of a Kids Day crowd at Kinnick Stadium, Kirk Ferentz sounded very concerned with his team's play. The coach raised points about motivation that have hampered the Hawkeyes during the last two seasons. Is there reason for worry? HN Columnist Rob Howe indicates that there might be.

I've been attending these Iowa Kids Days in August since Coach Kirk Ferentz started them way back. I've usually exited with some similar feelings, such as the defensive being ahead of the offense, the backup quarterback looking as good, or better, than the starter and that about 10-15 true freshmen deserve to play.

Most of those things just became commonplace and rarely swayed my mood regarding the team. I left Kinnick Stadium feeling pretty depressed about this year's prospects. The head coach certainly fueled that.

Ferentz seemed as down on his team as I've seen him in my nine plus years covering his program. He indicated that he was disappointed in the fire displayed by his players with so many jobs still open with two weeks until the opener against Maine.

"I would just like to see more heated competition," Ferentz said. "Somebody has to step up and do it. That's kind of what we're waiting to see right now. As a staff, we're going to have to make some decisions here in the next five days or six days. So, the clock is running."

Red flag.

Keep in mind that this statement was offered in regard to many of the guys in the two-deeps, close to 40 potential contributors.. It was safe to eliminate Mitch King, Matt Kroul, A.J. Edds, Seth Olsen and a few others, but there are a lot more men fighting for jobs than those that have them secured.

It was just weird – and a bit unnerving - hearing Ferentz question the drive of some players. It was something that was almost never, if ever, uttered around here before 2006. It has been seen and heard too many times in the last two years.

Why in the world would a 20-year old let off the gas with a chance to play in front of 70,000 people on the line?

"Out of our top 46, 47 guys, probably a third of them I could put in ink where they're going to be," Ferentz said. "That leaves a lot of wiggle room right now, a lot of possibilities. It should be exciting to everybody (the players). I'm not sure it is. That's a little bit of a concern."

It should be. This is not a program that gets by on its good looks. That's not to say its void of talent, but that talent better compete hard. It just has to in order to succeed.

The good news is that there is time to correct things. The bad news is that it feels an awful lot like the last few years.

The first-team offensive line looked porous much like it did in the spring and during Kids Day 2007. I got ripped for writing that last year, and I'm back for more.

I realize that the defensive is ahead of the offense. But when the No. 1s go up against each other, King should not be running through the line untouched.

Moving back from there, the quarterbacks displayed a pedestrian performance. They made some plays, but they were under pressure a lot and off the mark an equal amount of times.

"Tuesday was one of the better scrimmages we've had offensively in quite some time," Ferentz said. "I'm going back months and months and months. I thought we were practicing well as a team up to Tuesday, maybe even Wednesday. But the last two days, three days, have been a little bit discouraging."

They should have shown video of Tuesday's scrimmage on the big screen on Saturday because it's hard to imagine it from seeing the Kids Day debacle. It's been a long time since we've seen any rhythm on offense.

Ferentz was offered an out when asked if it's normal to hit walls during a long camp. He punted.

"I don't know if it's normal. I don't like it. I know that," Ferentz said. "I know you're not normally happy in camp, so that's a little bit normal. We have to correct that. I don't know how many points we averaged last year (18.5, 110th in the country), but if we practice the way we did today, we'll be on that same path."

A silver lining to all of this is that the season has not started. The light could go on for these guys that the motivation to become the bullies of the Big Ten could return.

Iowa looks strong on defense assuming that the offense actually had been playing well up to this week. And maybe the defense is so good that it's causing the offense to look lousy.

King is a beast and Adrian Clayborn looks like the rush end that's ready to dominate. Edds has NFL all over him and Bradley Fletcher looks very at home on the corner.

Darrell Johnson-Koulianos looked sharp when the quarterbacks got him the ball and Brandon Myers is ready for a breakout year. Iowa has a pretty decent stable of running backs, including the returning Shonn Greene, who looks pretty smooth back there.

And Ryan Donahue has all-Big Ten honors in his future. Let's just hope he doesn't set the record for attempts this season.

That takes us back to the offensive line. It seems like about eight or nine guys are rotating in with the first unit. And, really, it's ugly. Bryan Bulaga is hurting again, and Dan Doering is working with the second and third teams after being listed as a starter before camp.

"A lot of things are open right now," Ferentz said. "I would have liked to have been a little further along in the evaluation process at this point. I haven't seen the tape from today, but I saw enough just watching that we have a lot of positions that are open right now, first and second team."

Will it eventually kick in to these guys that they're competing for jobs and need to pick up the intensity? Or will they continue to go through the motions that appeared in last season's finale against Western Michigan, Northwestern '06, Minnesota '06 and too many other games in the last two years?

You would really hope that these guys are tired of getting sand kicked in their face. You wish that this is just a blip on the screen in a developmental program which ages like fine wine as the season progresses. It's a possibility. No doubt.

We just can't expect that like we did at the beginning of the decade. We have been given too many memories during the last three seasons to be worried about the coach's words on Saturday.

I know I'm concerned. Are you?

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