Brown: Current State of Iowa Football Brings to Mind '14 Postseason – Sports Illustrated

  • September 16, 2022

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz waits to run out into the field before a game against South Dakota State on Sept. 3, 2022 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Rob Howe/HawkeyeNation.com)
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The headline reads, “Change, challenges ahead for Ferentz.”
It might surprise you that it didn’t appear in an Iowa newspaper over the last few days. No, this headline was at the top of the Des Moines Register sports section on Jan. 15, 2015.
Ferentz had appeared at a news conference the day before, and spent 37 minutes visiting with the media.
“My sense is that we needed to talk,” he said.
That news conference was called because the natives were restless. Iowa was coming off an underachieving 7-6 season, which included a humbling 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. The Hawkeyes trailed at halftime, 35-7.
Ferentz discussed how he planned to bring Hawkeye football back to the level it had been for the better part of his first 16 seasons as head coach.
“What’s important is to make sure we cover the territory we need to cover, to come up with a good game plan, and again, not just change things to change things. I think that’s really a waste of time and effort. But the big thing is to really look and find out what we need to tinker with and what we need to adjust and then go about it in a smart, logical way and make sure we do that right.”
One of those changes had been made public six days earlier, when Iowa released an updated depth chart. C.J. Beathard, the backup quarterback in 2014, was listed as the starter. Jake Rudock, the incumbent, who had passed for 2,436 yards in 2014 with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, was listed as the No. 2 signal caller.
Releasing a depth chart so soon after the completion of a season was something new for Ferentz football. So was the change in quarterbacks. It marked the first – and only – time in the Ferentz era that the incumbent didn’t head into the next season as the starter.
In a release that accompanied the depth chart, Ferentz called it “a starting point.” But it ended weeks of speculation around Beathard, who was rumored to be considering a transfer.
There ultimately was a transfer. Rudock, who had started 25 of Iowa’s previous 26 games, headed to Michigan and coached Jim Harbaugh’s first team to a 10-3 season.
Beathard took over and guided the 2015 Iowa team to a 12-0 regular-season record, the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.
Since the Beathard-for-Rudock flip of the quarterback coin in 2015, Iowa went 63-25 over the next seven seasons. Including the 12-win season in 2015, the Hawkeyes won 10 games in 2019 and 2021. All seven teams won at least eight games and earned a bowl bid.
The Hawkeyes headed into 2022 with some momentum and the fan base bought in. All seven home games were sold out. A stellar defense returned. There were some question marks about the offense, which was said to be undergoing a retooling process in the off-season to make it more productive under offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s watch.
And then the season kicked off. And it took just two games to take us back to January of 2015.
The Hawkeyes head into Saturday night’s game against Nevada at Kinnick Stadium dead last nationally in first downs, yards per play and total offense.
Optimism has been replaced by a pessimistic buzz we haven’t heard since the end of the 2014 season. When your offense is stuck in mud and then your heralded defense gives up a 99-yard game-winning drive to your state rival, who can blame the doubters?
Ferentz has dug Iowa football out of a hole four times so far, in 1999, 2007, 2012 and 2014. Now the heat is on again.
I wrote these words in a column after that Jan. 14, 2015 news conference with Ferentz. They still ring true today: “Ferentz is still invested in the program. He’s not treading water, collecting his much discussed paycheck. But can he fix this? Can Iowa football, a program he rebuilt into a national player, dig its way out of mediocrity one more time?”
That is the $64,000 question.
I also wrote this in 2015: “Don’t look for Iowa football to become a run-and-shoot offensive attack, or a team that is obsessed with offense and doesn’t consider defense important. That is not Iowa football, nor will it ever be under Ferentz.”
The defense is still there. But the offense is in hiding. And it sure looks like it needs to be remodeled with the way the game is played today. One sign that change is in the wind is the recent commitment of James Resar, a quarterback who is a true run-pass threat. But he’s in the Class of 2024.
Though the lack of a passing game has received most of the attention, the bread-and-butter rushing game is still trying to find its way.
At the heart of all the hand wringing is the quarterback position. It wasn’t too long ago that fans were bitching and moaning about Nate Stanley, who quarterbacked Iowa to a 27-12 record in three seasons as a starter 2017-2019) including three consecutive bowl victories. Now, some of those same fans would take Stanley back in a heartbeat.
Spencer Petras is the man in the bullseye now. He hasn’t played well this season, and he’d be the first to tell you that. But in his defense, the developing offensive line doesn’t always give him the time he needs. Wide receivers Nico Ragaini, Keagan Johnson and Diante Vines have not played a down yet because of injury. Lead running back Gavin Williams has seen limited duty because of injury.
Ferentz is sticking with Petras against Nevada, but I hope Alex Padilla gets his shot at some point to see if he can give the offense a spark. Last season, Padilla replaced an injured Petras in the first quarter of a victory at Northwestern, then started the next three games (and victories) against Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska.
History tells us that Ferentz doesn’t like to change quarterbacks. And no one has lost his job due to injury.
Beathard for Rudock is one against-the-grain decision. So was going with Ricky Stanzi over Jake Christensen in 2008. Both those changes worked out handsomely. Time will tell if a third is coming.
What’s next? As Ferentz said in January of 2015, it’s time to come up with a good game plan.
Longtime time state of Iowa sports journalist and author formerly of the Des Moines Register. Member of the Kinnick Stadium Media Wall of Fame. 

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