‘We’re going to work on solutions’: No, the Iowa Hawkeyes probably aren’t

Iowa (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) lost on the road to Illinois, 9-6. For the first time since 1989, Illinois can celebrate wins over both Iowa and Wisconsin. The Illini grabbed their first win over Iowa since 2008 and the first in the last nine meetings.

Afterwards, Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz was singing Bret Bielema and the Illini’s praises.

“You know, they played an outstanding game, so, really, both defenses played pretty well. Tough to swallow, but we didn’t do enough to win the football game, make the plays you need to and credit to them. They were able to do that. We’ll head into a bye week 3-3 and just reassess things and try to take advantage of that and get ready for the second part of the season,” Ferentz said.

Ultimately, Ferentz is right on Illinois (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten). The Illini are improved. Still, after the way Saturday night played out, that’s no solace for Iowa fans, nor should it be.

It was more of the same from the Hawkeyes. The defense allowed just the three field goals on 12 Illini drives, forcing six punts and coming away with a pair of turnovers.

The first was a forced fumble by defensive back Riley Moss that Seth Benson recovered to set Iowa up at the Illinois 5-yard line. The second was a Quinn Schulte interception that temporarily wiped away an Illinois scoring chance and kept the game tied at six apiece.

Iowa couldn’t punch in the Moss forced fumble from the 5-yard line and instead actually lost four yards. That string of plays started with a short-arm miss on a pass from quarterback Spencer Petras where running back Leshon Williams would have gone into the end zone from the flat if it had been thrown where he could receive it comfortably.

It’s also worth pointing out that it came on the heels of another Illinois turnover on a muffed punt which Jack Campbell secured that set the Hawkeyes up on the Illini 35-yard line. Of course, the Hawkeyes went three-and-out ahead of the Moss fumble, setting the stage for the Tory Taylor punt to pin Illinois deep and arrange the ensuing circumstances.

The Schulte interception had Iowa backed up to its own 1-yard line, and, with this offense, expecting a first down would have been a foolhardy bet. Naturally, the Hawkeyes held to form, promptly picking up just five yards and going three-and-out before paving the way for Illinois’ game-winning, nine-play, 26-yard scoring drive that painstakingly included a tease of a scoop-and-score fumble return touchdown for Moss that wasn’t to be.

With the game tied at 6-6 and Illinois playing its backup quarterback in Artur Sitkowski, Iowa could do nothing offensively in the second half and punted five straight times before Illinois twisted the final dagger.

All of that offensive futility happened while the Hawkeye defense pounced on Illinois’ backup quarterback, holding the Illini to just 147 yards of total offense, coming away with those two aforementioned turnovers and keeping run-heavy Illinois to just one drive in its final nine that lasted more than 3:38 in time of possession. Again, there were plenty of chances for Iowa to be successful.

Instead, 13 drives netted six points. Along the way, Iowa showcased an inability in the red zone and out-trick played itself from comfortable field goal range. After a pair of completions to wide receiver Nico Ragaini and tight end Sam LaPorta of 15 and 32 yards in the first half’s final minute  drove Iowa from its own 35-yard line to the Illinois 18, the Hawkeyes inexplicably tried a reverse that lost nine yards to Ragaini and ultimately led to a 45-yard field goal miss from Stevens.

“They’re great when they work and when they don’t work, they’re not so great. Obviously their guy did a good job getting up the field and containing,” Ferentz said of the reverse that blew up in Iowa’s face.

At some point, one wonders if the Iowa defense will simply lose interest in having to constantly prop this team up.

“These guys care about each other. That’s not just an offensive thing, defensive thing. These guys care about each other and everybody’s part of the team. I think they all understand there’s a bigger picture here,” Ferentz said of how they keep defensive players’ spirits up.

All of this is to say, it wasn’t any kind of a shock that Iowa stunk offensively once again, finishing with eight punts, just 222 yards of total offense and a pair of Drew Stevens field goals.

Asked again why there still hasn’t been offensive improvement, Ferentz responded with the following.

“It’s a fair question. I mean, 9-6 game, you can probably say both offenses were a little bit lacking, but that’s disappointing. I’m not sure we took a step forward tonight. I felt like we did last week with the offense. Tonight, not the case and credit to Illinois. They were part of that, but then we’re going to play other good defenses, too, along the way,” Ferentz said.

Here’s where it gets particularly frustrating for Hawkeye fans: Iowa is entering its bye week and has two weeks to reset things offensively if it so chooses. Now would be the prime opportunity for an in-season change of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Ferentz, or a chance at several weeks to comfortably navigate a switch to backup quarterback Alex Padilla.

Iowa won’t explore that path. It can’t explore that path. That would be disloyal. And even though Iowa is a national laughing stock offensively that has scored seven points or less six times in the past calendar year, at least the Hawkeyes can hang their hats on their loyalty en route to a losing season.

Instead, Ferentz points to Iowa’s 10 wins that its defense gift wrapped from last season as part of the reason why an in-season change of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is unnecessary for this season.

“Making the change? No, no, no, no. I mean, we won 10 games last year. I don’t know if you’re aware of that, but…so, I look at that, and we’ve won a lot of games since 2015. So, you know, we’re not doing well enough right now. I think that’s fairly obvious and we’re going to work on solutions, figure out what we can do to get better,” Ferentz said.

Kirk also added this when pressed for what his defense of Brian Ferentz as Iowa’s offensive coordinator would be.

“He’s a good football coach. I thought Greg Davis was good in ’14. He got killed and we ended up, you know, having a pretty good year the next year, so, you know, he’s a good football coach. We’ve had three good coordinators now in my opinion and we’ve got to play better. We have to do what we can to help our players. As coaches, we have to do better to try to help them and we’ll try to move forward. It’s easy to point fingers and just call people out. I don’t think I’ve ever operated that way in 23 years and don’t intend to right now,” Ferentz said.

So, the plan is for the Hawkeyes to stick with the offensive coordinator that currently has Iowa with the nation’s 127th scoring offense and dead last nationally in total offense. And don’t expect to see a different quarterback get a look either.

“Right now, I don’t think that was the problem tonight. I mean, as I stood there and watched. In fact, I thought Spencer did some good things. Missed a couple throws and that’s probably going to be every quarterback every game. Yeah, my guess is that’s what we’re going to be doing, but we’ll talk about everything,” Ferentz responded when asked if he would reevaluate the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback in Petras.

The question fans and media keep coming back to: genuinely, how is Iowa this bad offensively?

“I think part of that showed tonight. We’ve got some issues up front right now. We’re young and inexperienced. Again, I thought we made progress last week in that regard. Tonight, not so much. We couldn’t run the ball very successfully and then protect when we have to. But, it’s not all on them. It’s a team thing and right now we’re certainly more experienced on the defensive side and that’s showing. So, we’ll keep working and work through it,” Ferentz said.

On Iowa’s inability to run the football effectively, it doesn’t sound like there’s many tangible answers on how to fix the offensive line any time soon either.

“We’ll just try to reassess and see what we can do and try to get them to play a little smarter. We made improvement I thought last week. Not sure. We’ll look at the film, see what it looks like, but, you know, handle it like every week and just try to move them forward,” Ferentz said.

Maybe a quarterback with more mobility could help open things up in the run game and lead to success. Maybe a different vision or play sequencing from the offensive coordinator could help this offense. Iowa’s players and its fans will get neither.

“I’ll just say like every season’s a new season. Every team’s a new team and these guys have a good football team. So, and we knew that coming in. We knew that. Got a lot of respect for them and so it’s a loss. It’s a tough loss, but, no, we are who we are right now and we can’t change dramatically but hopefully we can find some ways to be more effective. To the point earlier, I think you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand we need to score more points,” Ferentz said.

Everyone knows Iowa needs to score more points to stop hanging this defense and program out to dry, including its head coach, but, yet again, misplaced loyalty appears it will win out instead of doing what Kirk’s contract says he should be doing, which is trying to best position his team to win football games.

It’s Kirk’s program and he appears to have stability where he can pretty much do whatever he wants. Even if that means forcing his players and the alumni through a season where he understands he’s not putting the program’s best foot forward. Just stop telling everyone and acting like you’re working on solutions when it’s clear you’re not.


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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire