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Interview With the Enemy - Iowa Hawkeyes

Jonah from Black Heart Gold Pants Punts answered my burning questions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 29 Northwestern at Iowa

Each week we try to reach out to our fellow blogging brethren to see if they can offer insight into our opponent. The folks over at Black Heart Gold Pants Punts were kind enough to oblige. The answers below have been lightly edited for clarity.

What in the world has happened to Iowa’s offense to get it to this point?

You don’t get to dead last in the country in total offense without a LOT of things going wrong and that’s the case for the Hawkeyes. We can start big picture and point out the obvious: offense has always been something Iowa has used largely to kill clock for the defense under Kirk Ferentz. That might be a bit hyperbolic, but the end result has essentially been that. The offense is intended to avoid turnovers, run clock and flip the field. Points are a nice result of doing that successfully enough.

This year, Iowa has really done none of those things. The Hawkeyes have been wholly incapable of running the ball and by extension of controlling the clock. That’s been due to major struggles along the offensive line, which lost All-American center Tyler Linderbaum to the Baltimore Ravens. Going into last week, the Hawkeyes were averaging 2.9 yards per carry - the second lowest of the Ferentz era (behind only the 2004 season which saw the RB room decimated by a certain football deity whose name shall never be spoken). It’s also been the result of a lack of creativity from offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. Despite doing more to mix in gap concepts to help a struggling, young offensive line, he’s done little to keep defenses guessing via personnel groupings or formations. When Iowa has lined up to play man ball with 21, 22 or 12 personnel, they’ve played man ball. When they’ve come out in 11 personnel, and especially when they’ve come out in shotgun formations, they’ve thrown the ball.

Without any ability to run the ball, there is no hope for setting up play action. And the Hawkeyes have been incapable of doing the inverse and using the pass game to set up the run game. That started right out of the gate when Iowa started the season with six of their seven returning scholarship receivers injured. But even with all but star WR Keagan Johnson now seemingly healthy, there are few athletes capable of creating separation on their own and the route concepts do little to create space for receivers to operate.

So quarterback Spencer Petras has locked in on the one athlete who has shown an ability to get open: tight end Sam LaPorta. But defenses have clearly caught on, and LaPorta is not George Kittle, TJ Hockenson or Noah Fant - he isn’t taking the top off the defense so opponents have simply stacked the box daring an inaccurate quarterback to take difficult shots and pinning their ears back against an inexperienced offensive line in obvious passing downs/formations.


If you had given your son a six figure job working directly beneath you and he was failing do you think you’d be able to fire him?

Well, this is clearly a trick question. Nepotism laws in Iowa prevent such scenarios from existing! But, if I were an athletic director who had a head coach’s son reporting to me and he was operating the literal worst offense in America, I’d kick him to the curb faster than a wide receiver running away from Iowa’s offensive scheme.

But, as it stands, Gary Barta is spineless and reports to Kirk Ferentz rather than the other way around so Brian is going to keep doing his thing until his dad finds him a cushy off ramp into the NFL after the season. And that’s best case scenario for Iowa. There’s a real chance he’s back next year.

As bad as the Iowa offense has been, the Iowa defense has been just as good. What is the strength of this defense?

This defense is really the epitome of what we’ve come to expect from a Phil Parker defense. Much like the offense, there’s not a ton of flash here. But Parker has become an expert at identifying talented players who fit a role in his scheme and then pounding their responsibilities into their head to the point they can do them in their sleep.

There are no real superstar athletes in this group, but there are also no real weaknesses. The Hawkeyes have battled injuries at all three levels with DT Yahya Black missing weeks, LB Jestin Jacobs missing the remainder of the year and CB Terry Roberts seemingly missing half the season. But Phil has amassed depth that just isn’t there on the offense and guys have stepped in with no noticeable drop off in production.

This group continues to execute the boa constrictor defense Parker loves. They dare opponents to take the easy yardage underneath, betting teams can rarely string together 8-10 plays to drive 70+ yards without shooting themselves in the foot with a meaningful negative play or a turnover. When things tighten up in the red zone, those underneath yards are covered up and they’ve been great at forcing FGs.

Last year when these two teams met Purdue found a way to win, in fact Jeff Brohm has had great success against Kirk Ferentz and Iowa during his time at Purdue going 4-1 overall. Do you see any common threads or reasons that Purdue gives Iowa so much trouble?

I’m going to say this, and it’s going to sound nuts in the context of this year’s offense, but the common thread to me is that Brohm has in fact been perfectly fine to stay patient with the Iowa defense and march their way down the field with a million underneath throws - often to the say guy. And if he finds a matchup that truly is an advantage, he’s one of the only coaches to go back to it over and over and over.

All that to say, the defense has really been the issue in these last five matchups. In the four losses, they’ve given up 24, 38, 24 and 24 points. Those aren’t huge numbers for the Purdue offense and for most teams that could be a winning number, but the Hawkeyes are giving up less than 17 ppg over the last five years and this is an offense that has managed 24 points in a conference game less than 50% of the time during that period. It’s just not realistic to expect Iowa’s offense to regularly put up more than 24 points, as sad and absurd as that may sound.

More generally, what’s the fan base’s temperature on Kirk Ferentz? He’s seemingly been at Iowa forever is this a he’s gonna die on the sidelines at age 99 type situation?

Heading into the season, Ferentz had done enough to walk away on his own terms in the eyes of most Hawkeye fans. Then he went out and decided those terms were burning the program down from the inside in some ridiculous effort to help his son, despite the rest of the world viewing every additional game called by Brian as further evidence he will never be an offensive coordinator anywhere else and will never be a head coach anywhere.

Kirk has done more to hurt his son’s future coaching prospects and his own legacy over the last few months than any of us could have ever predicted. We’ve run several polls on the topic this season and roughly half the fanbase is now ready for Kirk to step away and EVERYONE is ready for Brian to be shown the door.

But again, the issue is that decision can only be made by Kirk or Gary Barta and neither seem willing to actually make it. I maintain Kirk is looking to extend his career until he hits a career .600 winning percentage to be eligible for the Hall of Fame (he’s comfortably there at Iowa but had some miserable years at Maine before arriving in Iowa City) and there’s just no world in which Barta actually fires him and pays him the $42M he would be owed.

I know it’s a sore subject but with Charlie Jones excelling at Purdue after being barely used at Iowa and Tyrone Tracy Jr. stepping into a bigger role at Purdue as well I’ve just gotta know what happened there? Is this just a failure to identify talent or has Purdue just gotten lucky?

Never heard of them.

I know how this is going to read on a Purdue site (and candidly, I’m in the minority at Iowa as well), but I’m going to answer this truthfully. I don’t think anyone at the time or now sees Tracy leaving as a major loss. He looked promising early in his career but REALLY struggled with drops the last few seasons and was 5th or 6th on the WR depth chart when he left. Granted, with 6 injuries to start the season he would have been great the first few weeks, but he was pretty clearly replaced by a better version of himself in Arland Bruce IV - the only scholarship WR to stay healthy all year.

As for Jones, it’s much more of a mixed bag. Many fans were shocked he left largely because of WHEN he left. Departing after the portal was closed and after spring practice wrapped (with Tracy making the trip back to Iowa City to take in the open practice in person, which raised eyebrows in the fanbase) certainly frustrated a lot of Hawkeye fans. But we also understood the decision to an extent.

Again, this is not sour grapes, just a statistical factor: Jones had been passed by both Bruce and Keagan Johnson in the receiver pecking order down the stretch and Iowa utilizes their TE to the point where he was likely to be the 4th option in an offense that has attempted fewer passes this year than Aidan O’Connell has completed.

Does that mean his talent was missed? Maybe. I think more accurately, he fit into a role in Iowa City that is different than the one Purdue has because the two schools run vastly different schemes. Keagan Johnson is much more explosive on the outside and nobody could have predicted he would still be out at this point. Bruce is a better fit in Iowa’s slot and Jones doesn’t really profile as the big, physical possession receiver Iowa likes to have opposite their outside WR.

At this point, I think a lot of Hawkeye fans are happy for Jones knowing he clearly made the best choice for him. It would have been huge having him with all the WR injuries this year, but I don’t think anyone believes the offense would suddenly be good if he was still in Iowa City.

Final question, what’s your gut feeling and prediction for the outcome of Saturday’s game?

Gut feel is this one looks a lot like last year. Iowa’s offense is still largely lost. They were able to establish the run for the first time all season against Northwestern so I’d love to believe they found something there, but more realistically I expect Purdue to stack the box and force Petras to beat them. He can’t and I expect the offense to be lucky to get more than a touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, Phil is stubborn to a fault and won’t bracket Jones. I expect him to get the David Bel treatment and come away with 100+ yards and 2+ scores on his own, largely on underneath sink and dunk stuff where he breaks one tackle and moves the sticks.

Purdue 24, Iowa 13