Kirk Ferentz is old school. No shocker there.
He’s in his third decade as Iowa’s head football coach, and still following the same principles that have made him a survivor at a school that used to eat up those who sat in his chair. Discipline, defense and avoiding turnovers are three reasons why he’s in his 23rd season as the head coach.
But something is changing with this 66-year-old ball-coach. And if you listen closely, you can pick it up. In today’s me-first world, hype seems to be as important as execution. And I think that gets Ferentz as worked up as that 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska in 2014.
Ferentz left some clues on the table last season. Remember the win at Minnesota, when he used all his timeouts late in the game as hype-master P.J. Fleck tried to avoid a shutout against Iowa’s backup defenders?
“I figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here,” Ferentz said afterwards.
And then there was the 26-20 win against Nebraska, another program that thrives on off-season hype as it tries to reinvent itself. When Coach Scott Frost said clapping on Iowa’s sidelines was throwing off the snap cadence, Ferentz laughed it off in a humor-filled postgame.
On Saturday, when Iowa traveled to Iowa State for a Top 10 duel in the most anticipated game in the series, Ferentz had his game-face on. A notorious newspaper reader, it looks like Ferentz had been keeping track of the hype machine for weeks.
On a pregame message on the University of Iowa’s athletic website, Ferentz talked about the importance of the game.
“Whether you’re a Hawkeye or on the other team, you’re inevitably part of a tradition that brings our state together for something bigger than just a game,” he said.
He didn’t mention Iowa State by name. Maybe he got tired of hearing his team referred to as “that school out east” or EIU (Eastern Iowa U).
And after Iowa’s 27-17 victory Saturday, the coach’s belief in steak over sizzle was clearly part of the motivational message to his team heading into the game.
“Keep the hype, and we’ll keep the trophy,” Iowa safety Jack Koerner tweeted. “It’s a HAWKEYE STATE. #6peat.”
Afterwards, sideline reporter Holly Rowe interviewed Ferentz.
“With all the hype surrounding this game, in particular for Iowa State, what does it say for you that, “Hey, we’re still here, Iowa’s still here,’ ” Holly asked him.
“Well, yea, haha,” Ferentz told her, fighting back tears “You’re right about that. I’m just really happy for our guys. They’ve worked really hard since January. I think we’ve got a good football team. Obviously we’ve got a lot to work on. It’s a lot easier after a win.”
There is one difference in this series versus others that have hype as one of their pillars of success. Ferentz respects Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell, and the way he’s built the Iowa State program. It’s a blueprint familiar to the ones used by Hayden Fry and Ferentz at Iowa and Bill Snyder at Kansas State. You don’t worry about recruiting stars after a guy’s name. You find guys who fit your program and coach them up.
That said, Ferentz is now 5-0 against Campbell and has won six straight in the series. That’s the longest streak since that ridiculous run of 15 in a row from 1983 to 1997. Ferentz-coached teams have also won five straight in Ames.
This was Iowa’s highest-ranked road win since it beat No. 5 Penn State, 21-10, in 2009. The highlight of that game was Adrian Clayborn’s blocked punt, scoop and score. On Saturday, one of the biggest highlights came when Jestin Jacobs stripped Breece Hall and linebacker Jack Campbell scooped and scored.
Which gets to the biggest reason Iowa has a nice little winning streak against its in-state rival. The Hawkeyes had no turnovers versus Iowa State for the fifth straight game. The last turnover came in the fourth quarter of the 2015 games in Ames.
With the game tied, 17-17, and 9 minutes to play, Jordan Canzeri fumbled and Iowa State recovered at its own 7. But Iowa scored the next time it had the ball, a 25-yard dart from C.J. Beathard to Riley McCarron. And after a Desmond King interception gave Iowa the ball back at the Iowa State 25, Canzeri needed just two carries to reach the end zone for the clinching score. He finished the game with 124 yards rushing in 24 carries.
In the five mistake-free games that have followed, Iowa has outscored Iowa State in points off turnovers, 33-0. That includes a 20-0 edge after four takeaways Saturday - two interceptions by Matt Hankins and another by linebacker Seth Benson, and that Jacobs-forced fumble that Campbell recovered for the touchdown.
Iowa has an NCAA-best 70 interceptions since 2017. And the Hawkeyes have held their last 24 opponents to less than 25 points, the longest streak among Power 5 teams. Sounds like defensive coordinator Phil Parker deserves to be a million-dollar man.
The defense has been aided by the leg of reigning Big Ten punter of the year Tory Taylor, who averaged 51.1 yards on eight punts. The Cyclones started drives from their own 8, 6, 10 and 6 yard lines after Taylor punts.
Iowa started the 2020 season 0-2, and the glass didn’t even look half full. Six straight victories followed, creating momentum heading into 2021. Now 2-0, Iowa has defeated its last five ranked opponents going back to 2019 (No. 9 Iowa State and No. 17 Indiana this year, No. 25 Wisconsin in 2020 and No. 22 USC and No. 8 Minnesota in 2019).
That’s the longest streak for the program since six straight in 1960 (No. 10 Oregon, No. 6 Northwestern, No. 13 Michigan State, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 10 Purdue and No. 19 Kansas). Iowa also improved to 23-4 in its last 27 trophy games.
The offense remains a work in progress heading into a game against Kent State at 2:30 Saturday. Charlie Jones is emerging as a go-to guy for quarterback Spencer Petras. Another go-to guy or two would help, and it would also give Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin more room to create in open space. Finding a way to get Tyrone Tracy involved would be another plus.
The next two weeks - Colorado State comes to Kinnick on Sept. 25 - provides the opportunity to grow before returning to Big Ten play at Maryland on Oct. 1.
But for now, this team is winning because of discipline, defense and avoiding turnovers. That’s the only hype Ferentz cares about.