May 22, 2024

Illinois has to counteract Iowa’s “win ugly” on Saturday.

The Illinois Fighting Illini enter Saturday one win away from bowl eligibility—and still in the running to win the ridiculous Big Ten West—after an intriguing, puzzling victory over Indiana last week. Illinois must defeat the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in order to secure the former and secure a spot in the latter.

We had a conversation with Jonah Parker of SB Nation’s Iowa website, Black Heart Gold Pants, the night before this divisional matchup in Iowa City.

BHGP: I believe that Kirk Ferentz’s apparent desire to do this is a major factor in why it seems to only work at Iowa. In an effort to win games, most coaches are eager to score points, but Ferentz now finds it almost amusing to see how much he can scoff at the idea of needing to score more points in order to win.

Throughout his 24 years in the state, Iowa’s defence has been good to great, but during the past ten or so years, it has improved to the point where it is almost great. After that, he appears to have adopted the belief that having a lot of offensive variance—specifically, turnovers—is the only way to lose. Thus, we’ve observed a consistent drop in output there along with an increasingly cautious strategy.

For some reason, he doesn’t seem to understand that a conservative strategy kills time of possession, which is the foundation of his “complementary football” style, in addition to yielding fewer points. We’ve seen an increase in 3-and-outs (last week being the exception) and a consistent drop in ToP as opposing defences focus more and more on the run game and the offensive inventiveness in the passing game wanes.

BHGP: For fans of the Hawkeyes, Brown is an intriguing case study. Considering what I mentioned in my answer to your initial query, it’s easy to understand why Iowa has had trouble luring elite wide receiver talent. However, with a redesigned offence being sold by Cade McNamara, this season promised significant playing time for any incoming wide receiver. Those hopes have been completely dashed by injuries, but playing time has continued.

Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown was not in the game for nearly the first eight weeks of the season, even with the available playing time. Brown didn’t really see the field much in the first half of the season, despite the fact that we saw McNamara’s first pass as a Hawkeye go 36 yards to the house to fellow transfer wide receiver Seth Anderson. We did see a few glimpses of Brown after McNamara went down, but to be honest, he had trouble with drops while Deacon Hill displayed far less touch than the former starter.

But in the last two weeks, Brown seems to have clicked and his role has grown significantly. Two weeks ago, he caught a 23-yard pass from Hill to set up the game-winning field goal against Northwestern. Last week, he caught three passes for 27 yards and his first touchdown of the career. It appears that this performance increased both Brown’s confidence and that of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

He’s not a big guy—he’s only 5’11”, but he has more speed than any other wide receiver in the room, and his build makes him a threat to break tackles and go up and get contested catches. Both are critically needed in this offensive collapse.

BHGP: It’s no secret that Kirk was displeased with the announcement’s timing. In Iowa, the prevailing opinion is that the elder Ferentz was not overly surprised by his son’s dismissal, and to be honest, Brian was probably going to leave after the season anyhow (he was supposedly on his way to the NFL a year ago). Kirk disagreed with the announcement of the change mid-season, as it goes against his philosophy of handling coaching changes (in 24 years, we have never seen a coach fired in the middle of the season).

Although he was obviously upset by it and has been very emotional after the game ever since, I don’t think Kirk’s career is over. Supporters often overlook the distinct mental makeup required to be a head coach at a power five school. If you do something for 25 years, you probably won’t know how to live without it. It’s just not possible to imagine a guy suddenly switching to a hobby you’ve never had time for in your life after dedicating every waking moment to teaching children how to play football. For better or worse, I believe KF will be in charge for at least five more years.


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