May 30, 2024

Under head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa football has never been known as an offensive powerhouse, but the Hawkeyes have always managed to put points on the board. That is, until last Saturday at Happy Valley, where Penn State steamrolled Iowa, 31-0. The shutout defeat was the first one for Iowa since October 21, 2000, coincidentally another 31-0 loss, this time to Illinois.

Posting just four first downs in the contest, Iowa totaled a meager 76 yards of offense and only ran three plays within Penn State territory.

“This is the worst feeling in the world,” Iowa starting quarterback Cade McNamara said in his postgame press conference. “I mean, I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt this bad about a game, let alone a day in my life.”

Iowa’s performance ignited a firestorm of criticism on social media from fans, who have already been vocal as they track whether or not Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz will guide the team to 25 points per game this season, a performance incentive stipulated in his much-discussed 2023 contract. Brian, the son of head coach Kirk Ferentz, and the Hawkeyes squad have averaged just over 21 points through four games.

That Saturday evening, the metaphorical pitchforks were raised, as some called for Brian’s immediate dismissal, the firing of offensive line coach George Barnett, and even the removal of both Ferentzes.

Yet in and around the Hawkeyes’ practice facility, Iowa players and coaches have largely ignored what others are saying about them. Instead, those in the Black and Gold have relied on short-term memory and unity to move on from the disastrous showing at Penn State and refocus their efforts on their next opponent: the Michigan State Spartans.

Maintaining perspective on and off the football field
When asked on Tuesday about their activity on social media, several Hawkeye players said they stay off Twitter, Instagram, and other apps.

Two seasons ago, Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini searched his name on social media after games to see what others were saying about him. What he found was rarely encouraging. Now heading into his sixth season, the wideout said he has ditched that habit and gained some perspective.

“You realize that this [person on social media] has two followers and literally has no clue about football when they talk about how I play the sport,” Ragaini said. “I’m not reading into all that stuff.”

Hawkeye safety Xavier Nwankpa said he also chooses to remain away from social media, opting to instead prioritize more important duties such as practice, film study, and classwork.

When asked about online criticism toward Barnett, Iowa starting left guard Nick DeJong said he doesn’t listen to any of it. The senior explained how the position coach shouldn’t have to take sole responsibility for the players’ performance. In the game against the Nittany Lions, the Hawkeyes generated less than two yards per rush and yielded two strip sacks.

“If there’s any type of heat, or whatever you want to call it, it should be on the guys playing,” he said, describing Barnett as one of the best coaches he’s ever had.

Kirk Ferentz echoed DeJong’s support for Barnett. He said the O-Line coach is in a “difficult situation” right now, but reaffirmed that Barnett has earned the confidence of both the coaching staff and players for his teaching and empathetic character.

While blocking out outside noise is one thing, not letting postgame emotions simmer is another. Iowa defensive end Joe Evans said the players’ passion for the game makes losses like last Saturday’s painful.

“It’s just going to tear you apart, and it should,” Evans said of the loss. “We put in countless hours into this game.”

Evans clarified that although such anguish is appropriate, the feeling shouldn’t last more than 24 hours, citing a team rule saying that regardless of the outcome, another fresh week of practice arrives. According to Evans, sitting on the loss for a day got him “fired up to go practice and go play the next game.”

Turning the page to matchup with Michigan State
That next game for the Hawkeyes has them back home at Kinnick Stadium in front of a crowd of 69,250 fans donned in black. They will take on conference opponent Michigan State, who returns to Iowa City for the first time since 2020.

Tuesday, Iowa linebacker Nick Jackson discussed the combination of Spartan quarterback Noah Kim and running back Nathan Carter and explained how the duo create a stout zone read option, where Kim can either hand off the ball to the “dynamic” Carter or keep the ball to himself and scramble.

Carter, a transfer from Connecticut, is averaging five yards per carry this season and already has more touchdowns this season than he had in his two years with the Huskies. Kim is also mobile under center, as the Virginia native has averaged five rushing attempts himself this season.

Coaching Kim and Carter from the sidelines will be Michigan State interim head coach Harlon Barnett, who has gone 0-2 in his first two games at the helm with the Spartans.

Alongside Barnett is Mark Dantonio, the veteran Michigan State coach who came aboard amidst Mel Tucker’s suspension (MSU officially fired Tucker on Wednesday). Dantonio coached the Spartans for 13 seasons and has a winning record against the Hawkeyes, including a victory in the 2015 Big Ten championship game.

Known around college football as a defensive guru, Dantonio has kept Iowa at bay, holding them to less than 20 points per game over nine contests.

Even going up against a familiar foe, Kirk Ferentz said he preferred gradual improvement to the offense over radical change. Amidst countless demands from fans to reshape the offensive scheme, the head coach said there’s “no magic answer” for a complete renovation.

“History has taught me that if you just keep pushing forward, maybe some good things will happen,” he said. “You’ve got to give yourself a chance, and you can’t worry about bad things or missteps along the way.”

For Ragaini, this effort has to come from everyone. Even if outside noise places the blame on specific people, growth has to be a united effort.

“On Twitter, they point a finger at Brian [Ferentz], or the quarterback, or the [offensive] line, and that’s what you want to do,” Ragaini said. “But you can’t do that; you have to focus on yourself … That’s obviously not the easiest thing to do … That’s the only way we’re going to grow as a team.”

About the Author

Matt McGowan is a sophomore at the University of Iowa and has been on the staff of The Daily Iowan, the university’s student newspaper, since his freshman year. With The Daily Iowan, Matt has covered women’s tennis, men’s wrestling, and other sports. He has been on the football beat since the spring of 2022 and is the editor of The Daily Iowan’s Pregame edition, a weekly print solely devoted to football. Check out one of his favorite stories, a profile on Iowa center Logan Jones.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *