PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t lash at officials in news conferences. He freely admits that if Iowa hadn’t beaten Rutgers, 14-7, he wouldn’t have done so on Saturday, either.
But Ferentz’s frustration has grown all year with what he deems as inconsistent enforcement and interpretation of chop blocking. He mentioned it two weeks ago before Iowa’s game with North Dakota State. It didn’t have any association with that outcome. But Saturday, an assessed illegal block impacted Iowa negatively and, nearly, catastrophically.
On the first play of the second half, Iowa running back LeShun Daniels burst through the left side for a 75-yard touchdown run that would have given the Hawkeyes a 14-0 lead. Instead, right tackle Ike Boettger was flagged for illegal block below the waist, a personal foul.
“They said it was an illegal block, and it sure looked good on the screen,” said Ferentz, who opened his news conference by discussing the play. “My issue is not the officials officiating the game; it’s what we’ve created here structurally. We all have bosses and if they give you rules that are cloudy and not clear, it’s hard to execute your job well. That’s my concern right now.”
Boettger’s block cut across the legs of Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton inside the tackle box along the line of scrimmage. According to the 2016 rules interpretation, which was distributed by the Football Foundation, an offensive player “may not block an opponent below the waist in a direction toward the original position of the ball unless the ball carrier has clearly crossed the line of scrimmage.”
Daniels appeared to have reached the line of scrimmage concurrently with Boettger’s block. To legislate that type of play with any consistency is unlikely at best and most likely futile.
Ferentz has some authority when it comes to offensive line play. He’s coached the offensive line in either college or the NFL since 1981. He was the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line coach when they drafted Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Jonathan Ogden in 1996. Since returning as Iowa’s head coach in 1999, Ferentz has coached six offensive linemen who have merited first-team All-American status and two who were named Outland Trophy winners. In his 17 previous years, NFL clubs have drafted 16 Iowa offensive linemen. Others, like Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Matt Tobin, landed on NFL teams as a free agent.
There’s plenty of room to criticize Ferentz on many topics. But nobody understands the fundamentals of blocking or commands more respect on offensive line play than Ferentz.
“One thing I’ve done for a long time is coach the offensive line, and they’ve altered the rules and I’m a little befuddled on why,” Ferentz said. “I never saw any data that showed there was an issue there. There didn’t seem to be last year. They changed the rules, and I’m talking about nationally. My concern for this is four weeks, there’s been four different interpretations on a rule. It impacts a game. It potentially could. It certainly did on the first play in the second half.
“My concern is that we have a bunch of officials — I’m sure it’s this way for every conference — I can only speak to the Big Ten. We’ve got a bunch of guys committed to working the game, working it hard, working it well, just like this crew today, and we’ve created a set of rules that’s hard to understand. I can tell you I don’t understand them. So, that’s my commentary for today.”