A couple points on Kirk Ferentz. One, this is the best thing ever:
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) July 25, 2017
The Iowa Hawkeyes coach self-mocking his love of a good punt? Check. Anecdote about coffee? Check. Anecdote in which he’s slammed by his wife? Check. Anecdote about how slow he was as a linebacker at UConn? Check. Mocking social media? Check. The laugh-snort? Check.
Nearly two decades of the man’s greatest hits, compressed neatly into 62 seconds. The essence of an era. Bravo, BTN. The next Caramel Macchiato is on us.
Second, a word on precedent. Because as camps open and the dog days roll in, you start to wonder if the Dean of Big Ten Whistle Jockeys — Ferentz’s 19th season in Iowa City kicks off Sept. 2 — is going to wind up getting the last laugh-snort on us all:
To the uninitiated, statnik Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings measure a team’s relative efficiency and explosiveness. And the trend lines are telling:
- Ferentz teams since 2005, on average, according to FootballOutsiders.com: No. 55.8 nationally in Offensive S&P + / No. 55 nationally in Rushing S&P+ / No. 32.2 nationally in Defensive S&P+
- Ferentz teams since 2005 that won 9 or more games, on average: No. 41.6 nationally in Offensive S&P + / No. 48.3 nationally in Rushing S&P+ / No. 18 nationally in Defensive S&P+
- Ferentz teams since 2005 that won 8 games, on average: No. 57.7 nationally in Offensive S&P + / No. 51 nationally in Rushing S&P+ / No. 15.6 nationally in Defensive S&P+
When the Hawkeyes are good — contending-for-the-division-title good — the offense is reasonably efficient, the run game usually gets what it needs when it needs it, and when it doesn’t, well — you punt. Because the defenses, in the case of all six of those 8-wins-or-better seasons, ranged from very good (33rd nationally in 2015) to excellent (top 15 nationally in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2016).
And whataya know: Iowa is slated this fall to bring back eight starters on defense, including almost the entire front seven from a unit that allowed just 1.51 points per drive to non-North Dakota State opposition last season — good for 11th in the country.
Offensively, Ferentz has two NFL-caliber tailbacks to play with as former Nevada workhorse James Butler, a graduate transfer, joins Akrum Wadley in the backfield party. And they’re working behind an offensive line that returns four starters and has a pair of psychological, physical and literal victories over Michigan and Nebraska already up on the trophy wall.
“That’s where they’re very good — right up the middle,” FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt told Land of 10 recently. “It’s throwback in that my dad was a high school football coach, and he always preached, ‘You build defenses front to back, inside-out.’ When Kansas State is good, when Iowa is good, that’s when their defenses are good, front to back, inside-out. Just like that.”
Of course, it doesn’t necessarily excite the kids. Or the pundits. Cleveland.com’s annual unofficial preseason Big Ten media poll pegged the Hawkeyes for fourth in the Big Ten West, behind a Cornhuskers side that just lost one of its best defensive players in cornerback Chris Jones and a Northwestern bunch that has to replace a receiver in Austin Carr who accounted for 90 catches and 12 touchdowns.
“Kirk’s one of those guys — I would put Mike Riley in this category, I would put Bill Snyder in this category — where it’s not always about the flashy players that they’re getting back,” Klatt continued. “It’s just — especially [with] the players that have been in their program, that understand how to work hard, that understand the fundamentals of football.
“Then, all of a sudden, they’re winning games 24-21 against those evenly matched 2 through 5 [in the division]. But you’re coming out on top of those games, you’re coming out on top of that.”
Iowa’s perimeter — cornerbacks, wideouts, tight ends, quarterbacks — raises all kind of red flags, on paper. But the spine, the backbone, is a battering ram looking for a wooden door to abuse.
‘That’s where they’re very good — right up the middle.’
— FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt on the Iowa Hawkeyes
Butler, the new toy, ran for 1,345 yards and 10 scores in 2015 and for 1,336 and 12 more scores last fall. Pro Football Focus Big Ten analyst Josh Liskiewitz charted the Illinois native with forcing 23 broken tackles against UNLV last Nov. 26 en route to 244 total yards and 4 touchdowns.
“I’ve never heard of something like that,” Liskiewitz said. “I went back and watched the film, and sure enough. He actually kind of reminds me of Wadley in terms of his elusiveness.
“He’s got real quick hops, kind of makes guys miss in the hole and he can run through contact. He kind of runs through arm tackles, a lot of [arm] tackles. Not a big guy, but he definitely has some power to be able to handle those. Not a real explosive guy. He’s not a guy that’s going to hit a lot of home runs. His stats bear that out.”
James Butler leads all FBS RBs w/ his 87 total forced missed tackles. With his transfer to Iowa, the Big 10 boasts the top 2 in that regard. pic.twitter.com/KkZeI3PZg4
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) July 17, 2017
Iowa RB Akrum Wadley is the most elusive returning back from a season ago.
Can he even increase his elusive rating in 2017? pic.twitter.com/qJQ0wEOjV8
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) July 10, 2017
Lightning, meet thunder.
“So it’s going to be scary for teams to have to deal with both,” Liskiewitz said.
“Because of their offense, they’re both going to need to tote the ball a lot, both as receivers and runners. So obviously, Wadley’s going to be able to stay fresh. And there’s not going to be a drop-off in talent … you have a guy who is statistically, essentially, his equal. So I think that’s a pretty big deal for Iowa.
“I don’t know if they can compete with Wisconsin, especially considering Wisconsin’s schedule, but they’ll be up there, close. They certainly have a real good shot to finish above everyone else in that division.”
The East is won on sizzle.
The West is won on steak.
“I think Iowa and Nebraska are the two best teams outside of Wisconsin in the division, but we’ll see how it plays out,” Klatt said. “I think you’re exactly right — the middle of that division is kind of a coin flip. But all that experience at [those] important positions really helps.”
Because you know when the Hawkeyes are their most dangerous? When you don’t see them coming.