IOWA CITY, Iowa — There Cato June sat, a few feet from his Michigan defensive backs coach. It seemed as though June was a mile away. Thanks to the screaming Kinnick Stadium faithful hanging over the railing, June could barely hear a word being said.
June would tell the story in the Indianapolis Colts locker room. Every time it came up it would bring a smile to former Iowa tight end Dallas Clark.
“That says it all,” Clark said.
Yes, Kinnick Stadium was a tough to place to play in. Past tense.
The screaming fans are still there, but the home-field advantage from Clark’s time in the early 2000s is no more. The Hawkeyes are dropping games at Kinnick Stadium with more regularity than ever before under their 18-year coach, Kirk Ferentz.
They lost their last two home contests and host No. 10 Wisconsin on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) in a series where the road team hwon the last five matchups. It begs the question: What happened to Iowa’s edge in Kinnick Stadium?
“None of us like losing at home,” Iowa offensive guard Ike Boettger said. “That is something we definitely need to get better at.”
Ferentz is 83-39 at Kinnick Stadium in his career. His .680 winning percentage is strong, but there is a dividing line in his success, and it begins in 2012.
|Years||Iowa Home Record||Winning Percentage|
After a rough first two seasons, Ferentz suffered three home losses just once in the next 11 seasons. It’s happened three times in the last five campaigns (another home loss this season will make it four out of five), and a third of his home losses have piled up since 2012.
That period does include a four-win season which saw five home defeats (2012), but there are two winning seasons with at least three home losses in that stretch, and Iowa is two wins away from a winning season with at least two home losses in 2016.
The caliber of team Iowa puts on the field does play a factor, but this five-year stretch also includes the best regular season in Ferentz’s tenure, when the Hawkeyes started 12-0 and won all seven home games last season.
“Winning at home is something we take pride in,” Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said. “Defending Kinnick is something that we really want to do every single time.”
It’s something Iowa struggles to do against lesser competition. The Hawkeyes’ 13 losses as double-digit favorites since 2006 is a stat the fan base is well aware of. Iowa is 7-5 as a double-digit favorite in true road games under Ferentz, which leaves eight of those losses in Kinnick Stadium, including four since 2012.
|2012||Central Michigan||Iowa -14||L 32-31|
|2014||Iowa State||Iowa -12||L 20-17|
|2016||North Dakota State||Iowa -14.5||L 23-21|
|2016||Northwestern||Iowa -11.5||L 38-31|
Two of those losses came in the last five weeks. The Hawkeyes said at the time they didn’t play with the necessary energy required to win those games. Having a few more weeks to reflect on the defeats only strengthened that theory with the squad.
“Our sense of urgency has changed, definitely increased,” Iowa running back Akrum Wadley said. “When we talk about starting early, starting fast, we talk about attacking them first. Playing with a sense of urgency, don’t be lazy. No plays off.”
Why does that happen? The different mindset the team brings at home and on the road could be a factor. Coaches harp on players about being professionals on the road. The Hawkeyes know it’s them vs. a stadium cheering against them. It creates a different vibe.
“You come in with a chip on your shoulder when you go on the road like a dog that hasn’t been fed for a few weeks,” Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said.
At home, Iowa knows the 70,000-plus will be behind them. It’s a confidence and adrenaline boost, but the Hawkeyes admit Kinnick might be a crutch they lean on too much.
“It’s not as serious as away because we are at home,” said Johnson of the team’s mindset. “We know our surroundings, what to expect.”
Wadley believes the solution may be entering Kinnick Stadium the same way the Hawkeyes would walk into Camp Randall Stadium.
“We come together when we play away,” Wadley said. “Coaches always talk about business-like (attitude), and we always think about, we don’t think about it as a road game.”
Style of play could be a factor as well. Even with “new Kirk” popping up the last two years, Iowa does rely on a more conservative approach to the game.
The Hawkeyes want to win by running the ball and with defense. They play ball control and are more than willing to punt when crossing midfield to win the field-position battle.
This brand of football is designed to keep a team in games and give it a shot at winning. That can be a double-edged sword, letting an inferior opponent hang around. It’s also one that may negate the impact of a crowd. Wisconsin tries to do the same thing, and Badgers linebacker Jack Cichy said what the squads do plays a role into why the home team isn’t holding onto the Heartland Trophy.
“A lot of the players just focus on that line of scrimmage,” Cichy said. “How many guys are in the box and you kind of get tunnel vision. In that aspect, the fans may not play that big of a role. Not to say they don’t play a role at all, but the road team has prevailed.”
Ferentz doesn’t seem to put much stock in anything connecting the 13 home losses, other than poor play.
“It still gets down to what happens when the ball is snapped,” Ferentz said. “For the players, they really have to be wired in on what is their job, whether it’s snowing, 90 degrees, we’re playing in Butte, Montana, or we’re playing in Kinnick with a packed house.”
Ultimately, it’s the performance and execution of the 11 on the field that dictate the outcome. That’s why Ferentz said he doesn’t put a bigger emphasis on winning home games when the team is struggling at Kinnick Stadium.
“I don’t think there’s any great difference,” said Ferentz on winning at home or on the road. “I think most of us would volunteer we’d rather be at home, but it still gets down to what you do at kickoff, how you play, how you perform, and that’s the bottom line.”
The bottom line is Kinnick Stadium can still be an advantage. Winning at home is a common thread when Iowa wins double-digit games in a season. There were only two home losses combined in those five seasons.
|Year||Overall Record||Home Record|
The three seasons in which Iowa won the Big Ten or a division championship (2002, 2004, 2015) saw one total home loss.
Clark acknowledges the stadium today is a little different from the one he sat in as a grayshirt, before he joined the team in 1998.
“There were things that weren’t supposed to be bottled and thrown, and so you have stories like that,” Clark said. “I think the student section has changed a little bit.”
But he doesn’t think it’s a bad thing. The atmosphere is still the same. Restrooms just may be used a little more often now.
Kinnick can still be an edge for the Hawkeyes. Clark is certain of it. Opponents still talk about it like June did to Clark.
“It’s very hostile and a very fun place to play,” Wisconsin defensive back Sojourn Shelton said. “I can’t wait to play there. That is always one of those stadiums I am looking forward to going to when I see it on the schedule.”
Shelton and Wisconsin won in Kinnick Stadium in 2013 and 2014. Of course an opponent may be interested in a return trip with such fond memories.
Starting Saturday, Iowa is out to turn that excitement to apprehension.
“We take pride in winning at home and losing our last two here is something we don’t tolerate,” Hesse said. “We are going to have to get it back to the way it should be.”