IOWA CITY, Iowa — Don’t let one loss beat you twice.
It’s one of Kirk Ferentz’s favorite sayings. He probably brought it up to his Iowa football team this week. Running back LeShun Daniels repeated it on Tuesday.
It’s good advice, not just for the players, but for the coaching staff too. What Iowa tried at No. 8 Penn State didn’t work. More of the same will likely only bring about another lopsided loss with No. 2 Michigan on Saturday (8:12 p.m. ET, ABC).
“We got to make sure that we learn from the mistakes and we just dust ourselves off and we are able to get back up,” Daniels said.
The mantra needs to be embraced program-wide. Ferentz is as conservative as a starched white dress shirt. It’s worked for him throughout his career. Focusing on the little things, running the football, playing strong defense and controlling the line result in more wins than losses.
The problem is it didn’t work last week. Penn State bullied Iowa. It exposed weaknesses on both sides of the football. The result was a 27-point loss that felt like 270.
The default Iowa setting got exposed. If we’re being honest it doesn’t work when Iowa runs into more talented teams. The same things keep happening. Opponents run the ball. Iowa can’t. Wide receivers struggle to get open.
Penn State did it. No. 8 Wisconsin did it. Doing the same with Michigan will only lead to similar results.
The Wolverines are top three in both points scored and points allowed. Advanced stats indicate they may be the best team in the country. They currently sit No. 1 in the S&P+ rankings.
“We are going to have to be at our best,” Ferentz said.
It’s more than that. Michigan is the kind of team Iowa wants to be. The Wolverines are physical. They’re capable of breaking an opponent mentally and physically. When two teams meet that want to do the same thing the one that is better at it usually wins.
Iowa using something like the Penn State scheme against Michigan would be like the No. 1 heavyweight wrestling a 165-pounder — one who isn’t even ranked. It wouldn’t be for the faint of heart.
Ferentz preaches keep moving down the path. Make corrections and the Iowa way will work. That’s usually the case, until it meets the brick wall Jim Harbaugh has constructed at Michigan.
This isn’t the week for the same old Iowa. Third-party candidates entered Election Day with a better chance of being named president than Iowa does of beating Michigan with its basic game plan. Despite the long odds it appears Iowa is sticking with the original blueprint.
“That is just on us as players,” linebacker Ben Niemann said. “The coaches, they are giving us good game plans. We are not executing.”
“It’s execution,” cornerback Desmond King said. “We need to go out there and do our job and play.”
Player after player said something similar during media availability. It might work in a normal week. Iowa course corrected in October, after all. But it’s not the thing to do this week. Iowa needs to try something different.
Blitz more. Pull out a trick play. Call plays counter to team tendencies. Pass the ball to running back Akrum Wadley out of the slot. The possibilities are endless.
The Hawkeyes don’t need to come out with five receivers and quarterback C.J. Beathard in the shotgun. A team can’t be overhauled in a week but it can be fine-tuned.
Now is the time to do it. This is a limited team. There is no guarantee the changes will work, but Iowa already showed the status quo isn’t getting it done. There is nothing to lose. Iowa is a 20-point underdog at home. Major underdogs need to take chances and be aggressive.
“You try to tweak (a game plan) toward what you feel you can do best at that time, plus you have to consider what the opponents, what they offer, what kind of challenges, those types of things, and then do your best,” Ferentz said.
The best isn’t being basic Iowa. It led to one loss last week. It will lead to a second.
Ferentz needs to listen to his own advice. It’s Iowa’s best chance to upset the Wolverines.