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Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has 143 wins under his belt at the University of Iowa, one away from the all-time record.

The Gazette will count down each win, as ranked by writer Marc Morehouse.

18

A quick look at Iowa post-Kirk Ferentz

Iowa 44, Iowa State 41 (OT) | Sept. 9, 2017

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley leaps into the end zone for a touchdown against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley leaps into the end zone for a touchdown against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Three cool things:

1. Biggest question for the Iowa program right now? Without a doubt, it’s how long Kirk Ferentz plans to keep this going.

In 2016, Ferentz and Iowa agreed to a contract extension. He’ll be paid $4.5 million through January 2026. His salary and bonuses top out at $5.4 million in 2025.

Ferentz is 63. If he stays through this contract, he’ll be 70. If everything stays the same — same athletics director, UI president, health — do you think Ferentz wants to go that long? Probably not. For reference, Bill Snyder is 78 and the head coach at Kansas State.

Let’s say year after this one, just to move this exercise forward. That’d be 2019. He’d be 64, and Iowa probably will have a 36-year-old offensive coordinator who’ll begin his third year in the job in 2019.

Now, we’re moving this exercise forward. I see Brian Ferentz as a potential successor when his dad decides to retire. Lots of variables, including one that no one really talks about and that’s the NFL for Brian’s potential next step (there’s going to be a next step, otherwise why put yourself through the headache of calling plays? It’s a ladder with rungs. The OC rung is just under head coach).

This was the only game KF said a whole lot about offensive coordination. It was a positive review, obviously. Iowa, for all intents and purposes, was as unpredictable in this one as it’s been since maybe the wonderfully balanced early 2000s.

“He called a heckuva game,” Kirk Ferentz said (little catch in his voice). “I like what I see during the week. That’s the room I spend the most time in. I like the way the plan’s going in and then during the game, there’s a lot of great conversation. Everybody is involved in that, and I just listen. They’re always thinking good thoughts, processing what happened and moving on to the next thing. ...

“But he called a really good game. I joked with (radio play-by-play voice Gary) Dolphin in there that there were a couple of calls I would’ve second-guessed, except they worked, so I can’t do that.”

How was Iowa unpredictable?

Out of 11 personnel (one back, one TE), the Hawkeyes ran 11 times. That historically has been a pass group. Iowa passed six times out of 22 (two TEs, two backs), including the game-winner to Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

None of the personnel groups were terribly out of balance. In 21 (two backs, one TE), Iowa passed eight times and ran 10.

After 82 plays, it was 41 pass and 41 run. That perfect mix made tendency work against the defense.

This was the same offense that would hang 55 on Ohio State ... and then the next week put up 66 total yards at Wisconsin.

They’re not there yet. Everyone knows that.

For year 1, though? For an offense that lost two senior, three-year starters at offensive tackle? James Butler, too? It was progression, but now can it sustain?

We’ll see on that, for sure, this year. The other big question? Again, so many variables. I keep going back to the power structure that’s in place when KF decides it’s time. If it’s the same (Gary Barta and UI President Bruce Harreld), it’s going to want more KF. It’s going to want all of the KF. That might be BF.

If it’s not, it still could happen. Schools are hiring coordinators now. And with Iowa, there’s always going to be the “knowing the place” factor. That feels bigger here, probably because of 19 crappy seasons pre-Hayden Fry.

I’m not calling this shot, but this is my prevailing post-Kirk Ferentz thought. After this one, you really have to squint. And, no, probably not Bret Bielema.

2. Good on good, Akrum Wadley got Joel Lanning.

This was Lanning’s second game at linebacker. I think Iowa State coaches knew they were vulnerable, but Lanning was too good of an athlete to keep off the field. I’m guessing, as a former QB, Lanning has a super-high football IQ and was worth the risk in the coaches’ minds.

And he was. Probably against anyone but Wadley.

“On the big play in the fourth quarter I missed that tackle on Wadley,” Lanning said. “It’s probably one of the biggest tackles of my career that I’ll have. He was my guy and I just let him get outside. He made a play.”

Where Iowa State’s and Lanning’s season went after this defined them much more than this one play.

On the flip side, we’ve been over Wadley’s feel for the clutch play. Who’s that going to be this year? Smith-Marsette? Interesting answer. Maybe.

3. Whatever happens with QB Nate Stanley in 2018, this is the game he announced himself loud and clear.

Anytime you can attach your day’s output to one of the Chucks (in this case Hartlieb, in that Stanley finished with 300-plus yards and five TD passes for the first time since 1987 vs. Northwestern), you’ve had a day as an Iowa QB.

Yes, Stanley missed four very possible TD passes on overthrows. Know what else he missed? Interceptions. He threw maybe two passes that were bad balls or up for grabs.

Stanley earned Big Ten co-offensive player of the week. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions. Stanley’s scoring passes covered 10, 17, 15, 46 and 5 yards. Nine Hawkeyes had at least one reception.

“His growth from last week to this week, not that we’re done yet, obviously, but he did a lot of good things,” Kirk Ferentz said.

The Manning Award also announced Stanley was one of eight quarterbacks nationally named “Star of the Week.”

Quote: “Whenever I see him play, there’s anything that can happen, you just have to be prepared because he’s all over the place, you know? The way he cuts, I really had no idea what was going to happen (on the 46-yarder). He ran really hard today. I try to move that fast in my dreams. It’s just unreal some of the things he does.” — Iowa OL Sean Welsh on Akrum Wadley

Note: The Hawkeyes played a dime package for 14 plays, with linebackers Bo Bower and Ben Niemann being subbed out for safety Amani Hooker and cornerback Manny Rugamba.

Every year now, you have to be curious about what Iowa wants to do with its defensive personnel packages. Yes, you’ll probably see a “speed rush” D-line and an array of defensive backs. But what array? Might be a place for freshmen to win some playing time.

Why No. 18? — Best game of the series. As of now, the rivalry looks real ... don’t @ me.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME

Game story from 2017

AMES — The Robot threw to The Matrix. Sparks flew. A stadium deflated. And in the end, no one seemed to know where the trophy was.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley is the robot. Not an official nickname, but that’s how Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh described his demeanor during the Hawkeyes’ frantic fourth quarter comeback.

“He’s just robotic in his approach, his operation,” Welsh said in the relative calm of the Jacobson Building weight room.

Running back Akrum Wadley is The Matrix. The quicksilver he showed on a 46-yard touchdown catch that brought Iowa back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit needs a gold frame.

Iowa State’s offense needed a gold frame. The Cyclones’ defense had the Hawkeyes counting lights in the third quarter. Then, Iowa scored a late reversal. A wrestling metaphor sort of works here in this state and this game.

This game was good to the last clench.

Stanley’s 5-yard touchdown pass to true freshman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette came with Iowa State cornerback Brian Peavy coiling on him nearly as the ball arrived. Smith-Marsette was barely inches over the goal line and Iowa (2-0) was less than inches better than the Cyclones (1-1), 44-41, before 61,500 fans Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.

“We threw our jabs, they threw their jabs,” said Wadley, whose 46-yard score tied the game 38-38 with 1:09 left. “As long as we keep coming forward, that’s the most important thing.”

With 190 yards from scrimmage, including a career-high 28 carries for 118 yards, let’s allow Wadley to pick the metaphor.

After Iowa’s defense gave up a metric mile of offense to Iowa State and quarterback Jacob Park, the Hawkeyes got the stop they needed when ISU wide receiver Hakeem Butler dropped a third-down pass in overtime. The Cyclones settled for Garrett Owens’ 30-yard field goal attempt.

“You have to understand it’s your last shot,” linebacker Josey Jewell said. “This is it, so you better come up with some plays.”

After missing what likely would’ve been four long touchdown passes on overthrows, Stanley hit his last shot. Remember Smith-Marsette from last week? He had one touch and it was a fumble.

Weequahic (N.J.) High School grads accounted for four Iowa touchdowns. Wadley and Smith-Marsette went to the Newark high school. Wadley was like a proud big brother.

“Jersey, man,” Wadley said. “He’s really resilient. He’s a tough guy, has a lot of heart. How he bounced back from last week, he kind of hated himself, but he’s a strong-minded guy.”

Strong-minded, sure-handed and, after Saturday, you can probably check off clutch.

“It shows that they believe in me,” Smith-Marsette said. “Last week I had a minor setback, but this week I came back and they showed they believed in me and I took advantage of it.”

Weequahic scored from 46 yards and then from 5. It’s pronounced WEEK-way by the way. Maybe that’s some sort of Jersey slang for what Wadley did during his 46-yarder. This was a check-down pass that traveled maybe 8 yards in the air. Three Iowa State defenders had hands and/or arms on and/or around him.

Quicksilver.

“On the big play in the fourth quarter I missed that tackle on Wadley,” ISU linebacker Joel Lanning said. “It’s probably one of the biggest tackles of my career that I’ll have. He was my guy and I just let him get outside. He made a play.”

The numbers Stanley (333 yards, 5 TDs) and Park (347 yards, 4 TDs) put up were historic. For Iowa, it was the most prolific QB output since 1987. For the Cyclones, it was Park’s career high for TD passes and the first ISU quarterback with four TDs in a game since 2013.

“It was do or die, that’s kind of what it got down to,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The guys executed. Players win the games, they win them and lose them. The guys executed under pretty tough circumstances.”

The Hawkeyes held on to the Cy-Hawk Trophy for a third consecutive season. They joined hands to march across the field to claim it. And then they remembered that it already was on their sideline.

Akrum Wadley feature from 2015

Wadley’s walk

IOWA CITY — It was a big deal for 7-year-old Akrum Wadley to go to Dorney Park, a super-mega amusement and water park in his hometown of Newark, N.J. He talked his way into going with one of his mom’s classes on one of those end-of-the-year field trips.

His mom, Sharonda, had some rules.

“I said ‘Come here,’” Sharonda said, “and I looked down at him and said, ‘You don’t get in the water and you don’t get on any big rides.”

“OK, mom.”

***

The story of Akrum Wadley and football is all about walking.

His high school, University High, didn’t have football. Kids interested in playing were able to pick their school. Of course, it had to be convenient. Wadley picked Weequahic High because of friends and because of the fact that it was a 15-minute walk from University.

The bell would ring at University. Wadley would get together with his five or six friends who also played at Weequahic (pronounced Weequay).

“We were like brothers,” Wadley said. “The quarterback, Kedar Clark, was with me. Yusef Wright was with me. We would all get together. We were really close. We would just walk over to the field.

“Sometimes, we took the bus. Sometimes, we drove,” Wadley said. “We liked to walk, especially on the hot days. It was a good feeling. We were the leaders of the school.”

Wadley was an untouchable wisp at Weequahic. As a senior, he rushed for 1,548 yards and 25 touchdowns. On special teams, he totaled 371 yards and four touchdowns, including a 95-yard return in the state championship game.

The walk to Weequahic led to football and that led to scholarship opportunities and, eventually, Iowa.

“I just wanted to get away, I wanted to get away from New Jersey,” Wadley said. “I grew up there and I wanted to experience something new. I just felt it.”

This is when the Iowa staff met Sharonda Wadley. She’s a mother of five boys. She’s been a physical education teacher and coach in the Newark school system her entire working life. She had some instructions for Ferentz. Not demands, mind you, but instructions.

“You can lead him, but I don’t want you to ‘pet’ him,” she said. “The coach’s ‘pet,’ the teacher’s ‘pet,’ they don’t work hard.”

Yeah, Iowa is pretty far away, a 16- to 17-hour car ride, in fact, that the family took for the season opener against Illinois State. Still, No. 2 on the list of instructions was ... keep him in Iowa City.

“We live five minutes from Weequahic and it’s $3 to get in the game and still not everyone could make it, so, no, I wasn’t going to let what we could afford to do or not do get in my son’s way,” Sharonda said. “I said to Coach Ferentz, if you tell me my son is going to graduate, become a good man and great character, then you send him back in 2017 ... I don’t want him before then.”

During Iowa’s bye week, Wadley could’ve gone home for a weekend. Instead, he watched football on TV, worked out and went swimming.

“Every once in a while, I try to go back,” Wadley said. “They tell me, no, no, just stay out here. We’re going to come out there. They tell me to stay out here. They know, they know.”

This is not a street thing. Sharonda pointed out Akrum was never that way. It’s more about the distance and how hard it might be to return to Iowa once among friends back in Jersey.

Wadley had a cousin, Jamil, who had a football scholarship. He went home, he never went back.

“They’re kind of afraid of that happening,” Wadley said.

Sharonda Wadley afraid? That doesn’t sound right. We did mention that she has five boys, right? Patrick, 26, is the oldest. He’s named after their dad. Akrum is No. 2. Then, there’s Donovan, 12, who was named after Donovan McNabb. There also are twins, Trevor and Blake, 10, who were given those names because they sounded like soap opera stars’ names.

Akrum?

“One of my close friends in high school used that name for one of her sons,” Sharonda said. “I liked it when I heard it.”

One constant with Wadley is ball security. He finished the 2014 season, which included a nice 106-yard debut against Northwestern, with three fumbles in 33 carries. He began 2015 anew. Wadley had 15 family members make the long drive from Newark to Iowa City. Three carries into 2015, an Illinois State defender chopped at the ball and he fumbled. He didn’t see it coming.

The family was so happy to see him on the field. And then that. They made the trip and then that.

That one got him.

“That was a long walk home,” Wadley said, “and I live right across the street from here. That was a long walk home.”

***

Sharonda Wadley didn’t do the rides at Dorney Park. She walked around the park and did some supervising of the kids, doing what teachers do. She walked and talked with another one of the chaperones.

Then she heard a voice. “Mom, mom!!!!”

“I look in front of me and in back of me and I don’t see anyone,” she said. “That sounds like Akrum.”

“Mom, mom!”

“I didn’t see him, so I looked up,” she said. “He was on this ride that was so far up in the air ...

“I said, ‘I’m going to get you. I told you ...’ He just has way too much heart. He’s not afraid of anything.”