Three cool things:
1. The catch in his throat. The watery eyes. I don’t know how you process Kirk Ferentz’s emotions on game day, but I think you guys might find it one of his more enduring signatures.
More than anything else, it’s human. The monumental orchestration it takes to win a game, it’s mind blowing. When it all works, there’s no telling how the emotion is going to come out.
For Ferentz, it’s joy and pride and a release. At least it feels like that’s the case.
I know somewhere in these miles of victories there’s the first KF “emotional” postgame. I wasn’t around for Northern Illinois in 1999. The only thing worth crying about in the 13 games between these victories was the result.
So, I think this is it, the first “catch” in a Ferentz postgame.
I’m surrounded here by Iowa fans. I sometimes sample the audience for their thoughts on things. This spring during a fishing trip, I asked my brother-in-law — he’s got Hawkeye plates that say “Next Bite” or something like that, big into the fishing — what his thoughts were on the state of the program.
I thought he’d rip Iowa for, you know, being Iowa and not winning as many games as Ohio State. You know, the usual laments.
But no. He likes that KF teams play defense. Sure, he wishes the offense would come a little easier, but running a clean program that remembers, yeah, it’s a college football team, also was important. Like way more important than I thought.
Game management is one thing. I think the majority of you are more than good with Ferentz the person and I think you might be looking for the “catch” after a big Iowa win.
And, heck, you didn’t have to wait during the Ohio State game last year. I think those eyes were leaking just a bit after Amani Hooker’s pick-six on the game’s first play.
2. The Hawkeyes were going to have emotion in this one. They ended a 13-game losing streak.
Let’s hang with Ferentz and his situation for a second.
Iowa and Ferentz went nearly two years without a signed contract. Ever read about that happening anywhere else? How about something like that lately?
I’m not sure how much Iowa had dealt with agents, at least in 1999.
With a 2-18 record, Ferentz got a one-year extension in this deal, which was through 2005.
”We’ve always thought they were making good progress,” then-AD Bob Bowlsby said. “I think Kirk’s the right leader for our football team, I always have.”
After Ferentz signed the contract in 2000, Iowa won back-to-back games, its first winning streak since 1997.
“It takes a lot to make me look smart,” Bowlsby joked at the time. “I have the advantage of being over there at practice a couple times a week, seeing the chemistry that these kids have on the football team and the relationships they have with their coaches. I see how hard they work.”
The 2000 Hawkeyes were so close to being a bowl team. The light came on a little too late. In context, the two years it took Ferentz and agent Neil Cornrich and Bowlsby to get the first deal signed seems about right.
”We’ve won two in a row,” Bowlsby said. “Do you call that a turnaround? I don’t know.”
It was a wide corner the Hawkeyes were turning. And, no, two games didn’t make a turnaround, but the course was set for a turnaround, one of maybe three Ferentz has had in 20 years.
That’s not a shot, by the way. That’s been the pattern for Iowa football for almost 20 years. It’s peaks and valleys. I’m sorry about that.
3. Bob Sanders had a hit on a kick return in this that you probably remember.
Very rarely does practice stuff make it to interviews. I think it was Ferentz who volunteered Sanders’ destructiveness in practice.
Aw heck, let’s rerun the piece from 2000 below (whoa, before my son was born).
Quote: Bob Sanders on his tackle on MSU kick returner Monquiz Wedlow: “They put it on slo-mo and let it go. The guys were hollering. It’s great when your teammates get behind you like that. I even said, ‘wow,’ after I saw it. I didn’t know I could do something like that.”
Note: Michigan State running back T.J. Duckett was listed at 6-2, 251 pounds for this game. Can we have that big of a running back anymore in football? You don’t see it as much. (Now that I think about it, Marcus Coker was the last truly “big” back Iowa has had. He was legit 6-0.)
Why No. 34? — Ending the 13-game losing streak was a big deal.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2000
IOWA CITY — The catch in his throat went to the place that has kept him sane during his days as Iowa’s football coach. His eyes watered, he took a silent second to collect his thoughts, and then he talked about his players.
Say anything you want about unsigned $500,000 contracts, about losing streaks and empty aluminum bleachers, when Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz cleared his throat and gulped to keep the tears back, he went to the place that keeps football coaches from madness.
He didn’t wave a finger, he barely cracked a smile. He talked about his players.
“People don’t realize what these kids put in,” Ferentz said in a gravelly voice that belied his 45 years. “The thing we see is the way they come to work. The spirit, the resiliency, that’s what makes it worthwhile, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
End of interview. End of losing streak, plural.
Kevin Kasper broke a wide receiver screen 43 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown and the Hawkeyes’ defense made it stand, clinching a 21-16 victory Saturday over Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium.
And now the paragraph that you all have hated since last year’s loss at Michigan State is deleted. The Hawkeyes (1-5, 1-1 Big Ten) no longer have a school-record 13-game losing streak, no longer have a school-record 14-game Big Ten losing streak, no longer have the nation’s second-longest active losing streak.
If there can be such a thing as a celebratory deletion, have at it. The Hawkeyes throng that plowed the field after Ryan Van Dyke’s last-gasp pass hit the Kinnick turf certainly would be happy to try.
“I think we got to the point where we couldn’t lose again,” said defensive end Aaron Kampman, who intercepted a pass and blocked a field goal. “I think our football family had finally had enough. I think we all can breathe now.”
Ferentz could live until he’s 100, the gameball his seniors handed him in the locker room after the game will forever be a pristine memory of the day everything finally worked.
The defense defended. Well, when T.J. Duckett wasn’t rumbling, it did. The offense moved the ball. When it had its back sewed to the wall, yeah, it did. The special teams was stellar, from Kahlil Hill’s 90-yard kick return that pulled the Hawkeyes from the abyss to the two blocked kicks.
“There were some plays out there that weren’t so pretty, what have you,” Ferentz said. “The whole thing’s the Mona Lisa as far as I’m concerned. That was a Picasso.”
Arguing matters of taste is a losing proposition.
But perhaps Iowa isn’t fighting for life if fullback Jeremy Allen doesn’t treat the football like lava with Iowa marching for a two-touchdown lead late in the first quarter. And maybe the Hawkeyes don’t need two defibrillating defensive stands in the final two minutes if Hill doesn’t lose a punt in the wind, allowing Craig Jarrett’s first-quarter punt to supersize into a 68-yarder that pinned Iowa at its 8-yard line.
That left the Spartans (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) with just 51 yards to tie the game. Duckett got 50 of that on the first carry. Van Dyke hit tight end Ivory McCoy from 2 yards, but Iowa defensive tackle Jerry Montgomery blocked the extra-point kick to preserve the lead.
The Spartans walk away with a defeat, but Duckett, a 6-foot-2, 251-pound sophomore, walks away with respect, 248 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“I think he got heavier as the game went on,” said linebacker LeVar Woods, who stopped one of MSU’s last-minute drives with an interception off a pass Montgomery tipped. “He’s just a big dude. You try to hit him low. You can’t do anything with him high.”
Duckett led the Spartans to 286 rushing yards, 201 more than Iowa’s 85. The Spartans gained 466 yards to Iowa’s 231. Those numbers scream Iowa defeat, but another loss wasn’t a whisper much less a scream.
“Offensively, I think we had pretty good numbers,” first-year Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. “But we didn’t get the win, so those numbers don’t mean anything.”
The Hawkeyes took a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, a wonderful run-pass mix straight out of an offensive coordinator’s daydream. Freshman quarterback Jon Beutjer completed 6 of 7 passes for 41 yards.
Running back Ladell Betts gained 20 yards on six carries. Betts scored on a 5-yard run, just Iowa’s second rushing TD this season.
But that was it for Iowa’s offense. The Hawkeyes gained 75 yards on that drive and went incognito while the Spartans scored 16 straight points to take a 16-7 lead on Duckett’s 31-yard run with one minute, 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
“No, it wasn’t pretty,” said Beutjer, who completed 17 of 25 for 146 yards, one TD and no interceptions. “But do you think anybody is going to remember that?”
For memorable, you only need to fast forward 20 seconds from Duckett’s run. Fast forward and enjoy the stop and start, herky and jerky, doe-see-doe of Hill’s 90-yard kickoff return.
Hill made like a mad bat, shuffling his way down field, checking here and there for open space before finding it after Robbertto Rickard’s pancake block on the last Spartan standing.
“You see color and you move away from the color,” said Hill, whose return was the fourth of his career. “I try to work on moving sideways but up at the same time. Move sideways, but keep moving forward. I know how crazy that sounds, but it worked today.”
With Duckett on the sidelines nursing a sore ankle, the Spartans marched to Iowa’s 6, where kicker David Schaefer lined up for a 24-yard field goal. He kicked into Kampman’s arm, Woods recovered and the Hawkeyes had hope.
Of course, to that point Iowa’s offense produced just 72 yards between the opening drive and the game’s final 6:48, so hope was relative.
Yet, the Hawkeyes converted three third downs before offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe called wide receiver screen to Kasper, a play that worked once all season, and that was just two plays earlier.
“Yeah, that one has been a tough one for us,” said Kasper, who caught just one pass for 9 yards going into the last drive. “Sometimes when I hear that play, there’s doubts. Today, it was perfect.”
It wasn’t perfect. It was Picasso.
It will look like a masterpiece, just like the gameball on Ferentz’s shelf.
Bob Sanders feature from 2000
Hawks’ Sanders specializes in collisions
IOWA CITY — He begins the play as a black-jerseyed dot in the distance. You may or may not see him close in. Seconds after impact, you may or may not know the license plate says “33.”
And then the search for mouthpiece and ego begins.
Freshman Bob Sanders plays football like a traffic accident. He’s the traffic. Opposing kick returners are the accident.
”He’s a beast,” Iowa receiver Kevin Kasper said. “He’s an old-school baller. He just goes out there and knocks people down. I love watching the kid play, just a tough kid.”
Kasper speaks from experience. During two-a-day practices, Kasper’s job was to lay a crack-back block on Sanders, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound safety.
Kasper, a 6-1, 190-pounder, thought, the frosh is just a little guy, this will be easy.
“In two-a-days, I saw this little kid out there,” Kasper said. “Then I tried to throw a crack-back on him.
“He didn’t move.
“I thought I had an advantage on him, I was so much bigger and taller. I thought I could just knock him down. After the first day of practice, it was me running into him and me hurting, not him.”
You probably didn’t know Sanders before the season started. He was one of Iowa’s more unheralded freshman. The only scholarship offers he received were from Iowa and Ohio University.
During two-a-days, he worked his way onto Iowa’s special teams coverages and since has been collecting returners’ pelts.
And now, you probably know him.
“I love defense. I love hitting. I love being physical,” Sanders said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world.”
In the opener, he knocked Kansas State’s David Allen out of the game with a nasty open-field tackle on a punt return. Then, there was the hit on Iowa State’s J.J. Moses.
And then, there was Saturday’s knockout on Michigan State’s Monquiz Wedlow.
One second, Wedlow is returning a kick. The next, he’s Nikes over noggin.
“I think everybody probably knows who he is now,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If you weren’t watching the Kansas State game, I think the first punt the other day he’s right there again. And certainly the tackle he made on the kickoff the other day.”
When coaches and players watch gamefilm, it can be a humbling experience. All the players’ frailties are laid naked.
It’s a rare and giddy moment when a coach singles out a player — and keeps a finger on the rewind button.
It took about five minutes to go through Sanders’ hit on Wedlow during Sunday’s film breakdown.
“They put it on slo-mo and let it go,” Sanders said. “The guys were hollering. It’s great when your teammates get behind you like that.
“I even said, ‘wow,’ after I saw it. I didn’t know I could do something like that.”
The hit knocked Ferentz back to the 1981 Nebraska game, a 10-7 Iowa victory.
“I remember Brian Skradis in ‘81 set tempo that day (a hit on the opening kickoff),” Ferentz said. “When a guy makes that kind of play, they can do a lot for the whole team.”
Ferentz can thank his coaching mentor, Joe Moore, for Sanders. Moore, a former offensive line coach at Notre Dame, among other places, helped coach Sanders at Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa., last season.
The offers didn’t pour in for Sanders, who, at 5-9, wasn’t tall enough to register on a lot of Division I recruiting radars.
“There are a lot of schools that didn’t want me because of my height,” said Sanders, whose given first name is Demond. “Iowa gave me a chance.”
Moore called Ferentz and Ferentz beat Ohio to the punch.
“One thing Joe said is this guy is tough. And he said he’ll improve your special teams ... that’s a good thing.”
Here is what Sanders is thinking while running full speed down field with a returner in the crosshairs:
“I’m thinking, whoever gets the ball, I’m going to hit him,” said Sanders, who’s earned playing time at strong safety in goal line situations.