IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz has mentioned officiating in as many postgame news conferences as he’s talked about living on Pluto.
Without really being prompted in the wake of the No. 21 Hawkeyes’ 38-36 loss last weekend at Purdue, Ferentz sideswiped the officiating. This comment stood out.
“A year ago, our receivers couldn’t get open against a junior high team and today we had a hard time ...” Ferentz said. “I think we have pretty good receivers.”
Tuesday, the concept that perhaps maybe there was a little holding going on with Purdue’s secondary was brought up by reporters. The players basically said, “That’s every play, every game, every practice.”
“Our linebackers are ... in practice anyway,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said with a laugh. “Better cut that one out. Ah, you can tell them, I don’t care.”
Today is the day a little light gets shed on the concept of “it’s not cheating if you don’t get called” technique in coverage. Everyone does it. It happens every week. Purdue got away with a lot of it against the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten).
Guess what? So will Northwestern (5-4, 5-1), the Big Ten West Division leader and probable rep for the West in the Big Ten title game comes to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
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Yes, Iowa did send a highlights package to Big Ten league officials spotlighting what they interpreted as shenanigans. No, it won’t change anything from last week. Every Big Ten coaching staff does this every week. The hope is to influence future calls, or maybe it’s just to vent.
“If nothing else, there might be clips on there that they put on their training reels, because I know they do that and circulate those,” Ferentz said. “ ... If there’s something we think that’s worth them looking at for teachable moments, that type of deal, I think that’s good, and that’s part of the process.
“A lot of times we’ll get responses, good, bad or indifferent. Our way of looking at things might be totally different from what someone else sees. It’s educational for us, as well.”
Judging from what Hockenson and fellow tight end Noah Fant said Tuesday, these videos probably won’t matter all that much.
“I think you always have to expect to be grabbed, every D-back,” Hockenson said. “Every tight end does what they can to get open. Every D-back does what they can to have you not get open. As long as there’s no foul, it’s fair game.”
On Iowa’s second 2-point conversion attempt last weekend, Fant ran into Purdue free safety Navon Mosley, who really ... you’d have to call the technique “hugging.” Iowa didn’t get the call. Fant calmly chatted with the official after the play.
“Especially in the tight end room, being bigger bodies out there on the field,” said Fant, “we don’t really expect them to throw flags like that, even though it should be thrown, right? They’re holding us, but we can’t expect it, we can’t play to expect flags like that.”
Fant had a quick comparison to draw a more complete picture. He sees a double standard with tight ends being big bodies vs. smaller defensive backs.
“It’s kind of like how LeBron is in the NBA,” Fant said. “He drives through the lane, he’s so powerful. Everyone can hack on him and they won’t call a foul because he’s so big. It’s a similar scenario with smaller DBs. I can understand that. That’s why you have to take the mindset to expect it and just play through it.”
Hockenson is 6-5, 250 pounds. Fant is 6-5, 241. So yes, 6-0 safeties and corners and most linebackers are going to the “jungle gym” defense. They’re going to climb all over these two.
They have things they can do.
“You rely on details,” Hockenson said. “Obviously, we’re not looking for a call. You can’t. You can never come off the field or get a ball toward you and look around for a call, you just can’t.
“There are little details you can do, stem the route, all the things (offensive coordinator) Brian (Ferentz) talks about, squaring it off against man, all that different stuff,” Hockenson said. “We have answers, but it’s a little tougher to do it.”
Fant prefers the “chop.”
“We have to focus on chopping off, getting better separation, things like that,” Fant said. “We have to run routes so well that they don’t have the opportunity to grab us. That’d be the main focus.
“It would be nice if we did get those flags, but we can’t control that.”
If nothing works, then you have to work the officials. Kirk Ferentz took his run in the Purdue postgame.
Ferentz talked about a game when he was offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s. The coaching staff got caught up in officiating and the game slipped away.
“Lesson learned there,” Ferentz said. “When the players start getting worried about it or the assistant coaches get worried about it, that’s not a good thing. That’s really my job.
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“I’ll handle that and hopefully I can compartmentalize it, and the reality is you’re not always going to agree with what’s being called or not being called. That’s the way it goes. I think all of our hopes are typically — I don’t want to speak for other coaches — my hopes would be there there’s consistency and good judgment, discretion. That’s a big part of law enforcement, too, consistency and discretion.
“ ... It’s like baseball, if an umpire calls them high for strikes, you’d better adjust your strike zone if you’re a batter. But if they’re high and then they’re not high or low and not low, that really gets hard to follow the bouncing ball. It’s hard to be a good hitter if that strike zone is not real consistent.
“That’s what I think all of us hope for, and we all have different ways of looking at things.”
On the PAT pass that was borderline romance on Fant, Brian Ferentz gave the official on the sideline the business.
The players know how loud that is.
“Brian does a good job of that,” Hockenson said with a laugh.
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