IOWA CITY — America has a punting crisis. You see it every Saturday. Australian punters are all over the college football map.
Iowa jumped into that arena last year with Michael Sleep-Dalton, a native of Geelong, Australia. Sleep-Dalton was a one-and-done grad transfer. He had a solid year, averaging 41.7 per kick. But like with the No. 15 Hawkeyes’ offense, the raw yardage number doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Did the punt do its job in the moment? Was it from Iowa’s goal line? Did it buy the defense enough room? Was the special teams unit able to down it inside the 20?
A lot of variables go into the task in the moment. And, oh yes, this definitely rings throughout the Hawkeyes’ ranks. Switch out punter for “running game.” Switch punter for “pass rush,” “yards per carry” or “yards per attempt.”
If the Hawkeyes (10-3) are in for a wholesale change in anything, head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t show that Monday. This was an “end of the season,” kind of “how things went” news conference with Ferentz. The lens flipped from “how’s the young [blank] look” to grading son Brian Ferentz’s performance as he goes into his fourth season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.
Today’s message, overall really, was the Hawkeyes are in a whole lot better shape than American punting, where the economy could use a little boost.
Because the Hawkeyes’ Holiday Bowl victory over USC was almost a month ago, Ferentz did get to see more college football on TV than a usual bowl season.
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“Somebody said we have a punting crisis in our country and I couldn’t agree more,” Ferentz said. “Any of you out there with a young kid, train them to punt. Train them to punt. Forget about golf, forget about offensive line, go out and punt. You could have a good future there.”
Iowa had some handouts for this one. First, there was a Holiday Bowl box score with some of the little things highlighted that add up to victory — from penalties, punts downed inside the 20, red zone opportunities and TDs and points off turnovers. Another one Ferentz threw out was time of possession, a 33:24-26:36 advantage for the Hawekeyes in the Holiday Bowl. Ferentz didn’t refer to the stat as “time of possession.” He instead called it “ball control.” That is an excellent two-word summation of what Iowa has been and continues to strive for under Ferentz.
Still, the question was about evaluating game planning and Iowa’s offensive coordination.
“I think it’s fair to say (defensive coordinator) Phil (Parker) is a lot better coordinator now than he was in 2012 (Parker’s first season in the job),” Ferentz said. “It’s part of growth. Hopefully, you grow into positions. Hopefully, I’m doing a better job in my realm of things and hopefully I can say I’m learning something every year. I think that’s true of all of our coaches, that’s what they’re trying to do, learn their role a little better and expand their thoughts.
“There’s always something to learn and while that’s going on your team is constantly changing.”
Speaking of coaches, so far, so good on that front. Ferentz said he expects this to be his 10-man staff in 2020, but there still is some time for movement, he acknowledged.
The second handout was Big Ten and Big 12 victories compiled over the last five years. Iowa is fifth on this list, tied with Michigan at 47 wins. Ohio State leads with 61. It shows that the Hawkeyes have been at the top of their particular tier over the last five years.
And, yes, this is probably a recruiting handout. Why the Big 12? Iowa recruits regionally against a lot of the programs on a Big Ten/Big 12 list.
Of course, the Big Ten/Big 12 handout shows Iowa’s place in the college football world over a successful five-year run. The five years before this? Iowa had a losing record in the Big Ten. Sometimes, Iowa ball adds up to a blitz like the 49-24 over USC. Sometimes, it falls short, as it did three times against the upper-crust of the Big Ten last fall.
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“It’s hard to win in college football,” Ferentz said. “I think that chart is reflective of that. Perception vs. reality. That chart is reality.
“If you want to evaluate coaches or programs, you look at five years, that’s always been my thought process. ... Our goal is to run the race as well as we can for a distance, not just for a sprint. I didn’t come here for this to be a steppingstone. We’re proud of that. Now the goal is to improve on that, but it won’t be easy.”
For 2020, that literally starts Tuesday morning. First team meeting, first winter workouts.
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