Conducting the Hawkeye symphony


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Here’s the thing about Kirk Ferentz: He isn’t flashy; he isn’t a provocateur; he isn’t least bit interested in self-promotion.

Basically, he isn’t Lane Kiffin.

That’s why last year, when I approached the 11-year head coach about possibly doing a long profile story on him, he politely declined. It wasn’t anything personal; it’s just not his style to talk about himself. If his mug is going to be plastered on the front page, he wants it to be because of something positive he said about his players.

So he’d be the first to tell you his players won the Hawkeyes’ last two contests, the more recent one being the “they-did-that-again?” 21-10 victory over Penn State in front of 100,000 Nittany Lion fans. He’d be the first to tell you his assistant coaches who deserve all the credit for dissecting an equally well-coached Arizona team. He’d be the first to tell you players make coaches look good, not visa versa.

Well, Coach, I’d respectfully disagree.

Certainly, Adrian Clayborn’s blocked punt and subsequent 53-yard return for a game-changing, lead-stealing touchdown was the result of the defensive end’s effort. I don’t think anyone would argue with that.

But people tend to forget Iowa faced a 10-0 deficit after Daryll Clark’s 79-yard pass to Chaz Powell and the Nittany Lions’ meticulous 20-play drive that ate up more than 10 minutes on the clock. Iowa ran all of six plays in the first quarter, one of which was a fluke interception.

At the time, the combination of Penn State’s big-play ability and its methodical, let’s-run-some-clock drive seemed as though it would demoralize the Hawks. But as long as the Hawkeyes have Ferentz on their sidelines, you know panic is the furthest thing from the players’ minds.

Certainly, Pat Angerer’s interception and ensuing 38-yard return was instinctive, but what about the halftime adjustments that put him in that position? In fact, what about Iowa’s second-half play this year?

The Hawkeyes have outscored their opponents an astounding 64-13 in the game’s final 30 minutes. The only way to explain that is good coaching, starting from the top on down.

Certainly, Adam Robinson’s tackle-slipping 13-yard touchdown run that put the Hawkeyes up 18-10 in the fourth quarter was the result of sheer determination. Robinson and his costar, Brandon Wegher, have looked so good that it’s easy to forget these weren’t Ferentz’s No. 1 guys coming into the season.

That spot belonged to sophomore Jewel Hampton, but after a knee injury forced the Indianapolis native to the sidelines for the season, the Hawkeyes again showed no panic — and playing two freshmen running backs is panic-inducing. The same can be said for when left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness), tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle), and wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (hamstring) all missed the Arizona game.

“Really, I think this one goes to Coach Ferentz,” Johnson-Koulianos said after the Penn State game. “If you sit in on one of his speeches or one of his meetings, it’s something. He really did a tremendous, tremendous job of really just preparing us.

“He tried to set the tone for us. I felt like it was definitely a different approach, a [different] vibe that he gave us. I think the guys really felt it and came out and matched his intensity this week.”

If you don’t believe him or me, watch Ferentz roam the Kinnick Stadium sidelines on Saturday against Arkansas State. He won’t chew out any referees; he won’t get in his players’ faces; he won’t show the slightest bit of emotion. He’ll just slowly, methodically plan.

No, Ferentz isn’t flashy, but to call him any less than brilliant on the sidelines would be a lie.

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