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TERRY HERSOM COLUMN: Iowa's offense has never been flashy — yet Hawkeyes are ranked No. 11

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Purdue Iowa Football

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz watches from the sideline during the second half of the Hawkeyes' 24-7 loss to Purdue on Saturday.

SIOUX CITY — This Cedar Rapids Washington High School alumnus is proud to ponder a famous quote uttered by George Washington in 1799, two years after he completed two terms as our nation’s first president.

The former general was focused on military strategy and couldn’t have known how well it now applies to football, a game originated in 1869 with its roots in both rugby and soccer.

Some claim it was Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach, who said, “The best defense is a good offense.’’

Others insist Rockne said, “The best offense is a good defense.’’ And this would appear to hold more water if you’re examining the University of Iowa football program’s modern era.

Now in his 23rd season as the Hawkeyes’ head coach, Kirk Ferentz has made the latter phrase produce 19 winning records in the last 21 seasons. Last Saturday’s shocking 24-7 loss to Purdue certainly hasn’t kept this from becoming the 14th winner in the last 15 tries.

Eight days after a 23-20 win over Penn State pushed Iowa to No. 2 in both national polls, Purdue’s impressive performance burst the bubble and sent the Hawks somewhere closer to where they likely belong. Even the demotion to No. 11 nationally on either list may be a little too generous.

Nothing wrong with being the 11th best team in America. That’s an honor when you look beneath the hood and see what they’ve overcome to win six of their first seven games.

Like so many of the 69,250 who filed out of Kinnick Stadium after watching Iowa’s 11.5-point favorites beaten by 17, I was certain this was all about the lack of offense Iowa has battled on a consistent basis for 15 years in a row.

Not since 2006 has this program ranked higher in total offensive yards than it has in yards allowed by the defense. Eleven times in those 15 years, the Hawkeyes have ranked 25th or better nationally on defense and six of those 11 defensive units have been 12th or above.

This 2021 team made it to 6-0 with an offense that ranked 120th out of 130 FBS schools while the defense was 18th. The 10 teams behind the Iowa offense had a combined record of 12-45.

This has been a perennial struggle that dates back long before Ferentz promoted his son Brian to the offensive coordinator role at the age of 33. Was he ready? Admittedly, the offense was 121st out of 128 teams in 2016, the year he took over. Nonetheless, the offense has since been 116th, 91st, 99th and 87th before this year.

Does 87th in major college football warrant an $85,000 raise in a year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced coaches all over the country to accept salary deductions? How many of you knew that Brian Ferentz will be paid $860,000 this year?

It turns out that no one on the Iowa football coaching staff took a pay cut. Meanwhile, Gary Barta, their boss, allowed his salary of $650,000 to be reduced to $552,500 and had additional deferred income slashed by approximately $300,000.

All of these are numbers with which almost none of us can identify and yet so many spend their hard-earned dollars on the tickets and the garments and souvenirs that declare their loyalty to the Black and Gold.

Factor in all the never-ending TV commercials that lengthen games almost an hour on average and Hawkeye athletics become quite a gold mine.

Fans contribute to this outrageous fortune and complain about athletes who want more than the college scholarship they are awarded. Many scholar-athletes are worthy of that title, but a significant number of them have no interest in an education. The NCAA simply demands they invest at least three years before pursuing the career they truly want to pursue, competing professionally.

Getting back to this Iowa offense, what kind of difference might a change in offensive coordinators make? The leader of offenses that have ranked no better than 87th in five seasons certainly can’t be a tough act to follow.

The Hawkeyes are noted for getting the maximum ability out of two- and three-star recruits. Year in and year out, this has been true on the defensive side. That hasn’t been the case with the athletes who are supposed to put up points and give an overworked defense a little more time to rest.

These have been offenses bolstered by more future NFL tight ends than any other school has produced. This year, the offensive line has been disappointing outside of center Tyler Linderbaum, a junior from Solon who many regard as the best center in the country. Some have gone so far as to suggest Linderbaum might be worthy of a Heisman Trophy, an honor never bestowed on a lineman.

Tyler Goodson, a junior from Georgia, may turn out to be one of the premier running backs in pro football. Without blockers, though, that’s quite difficult to prove.

The two best wide receivers on the team would appear to be true freshmen Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce, but the game plan doesn’t seem to appreciate this.

A week off should give the coaching staff a little extra time to sort these things out. Thousands and thousands of football fans in Iowa and several other states can only hope this is true.

Former Journal sports editor Terry Hersom can be reached at terrencewhersom@gmail.com

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