IOWA CITY, Iowa — A sixth-team walk-on running back scored his first career touchdown. A true freshman running back scored two. A woefully deficient Iowa running attack put up 254 rushing yards, more than at any time since 2019. And the team scored more points Saturday in a 41-10 beatdown of Western Michigan than it had in the last 25 games.
But what does this outcome mean to non-fans beyond the Iowa borders? Nothing but a cheap laugh. Haha, the Hawkeyes finally scored more than 25 points. Haha, No. 25 Iowa punched in a late touchdown to give offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz a buffer. Haha, the Hawkeyes hit the over and point spread.
This is the downside of the stupid designated performance objectives written into Brian Ferentz’s revised contract last February. In Appendix C of his contract, which was forced by former athletics director Gary Barta, Iowa’s offense must average 25 points per game and win seven games. If the offense doesn’t meet those objectives, Brian Ferentz’s contract terminates. But it doesn’t say anything about not signing a different deal at the same time.
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For Brian Ferentz’s first four years as OC, the Hawkeyes averaged 29 points per game and surpassed 31 twice. The 2021 scoring was subpar offensively and the 2022 campaign bottomed out. Iowa fans were outraged, and as Brian Ferentz’s supervisor, Barta demanded to install performance objectives. Perhaps on the surface, it made sense. If Iowa hits 25 points under Brian Ferentz, it now has a 32-1 record. Only once in the last 15 years has Iowa had fewer than seven wins.
But that’s not what people see — or want to see — and it would work the same way if the objectives were in place at somewhere like Texas A&M or Clemson. No matter what Iowa does or how it performs, it all comes back to the Drive for 325. In the season opener, Iowa had the ball at Utah State’s 15-yard line and took a knee to win 24-14. Haha, Brian Ferentz is now behind schedule.
Last week, the Hawkeyes won a tough rivalry game at Iowa State 20-13 to give Kirk Ferentz his 200th career victory. Haha, Brian Ferentz is really losing ground now. This week, the Hawkeyes took over at Western Michigan’s 33-yard line with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left. They chose to pass three times and went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Then walk-on running back Max White burst in for the final score to vociferous applause from his teammates.
Why did they care so much? Because White is the ultimate competitor, not because they scored cheap points for their embattled offensive coordinator. White grew up 25 miles north of Iowa City and turned down multiple scholarship opportunities to play for the school he loves. Left tackle Mason Richman said White’s “six-pack is about as sharp as it can be” and his attitude is infectious every day in practice.
“Max has been working for this his whole life and just to see that pay off and get that moment for him was awesome for the twos and everybody,” Richman said.
“If you saw the sideline, I think a lot of guys were going crazy, especially for a guy like him, who comes in and works his tail off,” said defensive back Cooper DeJean, who also is White’s roommate. “Everybody knows that he is a leader, and he has barely played any snaps. Everybody respects him in the locker room.”
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On its final offensive drive, Iowa inserted its second-team unit, including quarterback Deacon Hill. The staff needs to see Hill operate because starter Cade McNamara has battled all fall through a strained quad. Hill completed passes to backup tight ends Addison Ostrenga and Steven Stilianos to put the ball on the 2-yard line. This time, Iowa planned on scoring a touchdown.
“We’re going to let them play,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Deacon’s worked hard. We’re curious to see how he’s going to operate a little bit too. Not that we’re going ‘Air Deacon,’ but we gave him a chance to throw a couple in there. We just want to let our guys play. The guys up front, too.”
But that’s not the narrative when it comes to Iowa. Instead, it’s how Kirk Ferentz kept throwing passes inside of the final two minutes to score more points and provide insurance for his son when the Hawkeyes play Penn State or Wisconsin. Haha, Iowa now averages 28.3 points per game.
The Drive for 325 narrative overshadows every aspect of Iowa football and has turned it into a cheap punch line. It was just as cheap for Barta to put those objectives into Brian Ferentz’s contract last February. He wanted to placate an angry fan base that demanded the offensive coordinator’s head. Instead of just firing him, Barta chose a route that lingers around the program like the dust that follows Peanuts’ character Pig-Pen. It’s everywhere and it stinks.
On Saturday, true freshman Kamari Moulton rushed for 50 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns. As he walked out of the postgame interview room, he smiled and gave interim athletics director Beth Goetz a fist bump. But what was Moulton thinking when he scored the first time?
“I was doing it for my mom and my grandma,” he said. “They passed. So I just know they’re happy for me.”
After giving up a 64-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, the Hawkeyes outscored Western Michigan 41-3 the rest of the game. In the second half, Iowa’s defense allowed just 35 yards and one first down. Backup defensive tackle Anterio Thompson had no scholarship offers and poor grades coming out of Dubuque (Iowa) Hempstead High School but junior college ignited his work ethic and he landed at Iowa. On Saturday, he blocked a punt for a safety.
Tight end Luke Lachey, the latest in Iowa’s talented line at that position group, likely will miss the rest of the season with a gruesome broken lower leg suffered late in the first quarter. Running back Kaleb Johnson didn’t play because of a high ankle sprain while Jaziun Patterson left early with a tweak. That forced Leshon Williams to handle most of the load and he finished with 145 rushing yards on 12 carries and added a 25-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass.
Iowa also has plenty to work on with a trip to No. 7 Penn State the next objective. The Hawkeyes gave up four sacks, missed a field goal and McNamara threw an end-zone interception. The pass rush isn’t disrupting quarterbacks enough and at times there’s miscommunication on the back end. But those issues — and superlatives — are all just footnotes in the Drive to 325. It’s where a shortsighted, self-inflicted policy enabled perpetual wisecracks to outweigh anything of substance associated with Iowa football. And that’s no laughing matter.
(Top photo: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)