The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Citrus Bowl Column | Iowa’s 10-win regular season is nothing to sneeze at, but ineptitude against top teams foreboding sign

Hawkeyes can’t win with their style of football versus ranked opponents, citing offensive complexities but simple solutions. Something doesn’t add up.
Grace Smith
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz yells during the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl between No. 17 Iowa and No. 21 Tennessee at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes, 35-0.

ORLANDO, Fla. – “Offense is complicated.” – Kirk Ferentz. 

I know it’s only the beginning of 2024, but that statement might be the understatement of the year for the Iowa football team. For the Hawkeyes this season, offense proves to be rather simplistic schematically, but in a brutal paradox, an impossible task all the same. 

Before I begin, Ferentz can write home all he wants about achieving a double-digit win regular season. The feat has only occurred six other times in program history, and four during his time at the helm. Considering the numerous injuries the Hawkeyes have faced as well, that number is even more impressive. 

But when it comes to playing a quality opponent, that number in the win column holds no weight as the Hawkeyes deceive college football fans everywhere. Dating back to 2021, Iowa has lost its last seven matchups against ranked opponents, and this season, only got to the red zone once against such teams. 

The Citrus Bowl against Tennessee proved to be no exception. 173 total yards. Nine completions. Five three-and-outs. Three turnovers. No plays of more than 16 yards.

Lack of cohesiveness, execution, explosiveness. Check all the boxes. Look no further than early in the second quarter at Camping World Stadium: 

Play No. 1: Offensive delay of game penalty – negative five yards. 

Play No. 2: Deacon Hill takes a sack – loss of nine yards. 

Play No. 3: Hill pass to running back Leshon Williams behind the line of scrimmage – no gain. 

Play No. 4: Wide receiver Kaleb Brown drops pass (well short of sticks, anyway) – punt. 

When they aren’t completely inept with the ball, the Hawkeyes will find some success on the ground, as they did on their second drive of the game. But once in the red zone, opponents can stack the box to stop the run, and when forced into a passing situation, Iowa will, more often than not, find a way to step on its own foot. 

Ferentz is 100 percent correct in his evaluation of  “self-inflicted” wounds being key in the bowl matchup,  but he also appears a little too willing to embrace the ‘Iowa Way’ of victory. 

“That’s a really good example of who we are,” the head coach said when asked about pinning Tennessee deep in its own territory early in the game. “Our margin for victory has been tough for the past 20 years, but this year, for instance, for sure. We’ve got to thread the needle.” 

Forcing teams to operate from inside the 20-yard line will likely generate turnovers against anemic Big Ten West foes, but a squad like Tennessee can advance the ball 30 yards in 30 seconds with a rapid-fire spread offense. Forced to play with a light box, the Hawkeye “D” can only do so much to contain. 

“Threading the needle” doesn’t work against good teams. Instead, the Hawkeyes have to sew a tangible product – one that puts points on the board. The closest thing to that finished product was Marco Lainez, whose mobility provided a dynamic Iowa needed to advance down the field. Yet while he may pull off some Justin Fields-eque dashes, Lainez is nowhere near a collegiate passing level yet. 

The starting QB job next season isn’t even Cade McNamara’s to lose. It’s his no matter what. But as to how the coaching staff, including a new offensive coordinator, will work with McNamara to improve upon a dreadful performance?  

“It’s not rocket science” – Kirk Ferentz. 

I’m no math major (haven’t taken a STEM class since my senior year of high school), but something doesn’t add up. Improving the offense can’t be both easy and difficult at the same time, but maybe for Ferentz, it is. In my opinion, the head coach wants someone who will fit in with Iowa, who will look upon ‘The Iowa Way’ with favor and not cynicism, but also someone who somewhat meets external expectations. 

Interim AD Beth Goetz didn’t have a long leash with Brian Ferentz in her first year on the job, so is this the longest-tenured current head coach in college football’s last chance to prove himself?

Stay tuned. 

Side note: With this being my last column for the season, I just wanted to say thanks. In my two years as a student in Iowa City, I have realized that Iowa football means way more than I ever thought it would. Blending extreme passion with considerable intelligence, fans really do bleed Black and Gold. I know I haven’t been perfect, but I’m forever grateful for what I got to do over these last six months. Anyways, enough rambling. Thanks for reading! 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.