By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Brian Ferentz will have had nearly a month to devise and polish a game plan for what looks to be a difficult challenge against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.
The 8-4 Bulldogs are led by one of the best defenses in the country, and they’re battled-tested as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
Mississippi State leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 12.0 points per game, and has allowed just 12 touchdowns in 12 games this season.
Those are both staggering numbers and proof of what Brian Ferentz will be up against on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla.
He faces the daunting task as the Iowa offensive coordinator and play caller of trying to solve a defense that has mostly been unsolvable this season.
"It is the best defense we've seen this year," Brian Ferentz said Thursday. "They are a good unit. Look at any meaningful statistic and they're in the top five in the country. There is a reason for that. They do a nice job. They make big plays. They certainly make it difficult for opponents to run the ball."
This is a chance for the 35-year old Brian Ferentz to make a statement and to cap his second season as the Iowa offensive coordinator in grand fashion.
It’ll be a chance for Brian Ferentz to help his father add to his already rich legacy.
And it'll be a chance for Brian Ferentz to show that he can scheme and strategize with the best because that's what it will take to compete against he Bulldogs.
Brian Ferentz almost certainly has climbed the coaching ladder quicker than most have because of his father’s influence.
But that influence only goes so far.
Brian Ferentz still has to produce, and even more so as a coordinator.
His leash might be longer than most others due to working under his father, but again, that influence only goes so far.
It ultimately comes down to performance and results, and Brian Ferentz has performed well enough as the Iowa offensive coordinator to where his father’s influence shouldn’t matter right now. It could matter down the road should the offense struggle for a prolonged stretch, but for now, Brian is performing his duties at an acceptable level.
He still has a lot to learn, as is the case with any new offensive coordinator, but he also has a quarterback (Nate Stanley) who has combined to throw 49 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, a tight end (T.J. Hockenson) who won the John Mackey Award this season and an offense that averages 31.5 points per game, which is the ninth highest single-season total in school history, and the highest since Iowa averaged 37.2 points per game in 2002.
Iowa also has a chance to win nine games this season after winning eight a year ago.
Those numbers don’t add up to being elite, but they’re respectable.
And that’s how I would describe Brian Ferentz’s first two seasons as his father’s offensive coordinator as being respectable or decent or pretty good, somewhere around a B-minus.
Hockenson and Noah Fant both ascended to stardom under Brian Ferentz’s watch, and that is especially true in their cases since Brian also coaches the tight ends.
So that can’t be ignored, but neither can the bizarre way in which Fant was utilized during the regular season. He went from being a dynamic playmaker last season to an under-utilized decoy for parts of this season.
Fant still had over 500 receiving yards and a team-leading seven touchdown catches during the regular season.
But the amount of time that Fant spent on the sideline during crucial moments in big games was befuddling and counter-productive.
It seems that Fant couldn’t have severed ties with Iowa fast enough as he announced shortly after the regular season that he would declare for the 2019 NFL Draft as a junior and skip the bowl game.
You couldn’t blame him for leaving under the circumstances, and much of that falls on Brian Ferentz.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, but to not use one of your best players at critical moments in big games is odd under just about any circumstance.
So if you’re listing the pros and cons about Brian Ferentz’s first two seasons as offensive coordinator, his handling of Fant’s playing time this season would be a con.
Another con would be the lack of consistency on offense, although, this season was better than last season when Iowa was held to just 61 yards and zero offensive touchdowns in a loss at Wisconsin a week after having scored 55 points against Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa scored at least 31 points in seven games this season, but was also held to 13 points against Iowa State, 17 against Wisconsin and 10 against Northwestern.
The Hawkeyes dodged a bullet against the Cyclones, but also suffered from a lack of offense against Wisconsin and Northwestern, losing both games at home.
Iowa had 404 yards against Wisconsin, but was outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter, and had two offensive possessions in the fourth quarter that went three-and-out. That helped the Badgers escape from Kinnick Stadium with a 28-17 come-from-behind victory.
But even with all of that, the good still outweighs the bad in Brian Ferentz’s case.
He is fortunate to have former Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe as his quarterbacks coach because that gives Brian somebody besides his father to turn to for advice and suggestions. Brian Ferentz grew up around O'Keefe and trusts him personally and professionally.
One thing Brian Ferentz needs to address is the lack of consistency with the Iowa running game. Iowa is known as a power-running team that likes to move the chains and control tempo.
And while there is some truth to that, there also have been too many times when the Iowa running game hasn't produced.
Brian Ferentz will always face extra scrutiny for as long as he works for his father, because as normal as it might seem to Iowa fans and to the Iowa media at this point, it’s not normal for a son to be his father’s offensive coordinator at a power five school.
And you notice I’m writing about Brian Ferentz and not about Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
But since I brought up Phil Parker, his defense has been the strength of the team and its guiding force.
It has broken down at some critical times, but it’s hard to find too much fault with a defense that ranks first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (17.4), second in rushing defense (102.8) and total defense (289.6) and fourth in passing defense (186.8).
Phil Parker deserves praise for his work this season, and so does Brian Ferentz to an extent.
Brian's decision to switch from coaching in the press box to down on the sideline has paid dividends simply from the fact that Brian has stayed out of the news after having been the center of a controversy in 2017.
Brian's profanity-laced tirade in the press box at halftime of the Minnesota game in 2017 was unacceptable and his father made that abundantly clear shortly after it had happened.
Brian then issued an apology and moved to the sideline at the start of this season, which is probably a good thing.
Brian Ferentz has a gift for gab and isn't afraid to speak his mind or show his emotion. He also exudes confidence, so compared to his more stoic and laid-back father, Brian is without question his own man, and a pretty good offensive coordinator to this point.
Brian Ferentz still is very much a work in progress, but it’s working well enough to give him a passing grade under difficult and awkward circumstances.