Leistikow's thoughts: Kirk Ferentz scoffs at Nebraska's clapping complaints; 'It's stupid'

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Trophy-game wins have gotten Kirk Ferentz a bit squirrely on two of the past three Fridays.

Ferentz couldn’t believe his ears when officials told him during Iowa’s 26-20 win against Nebraska that the Cornhuskers’ snaps were being thrown off by Hawkeye coaches or players on the sideline clapping during the game.

“Please,” Ferentz said, in what began a postgame rant from a coach normally known for his reserved comments and opponent praise.

Nebraska center Cam Jurgens struggled with several errant snaps in the first half, one of which resulted in a 19-yard loss in the second quarter. Third-year Nebraska coach Scott Frost said he alerted officials with the clapping complaints, and they relayed the issue to Ferentz.

“Once Iowa players stopped clapping," Frost said, "the center snaps got better."

Ferentz, who collected his 101st Big Ten Conference win, responded with borderline indignancy.

“What the hell are we talking about? It’s stupid. I have no idea,” Ferentz said. “And I know this, I saw across the field (Nebraska) had a little clap routine for third downs or something, I don’t know. This is stuff in my 22nd year, I’ve never been thinking about that.

“Never heard of it. Now if a player on the field was doing it to try to (disrupt the snap), I get that. But what are we talking about? The next thing you know, we’re going to be treating this like golf … where nobody is allowed to say anything.”

It was two Fridays earlier that Ferentz called back-to-back-to-back timeouts when Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck was leaving his first-team offense on the field in the final moments of a 35-0 game against Iowa's second- and third-teamers. After winning the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy for the sixth straight year, Ferentz added, “Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”

Maybe it’s because Ferentz is friskier when trophy games are on Friday. But the more common theme was that Ferentz was annoyed by messages being sent from the opposite sideline. And at age 65, he doesn’t seem to be holding back anymore. The only other topic that gets him this riled up in press conferences is the NCAA’s rules on cut blocking.

To finish the conversation, Ferentz said that if clapping players or coaches were really disrupting Nebraska, “maybe they need to change their cadence.”

“It’s football,” he continued. “Are they OK with how I dressed today? Should I be changing my pants or (into) a different shirt? What are we talking about?”

Adrian Martinez reacts to an errant snap in the first half of Nebraska's 26-20 loss at Iowa.

Significant second-half plays Friday were made by … you guessed it, Daviyon Nixon.

While the game-clinching defensive play was a tandem effort from defensive ends Chauncey Golston (on the sack) and Zach VanValkenburg (on the fumble recovery) with 1 minute, 18 seconds to play, Nixon was at the center of Iowa's defensive turnaround in the second half.

After the teams traded touchdowns to open the third quarter to make it 20-20, Iowa’s defense needed a spark. And the ever-energetic Nixon provided one, as Martinez looked to have lots of room to run on a second-and-6 quarterback draw. But Nixon’s cat-quick reflexes in a 305-pound frame tracked down Martinez for a 1-yard loss, the first big defensive stop for the Hawkeyes in a while.

That forced a third-and-long that Martinez couldn’t get with his legs, and proved to be the last Nebraska offensive play of the third quarter.

The next time Nebraska had the ball, as Martinez sprung free for what looked like another big run, Nixon drew a holding flag — his presence again impacting the game. Nebraska had to punt. By the time the Huskers got the ball back again, they were down six points.

Nixon finished the day with eight tackles, including three for lost yardage. He should be in the conversation for all-American honors as Iowa's leader in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (11.5) through six games.

Ferentz again backed Spencer Petras as his starter after another rocky performance Friday.

Petras seemingly replicated his performance in the Minnesota win: Sharp in the first quarter, shaky for two quarters, then a decent finish.

After going 8-for-11 for 95 yards in the first quarter with a nice 6-yard touchdown toss to Tyrone Tracy Jr., Petras went 10-for-19 for 98 yards the rest of the way and threw a regrettable interception to Dicaprio Bootie in the second quarter that turned into three Nebraska points. Petras scrambled to his left and threw against his body toward Sam LaPorta, but the ball was picked off easily.

“Can’t do that. Just forced it,” Petras said. “Obviously very upset, because we take pride in taking care of the football. That’s my No. 1 job is to limit my turnovers. Can’t do stuff like that. But credit to our defense for keeping them to a field goal.”

Petras also missed wide-open crossing routes to Tracy and Ihmir Smith-Marsette Jr. in the third quarter that would’ve brought out the boo-birds had Kinnick Stadium welcomed more than player families into the stands.

“(The interception) was a bad decision, then (there were) a couple times where he's aiming the football,” Ferentz said. “Just all part of that growth process.”

It would be great if Iowa could at some point to put backup Alex Padilla into the game for a few earlier series, just to see what he can do with extended snaps. But obviously, Friday’s tense game was not that time for Ferentz.

“We feel good about what (Petras) is doing. I think Alex has improved as well. Those are the two guys getting all the work basically in practice,” Ferentz said, basically dismissing those in the fan base that are ready for the rise of true freshman/prized recruit Deuce Hogan. “We don't have any plans or discussions to make any changes there.”

Back in 2006, there was a new coach in the Big Ten Conference leading his alma mater.

He had hopes of bringing that program back into prosperity from his own playing days. His team started 0-5 in Big Ten play but came to Kinnick Stadium in November and recorded a breakthrough win, stunning Drew Tate and the Hawkeyes by a score of 21-7.

That coach was Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, and it was that win that started an upward trend from the Wildcats. They won nine games just two years later. Fitzgerald’s stability continues today, with 5-0 Northwestern on a fast track to the Big Ten West Division title. Fitzgerald’s ability to get a fledgling team to rise up in 2006 — perhaps similar to Kirk Ferentz’s ability to get Iowa to break through with an encouraging late-season win at Penn State in 2000 — is the type of thing Nebraska has been missing under Scott Frost.

The vision for Frost when he was hired on Dec. 3, 2017, was to carry his alma mater to longtime success. But Frost left Kinnick Stadium with a .345 winning percentage (10-19) and continued struggles to get the Huskers to achieve that turn-the-corner type of win. To date, Nebraska’s best win might be a 9-6 verdict against a seven-win Michigan State team in 2018 or this year’s only triumph, vs. winless Penn State.

And while the pandemic year is unusual, to say the least, that big breakthrough moment will have to wait until 2021 (at least) for Frost. All that’s left on the schedule are games against Purdue and Minnesota, hardly needle-movers ... unlike what a win at Iowa would’ve meant

This is normally the time of year we have narrowed Iowa’s bowl destination to a small handful of options.

But this year, of course, is far from normal. On Friday, the Pinstripe Bowl became the third postseason game with a Big Ten tie-in to cancel its game (joining the Redbox and Quick Lane). Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said during the pregame radio show that he’s been talking to bowl people, but primarily to get a feel for which games might play and which won’t.

“An unusual year when it comes to bowl games,” Barta said. “At this point, I have not thought a lot about that.”

Outside of the New Year’s Six lineup (which is selected by the College Football Playoff committee), the Big Ten’s remaining bowl tie-ins are the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (in Phoenix, on Dec. 26) Duke’s Mayo Bowl (in Charlotte, on Dec. 30), the TransPerfect Music City Bowl (in Nashville, on Dec. 30), the Vrbo Citrus Bowl (in Orlando, on Jan. 1) and the Outback Bowl (in Tampa, on Jan. 2). Given that the NCAA has no minimum-win requirements and it’s 2020, anything surely could and will happen when it comes to bowl lineups.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.