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Steven M. Sipple: Even unflappable Ferentz seems to feel urgency

Steven M. Sipple: Even unflappable Ferentz seems to feel urgency

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Iowa spring game

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (right) talks to his team during the Hawkeyes' spring game Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Ferentz is on the hot seat after a 7-6 season.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The big news broke at about lunchtime Saturday in the quiet moments — and I mean very quiet moments — before Iowa's spring football scrimmage.

Stop the presses. The university announced that June 27 will be "Movie Night at Kinnick Stadium." Folks will spread out on the FieldTurf and watch a movie for free. They soon can vote on one of three designated possibilities, including "Remember the Titans," starring Denzel Washington.

Might I suggest another Denzel flick: "Man on Fire."

Anybody?

Kirk Ferentz, in his 17th spring as Iowa head coach, possesses a certain corporate cool and unmistakable sense of confidence that forever suggests all is well. I like that in a leader. Trouble is, not all is well. Fans are grumbling. Their tone is harsher. He knows that. Even his boss, athletic director Gary Barta, has acknowledged the current level of angst surrounding the program surpasses any he's experienced during his nine years in charge.

No wonder Ferentz seems to feel urgency. He said he's locking in harder on football-specific duties.

"Just trying to be a little bit more cognizant of my calendar and not saying yes to everything and everybody," he said. "Just making sure we take care of first things first, and it starts with our players and coaching staff."

And also recruiting, he said. Never forget recruiting.

Is Iowa football at a crossroads? On one hand, one can see progress in the form of a $55 million facilities upgrade that Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith describes as a "game-changer."

On the other hand, there was Saturday. A crowd of about 8,000 showed up in unpleasant weather — stiff breeze, temperature in the low 50s — to watch the offense edge the defense 29-28 in a scrimmage that featured four 12-minute quarters and a rather involved scoring system.

Ferentz's squad looked as we have come to expect — OK. Yep, just OK. C.J. Beathard flashed potential at quarterback. He's the franchise. He's got a strong arm and can run. He completed 17 of 32 passes for 168 yards. But the 6-foot-2, 209-pound junior has appeared in only 14 games over the past two seasons, with just one start. His backup is a freshman. The offensive line is a question mark.

You don't see many, if any, show-stoppers on either side of the line.

All told, a dozen starters return from last season's underachieving 7-6 team that lost in overtime to Nebraska and then was walloped 45-28 by a young Tennessee team in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The Volunteers averaged 12.8 yards per play in surging to a 35-7 halftime lead.

Ferentz doesn't seem to flinch. He no doubt derives confidence from past successes — four top-10 finishes in the national polls and two Big Ten titles. But since defeating Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl, the Hawkeyes are 26-25.

So, yes, he needs to lock in harder. He said time demands associated with recruiting have escalated for everyone. A head coach's job is a constant juggling act. He still plans to hit the I-Club spring banquet circuit, including a May 6 stop in Omaha, although he's unsure of his stump speech.

"I'm still working on it," he said with a smile. "If you go to Des Moines on Tuesday, you'll find out. I'm still gathering my thoughts. ... But in a nutshell, it's pretty much what I told you back in January. None of us walked out of the stadium happy, be it in Jacksonville (Florida) or certainly Kinnick in our last (regular-season) ballgame. Neither of those games are representative of what we want to be.

"We can talk about that all we want, but our focus has been let's do something about it."

Beathard will have a large say in that. He feels comfortable leading. Jake Rudock is out of the picture, and Beathard appears to have the "it" factor.

"A lot's been written and said about him," Ferentz said. "But the bottom line is, he hasn't played a lot in games the last couple years."

Beathard, though, would be ready to execute if Iowa played tomorrow, Ferentz said. That may not be the case for the rest of the offense.

"I think at this point, our defense might know the offense better than our offense, quite frankly," the coach said. "That happens in (spring) camp when you work against each other pretty extensively. That's nothing to be alarmed about."

Ferentz admitted he was extremely alarmed late in the scrimmage as Beathard sprinted to the sideline and lowered his shoulder to tackle Brandon Snyder after Snyder's interception.

Beathard seemed wobbly getting up. But he later led a touchdown drive against lower-unit defenders. Standout defensive end Drew Ott, a Giltner graduate, was disruptive in the first half but hardly played in the second.

It seemed the crowd went home feeling, well, OK — although one man was disappointed he couldn't take a personal (read: unauthorized) tour of the new facilities.

"Such a secure place," he muttered.

Not necessarily for everyone.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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