IOWA CITY — When a decision to punt on fourth-and-one turned into fourth-and-forever Saturday for the Iowa football team, Kirk Ferentz understood the potential consequences.
After officials stopped the clock to review the spot of the ball after Keenan Davis gained seven yards on a third-and-eight play late in the Hawkeyes’ game at Indiana, the Iowa coach scrapped his initial intention of having quarterback James Vandenberg attempt to gain the needed yard on a quick-snap sneak.
Instead, the Hawkeyes punted the ball away with 4 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, and the Hoosiers not only held on to the ball for nearly 41/2 minutes, they held on for a 24-21 victory.
“Like every decision you make, you do what you think is best for your team at that given moment based on the clock, timeouts left, all those types of things,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “You could argue I made an irrational decision at Michigan State because we had gotten stuffed on some short-yardage stuff there.”
Instead, Mark Weisman gained 5 yards on a fourth-and-one play from the MSU 20-yard line late in the third quarter. That decision helped set up a field goal that positioned Iowa to later tie a game it won in double overtime.
“We went for it, converted, and ended up scoring,” Ferentz said. “Every situation is different. It’s week to week. How is the team playing? How are they executing? Who is in the lineup? Those types of things are what you think about. At the end of the day, you’re probably going to be right half the time.”
Only three Big Ten teams have attempted more than the 13 fourth-down plays Iowa has run this season — Penn State, Purdue and Indiana. The Hawkeyes, however, share 10th in the league with Illinois with a 5-of-13 conversion rate on fourth down.
Iowa players say they understand the rationale behind the decision Saturday.
Davis said the stoppage of the clock changed the dynamics of the situation.
“To line up right away and go quick, it makes sense, but once the clock was stopped, that does change things, more than people think,” Davis said. “There was still plenty of time for the defense to make a stop and give us time to get a score. It just didn’t work out.”
Offensive tackle Matt Tobin said by nature, linemen don’t mind the challenge of trying to pick up a needed yard.
“That’s kind of in our DNA. Fourth-and-three, no problem, you know,” Tobin said. “Fourth-and-one, we’d go for it all the time because that gives us a chance to stay on the field.”
Tobin and the Hawkeyes didn’t get that chance, and Indiana denied Iowa virtually any opportunity in the final seconds.
Ferentz said once officials halted play to check the spot, the decision to punt was immediate and the choice to give the ball away was his.
“At that point, I had made up my mind,” he said. “Just like I had told (offensive coordinator Greg Davis), let’s go for it on the quick snap and it got stopped, it’s my call. Don’t be mad at Greg on that one. If anyone is mad at Greg, be mad at me.”
Tobin said he respects the decision Ferentz ultimately made.
“We were geeked up, ready to go, ready to take off, and they called us back, it was a tough situation,” Tobin said. “Coach said even if we got the play off they probably would have brought it back to check the spot. Coach made the call he felt was right in that situation. It’s not an easy choice, but it was a call he felt was correct at the time he made it.”
* The Hawkeyes expect to play without running back Mark Weisman and fullback Brad Rogers again this week. Neither made the trip to Indiana, Weisman because of what coach Kirk Ferentz labeled a strain and Rogers because of an undisclosed injury.
Ferentz said Weisman “is wearing the trainers out trying to get back, but he couldn’t do anything Sunday, so I am not overly optimistic for this week.”
* Ferentz said a lack of execution has been at the center of Iowa’s offensive problems, not any issues with the scheme.
“It’s execution more than anything else,” he said. “We’ve been in the system long enough now that our guys know what they’re supposed to be doing. We just haven’t executed and it’s been team thing. One thing affects another. We have to get more in sync.”
* Micah Hyde will re-join James Vandenberg, James Ferentz and James Morris as co-captains this week, the first time the senior has been put in a position to be selected by his peers as a game captain since his arrest on Oct. 6 for public intoxication.
“That was one of the penalties he faced and that part has been paid, so he’s eligible again,” Ferentz said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer. Micah is a tremendous young guy, a tremendous football player.”
* Several hundred tickets remain for Saturday’s game against Purdue.
Fourth-down conversion rates for Big Ten football teams:
Team Conv. Att. Pct.
Ohio State 7 9 77.8
Michigan State 6 9 66.7
Michigan 4 6 66.7
Nebraska 4 6 66.7
Indiana 8 14 57.1
Penn State 16 30 53.3
Purdue 10 20 50.0
Minnesota 6 13 46.2
Wisconsin 4 9 44.4
Illinois 5 13 38.5
Iowa 5 13 38.5
Northwestern 3 9 33.3