The Big Ten’s latest feud is an unexpected one.
Penn State coach James Franklin and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz have traded comments since the Hawkeyes earned a 23-20 home win last week in a contest that left several Nittany Lions nursing injuries.
The back-and-forth this week centers on Iowa fans’ reactions to Penn State players’ injuries, and subsequent comments Ferentz made on Monday that again questioned the timing and legitimacy of the injuries.
Every time a Penn State player appeared to be hurt, Iowa fans booed in unison to voice their displeasure, as if it was some sinister ploy by the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff to slow down Iowa’s offense.
After the game, Franklin sternly voiced his displeasure with Hawkeye fans’ behavior, saying it’s not good for college football.
On Wednesday, he further cleared the air with a five-minute refutation of comments Ferentz made earlier this week again questioning Penn State’s motives last weekend.
Franklin covered much ground during his comments, but his first and perhaps most understandable point questioned what exactly Penn State had to gain by faking injuries against a team not known for a fast-paced offense.
“How does this strategy makes sense against a huddle team?” Franklin asked. “People use this strategy to slow people down – spread offenses, tempo offenses. (Iowa) huddles, so that strategy did not make sense in this situation.”
He’s not wrong.
In years past, coaches in an attempt to slow the momentum of fast-paced, no-huddle offenses would instruct defensive players to go down to stop the clock and cut into their opponent’s momentum.
Anyone who has followed football for any period is well aware that Iowa’s offense is far from tempo. The Hawkeyes have a methodical, plodding offense that makes heavy use of its running backs and tight ends. It has for as long as I can remember.
In further refutation of Iowa’s and Frenentz’s claims, Franklin pointed to his team’s recent 4-2 record against the Hawkeyes and asked whether or not the false injury accusations have come up during those games.
It should be noted that most of the Penn State players injured at some point last week didn’t return to the game, most notably starting quarterback Sean Clifford and starting defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, one of the team’s captains. Running backs John Lovett and Devyn Ford, and safety Jonathan Suthlerland also exited the game with injuries.
Franklin was at his most passionate on Wednesday when he spoke on behalf of those players.
Not long after he began his weekly post-practice availability, he announced Mustipher will miss the rest of the season because of the injury he suffered at Iowa.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a parent,” Franklin said. “Your son is down on the field for an injury, and then the stadium is booing… But your son is down on the field with an injury – and I just told you PJ Mustipher is done of the year – and we’re booing. Is that good for college football?”
The Iowa-Penn State feud this week has spilled over to social media as fans of both programs turned Twitter to make their points. Ferentz poured gasoline on the debated topic on Monday when he defended his fan base’s intelligence and stated that he can only recall two instances during his 23-year tenure at Iowa in which an opposing team’s injury situation unfolded the way it did last weekend.
“I thought they smelled a rat, I guess, I don’t know, so they responded the way they responded,” Ferentz said of his fans on Monday.
On Thursday, James Franklin found an unlikely ally in Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, who addressed the Penn State-Iowa feud during his media availability.
“I don’t agree with James Franklin on a whole bunch, but, James, I got your back. When you’re not playing a fast tempo offense, a team that huddles, nobody goes down with a cramp. That’s a bunch of baloney,” Narduzzi said according to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Jerry DiPaola.
It’s one thing to boo a player’s actions following an unsportsmanlike penalty, but questioning the legitimacy of injuries is a bridge too far.
Fans are expected to react in irrational ways. It comes with the territory, although it still doesn’t excuse ugly behavior.
For a 23-year coach – who is also the longest-tenured active coach in college football – to do it is inexcusable, and it’s an unfavorable look for his program.
One can only hope that Franklin’s salvo on Wednesday puts an end to the foolishness that has already dragged on long enough.