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Ferentz figured out how to beat Paterno, but O'Brien offers different challenge

October 17, 2012
By Cory Giger (cgiger@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Bill O'Brien and Kirk Ferentz couldn't be more different.

Ferentz, in his 14th season at Iowa, is the dean of Big Ten coaches, which shows just how tough it is to last a long time at a major program.

O'Brien, hired in January, is the league's newest coach.

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Ferentz is the classic old-school coach: Conservative, grind it out, take few chances, rely on toughness and defense and don't be afraid to win ugly.

O'Brien is more of a modern-day coach: Aggressive, go for it on fourth down, try to score 40 points, play entertaining football and adjust on the fly depending on the situation.

When Penn State played Iowa in the past, it was always a matchup of two coaches with similar philosophies. Ferentz essentially tried to out-Paterno Joe Paterno, and he did a great job of that, going 8-3 head-to-head.

Saturday, however, Ferentz won't have the same luxury as he's had in the past of knowing what Penn State's game plan will be before kickoff. And that, as much as anything, gives the Nittany Lions their best chance to earn their first win at Iowa since 1999.

It won't be easy in a night game at Kinnick Stadium, which will be sold out (70,585) and presents a truly hostile, loud environment.

"We're going to be playing under the lights, and that's when the stars come out," Lion tight end Kyle Carter said.

Penn State is riding a four-game winning streak, while Iowa went to East Lansing and beat Michigan State on Saturday in double-overtime, 19-16.

That win gave Ferentz his 100th victory with the Hawkeyes.

O'Brien has a total of four wins on his resume, and he understands the job Ferentz has done in his 14 seasons deserves respect.

"It's a ton of credit to Coach Ferentz," O'Brien said.

O'Brien is good friends with Ferentz's son, Brian, who spent the past four seasons coaching with him in New England and is now Iowa's offensive line coach. O'Brien was offensive coordinator last season, and Brian Ferentz was the Patriots' tight ends coach, so they have a lot in common when it comes to utilizing that position.

There's also a Bill Belichick connection between O'Brien and Kirk Ferentz, who coached under Belichick with the Cleveland Browns from 1993-95.

O'Brien said he's seen Ferentz in action when he went to Iowa to scout former quarterback Ricky Stanzi during spring drills.

"I watched first-hand what he did out there in spring practice, and [he] just does an excellent job of teaching fundamental, physical football, smart football," O'Brien said."

O'Brien also acknowledged that it is a statement about how tough it is to keep a high-profile job when the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach is just 14 years.

"I'm a coach, I'm biased, I think there's a ton of great coaches in the country," O'Brien said. "Everybody has got their own style, and I respect that, and I think all the coaches deserve time. When you're a new coach, it's important that you're given time. It's important that you're given time to put your own direction on the program."

Ferentz went 1-10 and 3-9 his first two seasons at Iowa before turning around the program. For that, O'Brien believes his colleague "should be at Iowa for however long he wants to be there."

While Ferentz will be going up against a new Penn State offense, he might have one strategic advantage -- because of his son.

The Lions essentially run the Patriots' offense, and Brian Ferentz knows that offense, having coached it the past four seasons.

"I know more about Coach O'Brien than I would most people I guess; is that a good way to say it?" Ferentz said. "I know what kind of person he is, and his resume offensively is pretty obvious; just go to the last stop.

"But I go beyond it in that you work with people like George O'Leary, Ralph Friedgen -- who I think are excellent football coaches -- and he's done a lot of different things, throwing the ball, option. So his knowledge of offense is really extensive."

Ferentz respects that O'Brien gambled by leaving his job as offensive coordinator at Duke and taking a low-paying job -- "I can promise you low-paying," Ferentz said -- as an offensive assistant with the Patriots.

"Most people wouldn't do something like that at that age and that level and that stage of their career," Ferentz said. "So I think it just tells you a lot about Bill. He's all about coaching, and he's just an excellent coach. He's done a great job already there."

SUBHD: Weisman update

Iowa's standout running back, Mark Weisman, is questionable at best and most likely doubtful for Saturday's game after suffering a sprained ankle late in the win over Michigan State. Weisman has 631 yards rushing and eight TDs on 100 carries.

Weisman underwent an MRI that showed no major damage to his ankle, and he initially wore a walking boot but is out of that now.

"He would have a lot of progress to make to be able to play," Ferentz said.

SUBHD: Awards snubs

O'Brien doesn't know how some of his best players were left off of midseason awards lists.

"There's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on" the awards list," the coach said.

He went on to add, "If there's a linebacker, defensive lineman award, whatever the awards are ... I can't imagine that there's that many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys."

SUBHD: Injury update

Bill Belton is getting healthier coming back from his ankle injury, but O'Brien wouldn't say if the running back is 100 percent.

Freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman might have to take a medical redshirt after suffering a knee injury week two at Virginia.

"Final decision hasn't been made on that," O'Brien said. "He was out there. He practiced [Monday], did some individual drills and things like that, so we're just going to continue to monitor that. He's a really good young player. It is getting later in the season, so something is going to have to be made probably pretty soon, but right now we haven't made that decision."

 
 

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