Concerned about what might become of the Iowa offense in tonight's Insight Bowl without leading rusher Marcus Coker? Fear not -- BHGP has some ideas to help out Ken O'Keefe, James Vandenberg, and the rest of the Iowa offense.
1) The Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock Show
In recent years, Iowa has tended to favor running backs who would be classified by EA's NCAA Football series as either Power (Coker, Greene) or Balanced (Robinson, Young) types -- but it's worth remembering that it hasn't always been that way at Iowa. Once upon a time (in the early part of the Aughts), Iowa actually did quite well with small, shifty, and speedy running backs in this offense. Fred Russell ran wild on Big Ten defenses in 2002 and 2003 and Damian Sims was an excellent change of pace to Young in 2005-2007. Of course, Canzeri is smaller than either of those guys (5-9, 172 and Russell also had the benefit of running behind perhaps the greatest Iowa offensive line ever in 2002 and a good offensive line in 2003 that was anchored behind Robert Gallery (an absolute beast that year). The 2011 Iowa offensive line has been inconsistent and while Reiff has been getting first round publicity, he hasn't been near the mauler that Gallery was in 2003. Canzeri also missed the last few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury.
Canzeri might be too small to take a full season's worth of abuse as RB1, but that's not really the issue here -- the question is whether or not he can handle one game's worth of abuse as RB1. Can he handle 15-20 carries in this game? Presuming he's recovered from the hamstring injury that kept him out of action at the end of the regular season... yeah, probably. Of course, that speaks to another issue with Canzeri: just what the hell can he do anyway? His season (and career) stats are nine carries for 56 yards, all of which came against UL-Monroe and Indiana (who have a defense only slightly better than Sun Belt-caliber). At least when Coker blew up in the Insight Bowl last year as a true freshman there was some indication that he could be a productive player against actual FBS defenses: he ran for 403 yards in the 2010 regular season, including a particularly intriguing cameo appearance against Ohio State (9 carries, 70 yards). Canzeri looked promising in his limited touches -- explosive, shifty, and a threat in the open field -- but projecting good things for the Iowa offense with him isn't based on any proven production, it's based on hope and guesswork. And Bullock's seen even fewer touches (8 carries, 22 yards; nothing after fumbling against UL Monroe), so good luck projecting anything there.
2) The All Spread, All No Huddle Attack
For roughly three glorious quarters, Iowa was (kinda sorta) on the cutting edge of college football offenses: desperation forced them to pick up the pace against Pitt, but putting James Vandenberg in a no huddle, shotgun-heavy offense also led to the most explosive Iowa passing attack in quite some time, and the success of that experiment led them to duplicate it (to an extent) against UL Monroe the following week, to good effect -- Iowa jumped out to a 28-3 lead in that game and never looked back. Alas, it made few appeareances in the playbook after that, especially after it (or a variant of that attack) did nothing against Penn State a week later.
But with a running game that's going to consist of hope, duct tape, freshmen, it might be worth dusting off the pass-heavy portion of the playbook. Every indication is that wide receiver is one of the few areas where Iowa has actually been untouched by injury or suspension and there are at least three good, proven (or relatively proven) targets there in Marvin McNutt, Keenan Davis, and Kevonte Martin-Manley. With the late season emergence of C.J. Fiedorowicz, there's even reason to believe that the tight end position can be an actual asset again. Plus, Oklahoma's pass defense isn't great -- they rank just 84th in the country. That ranking is a little skewed -- there tend to be a lot more total plays in Oklahoma games given the insanely fast pace their offense plays at and teams often wind up passing a lot to dig themselves out of holes against the Sooners -- but the general takeaway is that their pass defense is not an elite unit. It might be an area Iowa's passing game can exploit (if, y'know, we can convince Vandy that he's just tossing the pigskin around Kinnick Stadium).
3) The Cambus Plan
The last time Iowa regularly used a fullback for more than blocking (and the occasional dump-off pass) was almost a decade ago, when Jeremy Allen lined up in the Iowa backfield. But Iowa's rarely had an athlete as talented as Brad Rogers in the fullback position since then, too. Rogers came to Iowa with the idea of being a running back and he's quick enough and a strong enough runner to handle a heavier workload then the usual Iowa fullback workload (i.e., one carry every three games). He also has decent hands and could be an option in the passing game as well. I've watched a lot of Oakland Raiders games this fall and one of their favorite plays is a screen pass to fullback Marcel Reese. It's been remarkably effective: he has 25 catches for 273 yards this year and I'd guess that at least two-thirds of those catches were on those little screen passes. Could Rogers do the same thing? Maybe. It's certainly an option worth exploring.
4) The Wild Woody
FACT: Woody Orne has been targeted once this year and has one twelve-yard reception to his credit.
FACT: That reception was almost a touchdown catch, too.
HYPOTHESIS: The Iowa offense needs MOAR ORNE. Lining him up as a tight end was a canny idea on KOK's part, but it's only scratching the surface of what this South Dakota bull has to offer to this offense. Oklahoma has "the Belldozer"? Wait 'til they get a load of "the Woody Mammoth" steaming at their defensive line. The Wild Woody offense (or the "Ornery Cat" offense, if you prefer) could lay waste to what's left of the Sooners' injury-ravaged defense. Would you want to try to tackle this man? I didn't think so. Can he throw the ball? Who cares! Let's just go full cro-mag on offense -- and who better to do that with than a man who appears designed by nature to wrestle mammoths.
5) The Woody And Big Mac Combo Meal
But wait! There's more! If one gigantic hoss in the backfield is good, then two gigantic hosses in the backfield is downright orgasmic. Casey McMillan's Iowa career has, to date, not lived up to the hype that his recruitment brought (although, to be fair, that might also have been largely a product of BHGP's own fevered imagination), but after seeing the success that Orne has found on offense, we can't help but wonder what might happen if big bad Casey Mac went down that same path. The Twin Towers decimated the WWF's tag team division in the early '90s; might an Orne-McMillan duo do the same to Oklahoma's hapless defense in the Insight Bowl?
6) The Hyde And Seek Plan
While Marcus Coker gets much of the credit for Iowa's 27-24 win over Missouri in last year's Insight Bowl (219 yards and 2 TDs will do that), Iowa doesn't win that game without some timely play from their defensive backs. Brett Greenwood's goalline interception at the end of the first half prevented Missouri from tying the game at halftime (or drawing to within four points), while Micah Hyde's more celebrated interception (and subsequent touchdown return) directly led to Iowa's win. Here's a few other statistics to ponder:
* Over the last five years, Iowa is 7-1 when they get a pick-six (the lone loss was the 2010 Arizona game when Broderick Binns' game-tying interception return proved to be for naught).
"But, Ross, you can't build a gameplan around getting interceptions and returning them for touchdowns! That's crazytalk! You're a madman." Probably. But in a season when MACtion has infected several bowl games (although not the Holiday Bowl or Champs Sports Bowl, which were clearly in quarantine) and in a game where Iowa is already a two-touchdown underdog, perhaps crazy is the only way to approach things. Iowa's odds of beating Oklahoma straight up weren't great with Coker; without him, they seem even more fanciful. To win this game, Iowa needs to get funky. I hope Micah Hyde has his return shoes on.