The Offensive Philosophy is Not a Fit

David Banks

The Greg Davis offense is exactly the type of offense Iowa's defense would love to play against. It may bend a defense, but isn't consistent enough or explosive enough to break it.

Basically, every week I've felt the need to post about how much I hate the Greg Davis offense. I've refrained since I don't really have anything new to add to the conversation. It's the same every week...the passing game doesn't mesh with the running game...there is no vertical threat...why aren't the TEs ever used?...where's the play-action???...AHHH, why are you throwing a 3-yard out on 3rd-and-7???????...NO...JUST NO.

But there was one thing I wanted to point out this week as it just dawned on me Saturday night while reflecting on the miserable game that was. Maybe I'm just late to the party on this one, but I thought I'd at least point it out.

Bend but don't break

We've heard it a million times now...bend, but don't break. We see the big cushions given up by the corner, the adherence to stop the run at all cost by keeping in linebackers on almost every play, the deep safeties making sure no big plays are given up, etc...

Iowa's defensive strategy is predicated on the idea that a college offense isn't good enough and specifically not consistent enough, to put together a drive consisting of 3-4 yard runs and passing that goes all the way down the field of a touchdown. And this has proven to be, for the most part, true and the strategy has been extremely effective. Even this year, where Iowa's defense has looked pretty mediocre, the Hawkeyes are 30th in the country in scoring defense.

And yet, despite all the first-hand evidence that college offenses are generally not good and not consistent enough to dink and dunk all the way down the field, that's exactly what Greg Davis is trying to do with the Iowa offense.

Are there exceptions? Of course. When you have a quarterback like Colt McCoy who completes over 70% of his passes, that can work. Or when you have someone like Vince Young who can extend drives by converting 3rd-and-5s with his feet or his arm. But there aren't too many quarterbacks like Colt McCoy or Vince Young. And Iowa certainly doesn't have one.

Really look across all of the Iowa offensive personnel. The best players are the guys blocking and the skill positions are mostly filled with solid, but not great, guys. And yet Greg Davis runs an offense like he's got an all-star QB and speedy WRs. For all the talk of adjusting the offense to best fit the players' strengths, Davis just has not done it.

Big play offense

Over the past 5 years, Iowa has greatly relied on the big play to generate points. Only 21% of Iowa's scoring drives have not had a play of 15 or more yards. 30% of them have had at least two 15+ yard plays.

Percent of drives with big plays

# of Big Plays 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
0 28.1% 17.6% 16.4% 24.1% 14.3%
1 46.9% 58.8% 50.9% 35.2% 57.1%
2 21.9% 19.6% 30.9% 40.7% 28.6%
3 3.1% 3.9% 1.8% 0.0% 0.0%

This year is no exception...and it's actually more skewed towards a reliance on big plays. Of Iowa's 28 scoring drives this year, 24 of them had at least 1 big play.

The four that didn't:

  • The first drive of the season against Northern Illinois, Iowa was actually able to work its way down the field by running the ball and throwing short passes. It resulted in a field goal.
  • The second was also against NIU and came after a turnover where Iowa took over in FG range and had to settle for a FG.
  • The third, also the NIU game, Iowa was able to drive just far enough to set up a 50-yard FG.
  • The last one came against Michigan State right after the Jordan Cotton kick return had been called back for a penalty. Iowa still started with excellent field position, was aided by a pass interference call, and managed a short field goal.

Where have these big plays come from? The passing game mostly. Except for 2008, when Iowa had Shonn Greene, the passing game has generated 3 times as many big plays that led to a score as the run game.

And now, the play that has been more potent than any over the past 5 years, the long pass, has been stripped from the playbook. So it shouldn't be any surprise that the offense is 105th in the country in points per game.

So my point is, Iowa, like most college teams, is not good enough on offense to consistently drive the length of the field with a bunch of 3-5 yard plays. It takes big plays to put the team in position to score. And finally, Greg Davis has employed an offensive philosophy that doesn't produce the kind of big plays necessary for Iowa to put enough points on the board to win games.

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