I have been thinking about writing this post basically since the season ended. But it has been hard to actually sit down and write it. The off-season was long and mostly boring on the football front. A couple of years ago my excitement for football season never ended...now it took until August to really ramp up.
But it is here! There has been sort of, kind of real football games on TV and fall practice started last week. And I am excited. And I a optimistic. Instead of dwelling on the tougher looking schedule, the unknown at QB, the lack of anything at WR, the decommitment of a highly rated recruit...I'm going to look on the bright side.
Admittedly, that tire fire of an offense that Iowa fielded last year gave off a nasty smoke so dark it was hard to find any silver lining. But then there was all this talk during the off season about using players' versatility to exploit mismatches, and adding a tempo element to the offense, and using the depth at running back (knock on wood so, so hard) with different personnel groupings and different formations...
And, hey, we even saw a LOT of no-huddle in the spring and it is apparently what Iowa has been running thus far in fall camp. Of course it turns out Kirk Ferentz's favorite thing about the no-huddle is that he can scrap it anytime he wants to. But even if the offense doesn't change schematically very much, there were a least a few plays that worked.
The pin and pull outside zone
The outside zone has been a staple of Iowa's offense the entire KF era and that did not change last year and won't change this year. But Iowa showed early in the year that it had added a twist to the play.
Though I'm totally unqualified to teach anyone about zone blocking, here is my basic different between a standard outside zone and the pin and pull... It all comes down to the "uncovered" linemen, which are those who don't have a defender directly in front of them. In a typical zone scheme the uncovered linemen will take a step to the playside and then help create a double team on the closest defender...then once that double team is established one of the linemen will look to reach the second level. In the pin and pull, uncovered linemen instead pull to the playside and block defenders in the second level as they work towards the edge.
Under Ken O'Keefe, pulling linemen wasn't really much of a thing. But Greg Davis decided to bust it out right away last year using the pin and pull play very effectively against Northern Illinois. Of course it was only used a few times again after that game (they pulled it back out for Indiana and there is actually still video available from a TD run by Damon Bullock on a pin and pull).
The good news, it does appear that Greg Davis has kept this as part of the offense. Though I don't specifically remember it from the spring game, it was captured on film by Mas Casa during a practice.
The waggle play has been around Iowa forever. It is as much as staple are the aforementioned outside zone. Fake the handoff, bootleg, find one of the many receivers all running out in the same direction at different levels... This play (along with most of the other play-action plays) was pretty much non-existent to start the year. It has been pretty well established that big part of last year's downfall on offense was the inexplicable attempt to mesh KF's zone blocking running attack, with GD's horizontal passing attack (if you can call that an "attack"). The two don't really work together.
As the season progressed, and the offense didn't improve, Davis started throwing in KOK staples. I'm not sure if it was just because the players were more familiar with these plays, or if he realized that they made a whole lot of sense when you have a fullback-sized runningback tearing through defenses.
The waggle came back. I don't have any specific instance of the play in my mind that it was particularly effective. I do remember Vandenberg picking the shortest pass more than deeper routes, but the play still picked up yards. Against Indiana, the Hawks had the play working and Kevonte Martin-Manley had one of his better days thanks to it.
The Trick Play
You could probably count the number of trick plays run in the KF era on your two hands. The plays usually came in a bowl game or in some inconsequential non-conference game. Even then, the "trick" was something like a former-QB-who-recently-moved-to-WR pass on a reverse that didn't really trick anyone. So when Greg Davis called for a flea-flicker against Minnesota when Iowa has already up 10-0, everyone, including the entire Gopher defense, was shocked
The play was called at the perfect time. Iowa had just gotten the ball back in excellent field position thanks to a Gopher fumbled, and Weisman had shredded the Minnesota D on the previous drive with runs of 27 and 44 yard. So on 1st-and-10, the Gophers were bringing a safety down in the box crashing hard to stop the run. When Weisman tossed the ball back to Vandenberg, Jordan Cotton was 20 yards passed the nearest defender.
The flea-flicker was't the only trick play Iowa ran last season. Against Purdue, Iowa used a similar tactic, when Damon Bullock threw the ball back to Vandenberg and then Vandenberg looked down field and found Kevonte Martin-Manley for 35 yards. That trick play was more of a desperation thing, as Iowa was trailing in the 4th quarter. The play did set up a FG that tied the game until, well...nobody wants to talk about the end of that game.
So in a whole season of work there were only 3 plays worry of writing about, but I remain hopeful, because these 3 plays represent the concepts I think Greg Davis can carry forward into 2013; something a little bit new, a tried and tested standby, and a little bit of flare.
Ferentz keeps saying that Greg Davis is now a better "Iowa coach." I don't think any of us have a really good idea of what that is supposed to mean. But if it means the offense will continue to use good running plays, and will use those to build up a play-action passing attack, and then will mix in the trickeration from time-to-time...then count me in.