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Iowa Football Breakdown: Predictable Offensive Playcalling

Taking a close look at the Hawkeyes’ offensive playcalling so far this season.

Iowa v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If you’ve been paying close attention to the Hawkeyes on offense this season — I don’t blame you if you haven’t — I’m sure you’re aware of just how formulaic, predictable, and inefficient it has been at times this season.

For much of this year, the Hawkeyes have easily looked like one of the worst offenses in college football and I assure you that’s not hyperbole, as they rank near the bottom in many significant statistical categories: 113th in total offense, 123rd in time of possession, 114th in total first downs, 91st in third down conversion percentage, and 107th in passing yards per game.

One of the major issues on offense this season has been predictable play calling, which isn’t exactly a new problem with this coaching staff.

A Predictable Approach on Offense

In football, final outcomes can end up coming down to just a small number of plays, which is why, as an offense, it’s crucial to always keep an opposing defense guessing.

This is especially important for offenses that strive for ball control, similar to what the Hawkeyes try to implement. There’s typically much fewer overall possessions and total plays involved per contest, creating a rise in the value of explosive plays and scoring drives. However, this season, the Hawkeyes’ play calling has been predictable to say the least and that was put on full display in their most recent home loss against Wisconsin.

Against the Badgers, the Hawkeyes opened the first eight offensive possessions of the game with a give to the running back. In their 12 total offensive possessions, the Hawkeyes began nine of them with a run call—the three drives that began with a pass came while trailing in the fourth and late in the third.

That lack of variance in play calling may be something that works out well against teams like Miami (OH), Iowa State, or Purdue. However, when going up against one of the Big Ten’s better defenses and arguably a top-10 defense in all of college football, it serves as nothing more than a missed opportunity to take advantage of a defense getting caught up in the face value of offensive looks.

With that said, the Hawkeyes were able to find at least some success running the ball on first down against the Badgers. Even with that being the case, anytime a playcaller pre-establishes his own mindset to view the first down of every possession as a down reserved for conservative or formulaic playcalling, how can that playcaller expect to keep a defense guessing and honest?

In addition to a lack of playcalling variety to start off drives, the Hawkeyes have also struggled mightily with playcalling in specific situations such as third down, as they successfully converted only two of the 13 third downs they were faced with against the Badgers defense. This has been a reoccurring theme for the Hawkeyes this season, as their current third down conversion percentage stands at 37%, putting them at 91st in college football.

(Watch with volume: Includes commentary)

This was just one example of numerous missed opportunities to keep the defense guessing against the Badgers and unfortunately, this has been an all too common theme for the Hawkeye offense this season.

With all of that said, although the Hawkeyes’ playcalling has been, for the most part, predictable and formulaic this season, Greg Davis has shown signs of being able to keep an opposing defense off guard.

Against North Dakota State, the Hawkeyes were actually somewhat unpredictable in regards to offensive playcalling for much of the game—up until the final three minutes and 35 seconds. Whether that was due to a sense of confidence coming off of a 2-0 start to the season, the fact that they were facing an FCS team at home, or some other factor is unknown. However, throughout the game the Bison were able to successfully expose even more pressing concerns within the Hawkeyes offense such as holding up in pass protection, ability to close out close games late, etc...

Change on the Horizon?

Coming out of a bye week, the Hawkeyes coaching staff, at the very least, seems committed to adding in a bit more variety in regards to personnel, as a number of sources have confirmed that the Hawkeyes have been incorporating more two tight end sets in practice as well as specific packages where Wadley lines up in the slot and Daniels lines up at running back.

Whether these personnel alterations will actually open up Davis to being a more confident, creative, and unpredictable playcaller remains to be seen. However, I believe these changes speak more to what the coaching staff perceives to be the biggest problem on offense — a lack of true playmakers.

Whether Davis’ approach to playcalling has actually changed will only shine through in game action. With that said, if I were you, I don’t think I’d be holding my breath.