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Iowa’s offense struggled again in the Outback Bowl, but it’s not entirely Greg Davis’ fault

Iowa’s beleaguered offensive coordinator is taking the brunt of the blame for the Outback Bowl, but does he deserve it?

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, with Greg Davis under the helm as Offensive Coordinator, Iowa sleepwalked its way through a bowl game. It’s become a miserable part of every Iowa fan’s New Year’s experience, and after getting absolutely gutted for the third straight bowl game, it’s getting hard to justify the performance on the field. A lot of people have been pointing to one person, and one person only, as the cause of Iowa’s problems: Greg Davis.

There’s only one problem. This issue goes way past him.

Let me take a step back before I continue on with this, and explain why I’m writing this piece. Yesterday, I was tweeting from the BHGP account during the game, and there was an awful lot of hatred for Greg Davis. I get it, Iowa was getting trounced in a bowl game yet again, and people needed a scapegoat, so naturally they use the person they’ve hated the longest.

Stupidly or not, I responded with this:

I am in no way a Greg Davis sympathizer. I don’t believe that he is the right choice to lead this offense, nor do I think he does a particularly great job most of the time. I’ve found that throughout the past five years that he’s been at The University of Iowa, I’ve been able to be pretty critical of the way Iowa has played on offense and I’m quick to point the finger at him. Iowa’s been to four bowl games with him, and scored seven points or less in the first half of all four bowl games. That’s abysmal.

Taking a look at the responses to the aforementioned tweet now, it’s pretty indicative of the notion that everything here is his fault, and that he needs to be canned. Maybe a couple of people responded to this saying that blame should be spread around, and a handful of people said Kirk Ferentz and him are the only two to blame. That’s about as diverse as the responses get, though - Greg Davis is still the one everyone is trashing.

Still, despite all this, I’m not so sure he deserves as much of the blame that he’s receiving for this particular game.

Probably the biggest critique of Greg Davis is his playcalling. It’s vanilla, predictable, unimaginative. Whatever adjective you would like to describe it, it’s hard to argue against that, particularly in 2016. This offense has been about as vanilla as you could possibly get, but at times, it has worked. Iowa dropped 40 points on Nebraska, 49 points on Purdue, 45 on Miami (OH), 31 on Northwestern, and 42 on Iowa State. Three of those five teams made bowls, so it’s not simply a matter of “Yeah, well those teams were all bad.” On the flip side, Iowa only scored 14 against Rutgers and Minnesota, nine against Wisconsin, 21 against NDSU, and 21 offensive points against Illinois. Outside of Wisconsin, those are inexcusable performances, and a lot of that surely does come down to playcalling.

During the Outback Bowl, it didn’t come down to that. The playcalling wasn’t stellar, but at a certain point, you have to start wondering how much of that is Davis’ fault. The players on offense came out flat and never gave Iowa a chance. The running backs were good and C.J. Beathard showed heart, but outside of them, the offense simply didn’t execute at a high level. A lot of people might blame that on the coach, but here’s a quote from Gregg Popovich that I think fits in nicely here (you know, with the exception of the whole “you’re paid to do this” part).

You can hardly blame Davis for running a vanilla game plan when the players aren’t executing. A lot of people have pointed to the 4th & Goal play as one that Davis deserves to be criticized for. Let’s take a look at that one more time.

Brady Ross absolutely WHIFFED on a block in the backfield on this play. If you freeze this video once Ross whiffs at about the seven second mark, take a look at the rest of the play. Kittle has his man blocked on the outside, Weitling has his man blocked next to Kittle. The offensive line didn’t get a whole ton of push, but if Ross makes that block, Daniels has a chance to get into the end zone there.

After the game, Florida’s head coach said that they knew what play Iowa was going to run there. With CJB hobbled, there’s little chance of a sneak. He’s not very mobile at this point, and not very accurate, so what would you think Iowa’s best bet would be in this position? I’d say put in your big guys and have them muscle the ball into the end zone by running behind the strong side of your line. If your line (the one that won an award for being the best in the nation) gets the push, he’s in. If Ross makes that block, it’s not blown up in the backfield. What would you expect Davis to do?

Iowa’s putrid passing game needs to be discussed here, too. C.J. Beathard did not have a good game, even before he hurt his hamstring. He ultimately ended the game going 7-for-23 for 55 yards and three interceptions. A lot of this had to do with poor pass protection, a lot of this had to do with Beathard making some terrible throws, and a lot of this had to do with Beathard checking down at the end of his progressions. Florida also has an elite secondary, as Teez Tabor was first team all-SEC and Quincy Wilson might even be better than him, which meant limited chances for Iowa’s mediocre receiving corps.

Davis called a handful of screen plays that didn’t work very well, which people were quick to jump on top of, but when the offensive line isn’t protecting the quarterback, you need to call plays that will help him get the ball out of his hands quickly. Davis appeared to try his best to do that, but especially after Beathard was injured and wouldn’t leave the game, it was hard to have a very dynamic game plan. If your game plan has anything to do with having a mobile quarterback, then it hurts to lose a whole portion of your playbook less than halfway into a game. He was handcuffed to the running game and the knowledge that he had to mix in enough passes to try to keep the Gators honest.

All-in-all, Davis will probably be back next season, as much as that pains Iowa fans to hear. He probably shouldn’t be, but in a world where Kirk Ferentz doesn’t let go of coaches very often, it’s hard to see him unemployed come next season. He called some bad calls in some games this season, and he made some brilliant decisions in other games.

In the 2017 Outback Bowl, he didn’t do anything to help change his negative perception. He didn’t run any quadruple reverse passes or the read option, or whatever everyone means when they say, “He didn’t throw enough wrinkles at the Gators.” For better or for worse, he ran a Kirk Ferentz style offense, just like he has all of this season and for the four that preceded it.

But for the love of Iowa football, it’s not all his fault.