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IOWA FOOTBALL LOOK-AHEAD 2017: THE OFFENSE

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Iowa returns a whole lot of experience on the offensive side of the ball

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

Wow, how ‘bout that basketball game last night, huh? There’s a lot of things to like from this young Hawkeye squad, but opting to not take any of our timeouts as the clock wound down was INFURIATING.

Anywho, yesterday we took a look at next year’s projected defense for this Iowa team, and I think it looks pretty damn good, and should give Iowa fans some optimism.

And y’know what, I think the same thing can be said about next year’s offense, even with the departure of CJ Beathard and LeShun Daniels and George Kittle.

I’ll outline why there’s reason for optimism shortly, but first a word about this offense.

This unit was bad. B-A-D bad. Neither of Iowa’s best pass-catchers—Matt VandeBerg and Kittle—could stay healthy, which led to CJ putting up about 900 fewer yards of offense this year compared to last (he threw the same amount of touchdowns, though, which is impossible for me to believe). This also led to about 50 fewer passing yards a game. Incredibly, this year’s Iowa team also rushed for fewer yards in 2016 than it did in 2015, despite having two running backs go for over 1,000 yards apiece.

All said and told, 2016 Iowa averaged about 60 fewer yards/game and about five fewer points than the 2015 team. I might be oversimplifying this, but I read those numbers as 2015 Iowa had about one more offensive possession that led to points per game than it’s 2016 version. That’s a HUGE deal in in any offensive system, but especially one that’s Ferentzian in theory.

One might worry over those numbers, but I don’t, at least when it comes to next year. With the exception of Nathan Stanley, literally every other player on Iowa’s offense has starting experience. (I’m not sure if Akrum Wadley has ever technically started a game but let’s not get hung up on that).

Now, let’s take a magnifying glass to this offense:

The personnel

Who’s definitely leaving? Well for one, Beathard. He will be sorely missed, as is the case for any quarterback who has two years of starting experience under his belt, but I think we all have a special place for CJ in our hearts. After his departure, there’s Cole Croston, Kittle, Riley McCarron and LeShun Daniels. It’s a little easier to stomach Croston and Daniels leaving since they have some very capable backups, but the pass-catching abilities of McCarron and Kittle will be longed for. Even though Kittle was never really healthy for the whole season, he still managed to make plays, and his 2-touchdown performance against Nebraska will not be soon forgotten.

And I mean this one-handed grab I know it’s from 2015 but come on.

McCarron played remarkably well in the WR1 spot after VandeBerg went down, but he was rather undersized for a receiver. He gave Iowa a lot of options in the return game, though, and was pretty damn good when filling in for Desmond King in that role.

Who’s fighting for a spot? Aside from a quarterback competition that’s Stanley’s to lose, the largest position battle is probably at tight end, where Noah Fant, Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting are duking it out. I’d say Fant gets the TE1 spot simply because of his incredibly clutch catch against Nebraska, with Pekar and Wieting splitting time at TE2. Jon Wiesnieski is still on the roster too and he literally might be the most cursed Iowa player of all-time when it comes to injuries.

Other than that, there may be a battle between Jay Scheel and Adrian Falconer for the No. 3 receiver, but that’s of very little consequence in an offense that doesn’t often have three receivers on the field at the same time.

Let’s look at some probably-wrong two-deeps!

WR1: Matt VandeBerg/Jay Scheel

RB: Akrum Wadley/Toks Akinribade/Derrick Mitchell Jr./Jonathan Parker (remember him?!?)

FB: Drake Kulick/Brady Ross

QB: Nathan Stanley/Tyler Wiegers

LT: Boone Myers/Levi Paulsen

LG: Keegan Render/Landen Paulsen

C: James Daniels/Lucas LeGrand

RG: Sean Welsh/Landen Paulsen

RT: Ike Boettger/Alaric Jackson

TE: Noah Fant/Peter Pekar

WR2: Jerminic Smith/Adrian Falconer

Who’s coming in that could make an impact?

Much has been said/written about Alaric Jackson, a 6-7, 285-lb lineman who was redshirted this past season. All signs point to him being Iowa’s next great offensive tackle, but he still has a few more lbs to put on that frame before he sees any significant time.

In this incoming recruiting class, running back Ivory Kelly-Martin is probably talented enough to play right away in spot duty, but he’ll be buried behind a group of pretty capable backs. Brandon Smith could prove to be the third (or second)-best receiver on campus right away, and if Iowa wins the Oliver Martin sweepstakes, that would almost certainly be the case.

Other than that, though, this is a largely veteran unit, much like its defensive counterpart.

Things we want to see but won’t

We would love love love to see Parker or Mitchell Jr. develop into a slot receiver role, but if that hasn’t happened by now it won’t.

We also wouldn’t mind the playbook open up to complement Iowa’s running game with Matt VandeBerg and Jerminic Smith out wide, but that ain’t happening anytime soon either. With a first-year quarterback under center, we fully expect first down, run to the left outside with Wadley, second down, run to the left inside with Wadley, third down, three-yard out to Fant that’s short of the sticks, rinse repeat.

Sorry.

Final verdict

We were gifted yesterday when Wadley announced his return for his senior season, but I think we all sort of expected that to be the case anyway.

I would like to say the sky is the limit with for an offense that boasts a potential all-B1G running back, an offensive line that returns all five starters, and a sure-handed wide receiver, but even if we didn’t have a first-year QB under center that wouldn’t be the case with the way this offense is run.

That being said, I really like the potential of this unit. Wadley could easily bust for 1,600 yards and a million scores, and Stanley can just hit VandeBerg or Fant for some easy first downs when our run game is humming. That’s when this offense works best, and all the pieces are there, in my opinion.

Honestly, putting this all on paper makes me more optimistic for 2017 than I was going in to 2016, but optimism is a dangerous thing for an Iowa fan to have, so let’s stay cautious here. Iowa’s schedule gets considerably more difficult next year, and the Hawkeyes will be tested in their first game of the year when Wyoming comes to town.

In any case, we can be hopeful on the experience returning in 2017, and pray that Iowa City doesn’t remain the place where offensive production goes to die.