Floyd of Rosedale still resides in Iowa City. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. It’s not all that matters, but it’s what matters most. And it’s important not to lose sight of that.
Losing sight of that could be easy to do. Because while today feels a hell of a lot better than a week ago, there was about a three hour stretch Saturday night where I think most of us expected to feel pretty similar. It’s not that the Gophers ever really looked like they were going to take control of things, but...neither did the Hawkeyes.
That’s been a common complain among Iowa fans, and it’s not new to this year. Boiler hammered home the point last week by pointing out the sheer volume of one-score games the Hawkeyes have played under the Captain. It’s staggering and it’s by design. My question: will it change?
I think the obvious answer is a resounding no. I think that answer is wrong. Now, hang with me here. The general consensus is that Kirk Ferentz wants to win enough games to set up a changing of the guard, handing over the reigns to new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, right? Embedded in that assumption is the need for the younger Ferentz to leave a distinctive touch on the program during this sunset period for his father.
If that’s the case, some things will need to change. The one-score games reality will need to be replaced with a potent enough offense to show Brian is capable of doing more than coloring within the lines drawn by Kirk. That is, to me, one of the most frustrating things about this season to date. If you accept the assumptions I’ve laid out, it doesn’t make sense to hold off on that changing philosophy for a year. It just doesn’t.
If Brian Ferentz had his way, this offense would be running the score up on everyone defense we face. We would have perfect balance, running and passing exactly 50% of the time and there would be almost no tendencies for opponents to pick up on in film study. So why isn’t that the case? Poor execution, as we’ve been told by everyone within the program? Play calling, as we’ve been told by almost every fan? I think both.
First, let’s examine what we’ve seen from the offensive coordinator. As many have been so quick to point out, it certainly hasn’t been perfect. There have been too many Wadley dives and stretches into 8-9-man boxes. There has been an incredible tendency to run on second down after passing on first. And there have been some head-scratchers along the way (looking at you, Wadley safety).
But there have also been moments where we see what really could be under a Brian Ferentz offense. The Iowa State game, the first couple series against Northwestern (as well as the quick-hitter before half). We saw that again with the first series of each half Saturday evening.
It really was a thing of beauty. It went 80 yards in less than two and a half minutes and ended in 7 points. Just what the doctor ordered. Even better, it came with tendency-breakers designed to soften up the defense and remove a couple of those pesky box defenders to setup up easier running lanes the rest of the way.
The offense came out in power formations with multiple tight ends and a fullback three of the first four plays, only to throw on the first two. It completely caught the defense off guard and resulted in back-to-back plays of 20+ yards. That’s the stuff Hawkeye fans are clamoring for.
On the second possession, Brian tried to do the same type of thing. All three plays utilized multiple tight ends and they came out passing on first down for a gain of 4. The toss on second down only picked up another 2, but it put Wadley on the edge and that’s never a bad thing. On third and short, they again came out in a power formation with two tight ends and a fullback and went play action out of it. Stanley couldn’t find anyone open and they went three and out.
On possession number three, the offense came out guns blazin’. Starting from their own 7, fresh off a big 4th down stop by the defense, Brian dialed up a double move to Ihmir Smith-Marsette on first down. Stanley pumped and then delivered one of the prettier long balls he had thrown on the season, only to see it bounce off ISM’s facemask and right into the hands of a defender for an INT (I’m going to go ahead and pass on taking the space here to yell about how THAT WAS NOT AN INTERCEPTION IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM).
That, to me, is a microcosm of the offense this season. When things are scripted, the first drive of a half for example, the offense shows us a glimpse of what could be. You see them break tendency and throw out of power formations, run out of the gun and pick up chunk plays. You see drives like we saw to start the game Saturday. But when things don’t go quite as scripted, it has just been brutal for this team.
Those second and third possessions are good examples. Everything is going according to plan in that second drive. You’ve gotten yourself into a third and short, you got your playmaker in space and broke tendency by throwing out of a power personnel grouping on first down. But there was nowhere to go on third down and what could have been another great drive dies before it even gets started. Or worse, you draw up the perfect play, have a guy open downfield (and finally get a throw on target) and not only do you not get the completion and yardage, you turn it over like on that third drive.
As a fan, it’s incredibly frustrating because the result is not just a lack of points, but because there’s just no rhythm to the offense. There are very few extended drives. Honestly, there aren’t many drives with more than one first down. It’s not fun to watch, and I’m sure it’s not fun to play in.
We found out Saturday it really isn’t a ton of fun to be coaching, either. As has already been well documented, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz let loose on his way out of the coach’s box in the press booth. Much has been made of his choice of words and the decision to let it fly so soon, among the media and directed at the replay official, rather than holding it in until he was in the locker room.
I get it. I don’t condone it. I have young kids and I know what type of example I want set for them. But I also love it. I love that there is no denying his passion, his fire and the fact that he is every bit as pissed off about how things have looked offensively as everyone in the comments here the last week+.
Does he need to find a way to channel that? Yes. Is the press box any place to lay into an official? Definitely not. But at least we aren’t sitting here questioning comments like “that’s football” or another snort. Brian Ferentz is as pissed off as the rest of us about how things are going offensively and he wasn’t holding it in anymore. I love it. No, I f*cking love it.
Even better, that frustration did get channeled. To an extent. The Iowa offense came out on the first drive in the second half and we again saw the possibilities when things go as scripted. The rushing attack fizzles the first two plays on solid defense, but a big third down pass is complete (beyond the sticks you GDGD apologists!) and they move the chains. On the following first down, guess what? They go right back to the same run and this time rather than being stuffed, it goes for a 10-yard pickup and things are moving right along. Very next play, Stanley finds Fant in the endzone.
The play itself is a thing of beauty. They set up, again, in a power formation. Two tight ends, both to the wide side of the field, a fullback in front of Wadley. Stanley motions Fant to the short side and watches a defender chase him, indicating it’s man coverage. There’s one high safety with the other creeping down to the edge of the block (remember, it is a power formation). Stanley takes the snap and fakes not once, but twice on handoffs to the fullback and Wadley. The high safety is frozen with the other moving to within 5 yards of the LOS. ISM and Fant take off running crossing corner routes. The guy in man coverage on Fant is woefully out of position as he had just chased Fant across the formation and set up on his outside only to watch him take an inside release and sprint all the way across the field. The high safety does what any high safety would do - he runs with ISM, who has his man beat headed to the opposite corner. From there, it’s a simple pitch and catch. This time, Stanley puts a ton of air under it and just lets it float more than 40 yards in the air and right into the waiting arms of Fant for the TD.
Thing. Of. Beauty.
And that’s why I still have hope. Sure, there are really long stretches that are flat out no fun to watch. As we learned Saturday, they are no fun to be a part of either. But we see glimpses of what could be and it’s beautiful. There are so many ifs. If they can get better push up front. If the Butler side of BUTWAD can stay healthy (his 11 carries was by far the most we’ve from anyone not named Wadley since that North Texas game and it’s a necessity). If Brian Ferentz can get creative to help the OL in the run game. If they can keep taking more shots. If Stanley can continue to improve on those long balls. If they can avoid the mistakes that have stopped them from stringing together drives. If they can do those things, they will be back to putting points on the board.
If they do that, this team can win some more games. The defense is good to very good. We all know how great Josey Jewell is, but Josh Jackson is having an amazing year. He’s leading the nation in pass break ups and passes defended. He’s broken up more passes already than Desmond King did during his Thorpe Award season in 2015. And the defensive line is improving. A.J. Epenesa and Anthony Nelson are both in the top ten in the country in QB pressures per snap.
They will have their hands full with an Ohio State team that just hung 39 on Penn State. Luckily for Iowa, the Hawkeyes will be wearing their recently released alternate uniforms to get the team a little extra jazz. Fans will certainly be jazzed for the 2:30 start. Let’s hope Brian Ferentz can channel some of that halftime jazz from a week ago to bring a mildly alternate offense to match those alternate uniforms.
And at the end of it all, don’t forget that Floyd is staying home.
Happy Monday everyone. Enjoy an extra helping of bacon this week. Soak up one more hoops exhibition on Thursday - that team is going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Let’s get after it and get back to Saturday, shall we?