After coming off of a heartbreaking loss, Iowa faces Michigan State this weekend in their first conference road test of the season. What will Iowa’s offense look like? Will they continue to run between the tackles into a brick wall coming downhill, or will they switch it up and attack the Spartans defense in varied ways?
Going into last week, I felt confident Brian Ferentz had full control of the offense. Iowa’s offense was going to attack, attack, attack, bleed the game clock, and score some points. Well, the offense scored some points in a weird role reversal with Penn State (Iowa’s three scoring drives took a combined 2:33 off the game clock) but everything else was ripped from the ole Kirk Ferentz “giant killer” playbook:
- limit dumb errors on offense
- lean on the defense in ways which are unimaginable
It almost worked. Almost.
Now the elder Ferentz has a calculation to make when developing this week’s overall strategy. First, does he view Iowa as an underdog against Michigan State in the same way Iowa was an underdog against Penn State? If we trust Las Vegas to be our facsimile of Kirk Ferentz, he does not. With Michigan State in the -3 range, both teams are essentially equal, with the home field advantage serving as the spread.
Hopefully this loosens him up.
As alluded to above, Brian instantly came into the offensive coordinator job and endeared himself to the Hawkeyes faithful by preaching “attack” while also harkening back to the “Bullies of the Big Ten” days. After building on that premise, especially in the passing game throughout the first three weeks, it took a step back on Saturday. Iowa regressed creatively and made Akrum Wadley run into the teeth of a defense which knew he was running.
This is something not even Shonn Greene could overcome. In 2008, Iowa telegraphed a run play on 4th and 1 against Michigan State which was stopped 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Yuck.
Hot take: Iowa’s best offensive player so far this season has been Nate Stanley. He has thrown 12 touchdowns since throwing an interception on his third pass of the season. He’s been able to read the defense, spread the ball around, and get everyone involved:
Here are the updated season charts. Ball is getting downfield at a higher rate. pic.twitter.com/WJYS1yMkKP— Thad Nelson (@tnels20) September 24, 2017
The second best player for Iowa’s offense has been Akrum Wadley. While his rushing numbers are underwhelming, his receiving numbers are not. With 227 yards on 10 catches, he has amassed over 2⁄3 of his receiving yardage from last year. What this shows is Akrum is most dangerous when he is operating in space. Running a telegraphed zone run to the boundary does not get him into space.
With this potent backfield, Iowa has the tools to be an unpredictable offense while still operating with Kirk’s bread and butter run scheme. The key is to leverage both where they are best, another thing Brian preached early. For Wadley, it is in space via the pass game. Hopefully Brian is not afraid to move him around the field, specifically the slot.
If I’m being honest, Kirk has been here before. He’s faced peer teams, home and away, where the talent level is roughly the same. One of the best examples might be one of my favorite highlight reels of Kirk Ferentz’s time at Iowa (there are many). Perhaps it offers some insight into this father vs. son matchup of offensive game planning:
Right away, Iowa asserted some misdirection with the end around. Ricky Stanzi slings the ball all over the field while Adam Robinson runs wild. Iowa gets up 10-0 after two possessions and forces Michigan State’s hand. It snowballs from there, with Kirk Cousins making a couple dumb throws to Iowa’s defense. But, Iowa never stopped attacking all levels of the field.
This week’s individual matchup is unique because the two can collaborate to find the best solution to attack the Spartans defense. It is the type of gameplan I would love for Brian Ferentz to view as a piece of his portfolio in the same way an artist builds theirs. Craft it in such a way so he can pick it up in five years (or whenever Iowa ultimately gives him the job) and we can look back on it lovingly and feel good with the program in his hands.
If we are lucky, we will see Brian influence his father to turn back the clock. They will adjust the 2010 Michigan State game plan to include even more twists. If he does not, and opts to grind Iowa’s offense into dust, it could be another game where Iowa needs a bail out play by Wadley to turn the tide in their favor. Should it go this direction, it might foreshadow this season, and ultimately, Brian’s tenure as the offensive coordinator. Or more.