The 2017 Iowa offense was a rollercoaster. It saw the high highs of laying 55 points against Ohio State and the valleys of scoring ... zero points against Wisconsin. If that’s not a rollercoaster then I don’t know what is.
Iowa’s offense scored 28.2 points a game, which is good for 66th in the nation. Brian Ferentz was chastised often for running an inept unit, but in reality, Iowa has hovered around that 28-point mark for the entirety of his father’s tenure. Taking the last 10 years into account, the Iowa offense peaked in 2015 when it averaged 31 points a game (the last time Iowa hit 30/game prior to 2015 was in 2008), and cratered in 2012 when Iowa couldn’t even get to 20 points.
Over that 10-year timeframe, Iowa is averaging 26.7 points a game. Looking through rose-colored glasses, one could perhaps argue Brian overachieved last year.
You and I of course know that is not the case. Zone running plays were still telegraphed. Akrum Wadley (and to a lesser extent, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Toren Young) were criminally mismanaged at times. Nate Stanley was allowed to air it out to Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson for the Ohio State game, then that offensive gameplan got put into a drawer. The offensive line probably overachieved at pass-blocking, but really was a liability in the run game at times.
Alas, this is all roster malpractice we have come to know and loathe from Kirk Ferentz-coached teams. Remember those two years we had a fullback play running back? Remember when James Vandenberg went from throwing for 3,000 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions to throwing for 2200 yards, 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions? Remember when CJ Fiedorowicz didn’t get thrown to in the red zone until his senior year? Remember when Jake Rudock started over CJ Beathard? Remember Damond Powell?!?!
Anyway, not to re-open old wounds, but expectations should be low for any and all Iowa offenses.
And that’s the thing. Right now, I don’t see any reason why the 2018 offense can’t be the best one we’ve seen since the Brad Banks era. Other than, of course, our coaching.
Nathan Stanley, to me, is a generational talent. He has every pass in his arsenal. He threw for 2400 yards, 26 touchdowns and 6 interceptions last year, completing just under 56 percent of his attempts. He has an absolute cannon for an arm. And oh yeah, he’s just 19 years old. Two of his favorite targets weren’t even on campus when he was a freshman.
The only real receiving threat Stanley loses next year is Matt VandeBerg, but Nick Easley emerged as perhaps his most reliable target in 2017. Twenty of Stanley’s 26 touchdowns return next year, as does roughly 70 percent of his receiving production.
Though Iowa’s two primary rushers leave to graduation—one of whom was one of the most physically-gifted Iowa players we’ve seen in quite some time—their replacements showed they can certainly play. The biggest question mark seems to be the offensive line—and if Ivory Kelly-Martin can be as effective in the passing game as Akrum Wadley.
And that gets me to our way-too-early two-deeps:
The big uglies
LT: Alaric Jackson, Dalton Ferguson
LG: Ross Reynolds, Landan Paulsen
C: Keegan Render, Cole Banwart
RG: Levi Paulsen, Lucas LeGrand
RT: Tristan Wirfs, Coy Kirkpatrick
I’ll be honest, putting the above together took a lot of guess work. You’ll notice one big name missing from the list. I’m operating under the assumption James Daniels is declaring for the NFL draft early, putting a giant hole smack dab in the middle of Iowa’s offensive line.
Rumor has it, then, that Keegan Render—Iowa’s most experienced interior lineman—will slide over to center. Again, that could be total speculation. Lucas LeGrand has a couple starts at center under his belt, but hasn’t really been heard from much. And Cole Banwart apparently worked with the second-team at center during bowl prep, so we’ll put him there.
Ross Reynolds has been a plug-and-play guy for a couple years now, and we’ll finally see what a Paulsen can do as a starter in all likelihood. The tackle positions are pretty well set with Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs both returning, but after them it’s a pretty big unknown. Dalton Ferguson was projected to be a backup tackle until he tore his ACL in spring ball this year. And Coy Kirkpatrick is really, really big so I put him as Wirfs’ backup. Scientific here, I know. In reality, I project Landan Paulsen as the sixth offensive lineman, so to speak.
QB: Nate Stanley, Peyton Mansell
RB: Ivory Kelly-Martin/Toren Young, Toks Akinribade
FB: Brady Ross, Austin Kelly
I’ve already waxed enough about Nate Stanley. Mansell, all things considered, is a very good player, though he’s going to have to look out for incoming freshman Spencer Petras.
Running the ball, it’s going to be the IKM and Toren Young show, with Toks Akinribade probably coming in for spot duty. There’s also Kyshaun Bryan to keep an eye out for, and perhaps there’s a true freshman coming in that can crack the depth chart?
At fullback, Brady Ross has seen plenty of playing time so I’m not too worried about the departure of Drake Kulick.
WR1: Nick Easley, Brandon Smith
WR2: Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Ryan Boyle (?), Henry Marchese (?), Max Cooper (?) Matt Quarells (?)
TE1: Noah Fant, Nate Wieting
TE2: TJ Hockenson, Peter Pekar
Easley, ISM, Fant and Hockenson will be Iowa’s four leading receivers next year (perhaps five leading receivers with IKM coming in at No. 4). After that it’s a big question mark as to who will be catching the ball regularly from Stanley. We’ll likely see Brandon Smith next in that line. He played quite a bit in 2017 as a true freshman, but had a nasty case of the drops. He was drooled over in camp, so perhaps he can reach expectations in 2018.
After Smith we’re not really sure who’s going to be the fourth wide receiver. Henry Marchese and Max Cooper both saw their redshirts burned (albeit for mostly special teams reasons) so they could make a push for playing time, as could Ryan Boyle. And then there’s transfer Matt Quarells, who either wasn’t up to snuff last year, or just couldn’t learn Iowa’s route tree. Or both.
We know what to expect from this tight end group. Greatness. Anything short of last year’s production of a combined 14 touchdowns and 800 or so yards would be a huge disappointment.
I'll mention the kicking situation briefly: Miguel Recinos is great. About half his kicks last year went for touchbacks; and he made 11/13 kick attempts. I expect him to be a real weapon next year.
And there you have it. Iowa really has one of the easier schedules next year. There are some what-ifs on the defensive side of the ball, but Phil Parker has proven to be a hidden gem these past few years. It very well could be up to the offense to cover up for defensive mishaps this season, and not the other way around. The weapons are there on paper and the field. Are they in the coaching booth as well?