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Overreaction Monday: We Are Who We Thought We Were, Or Are We?

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Despite heightened expectations midway through the season, Iowa football appears to be exactly what we thought it would be. And that’s a disappointment.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Another week, another round of questions for the head Hawkeye.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There are things we come to expect as Iowa fans. Certain things we have grown accustomed to and others we thing we have grown accustomed to, but have instead trained ourselves to believe despite little actual reason to. Telling the difference can be difficult, but doing so certainly can change your perspective.

For example, we all know the Hawkeyes get better as the season goes on. That’s always been the case under Kirk Ferentz. There are a bunch of different reasons floated as to why. One of the top contenders has long been that it simply takes some time for the offensive line to gel together, but once they get rolling, that’s when the bullies of the Big Ten arrive.

And that may have once been a truth. In Ferentz’s first 10 seasons at Iowa, the Hawkeyes were 20-13 in the month of November, including those first two seasons we so often throw out due to just how different the look from the rest of his tenure. If you do so here, you get 18-9 from ‘01-’08.

But, as Scott Dochterman at The Athletic pointed out over the weekend, Iowa is a measly 18-22 in the month of November in the last 10 seasons. They’re 0-2 this year and things aren’t exactly looking great.

Part of that seems to be related to exactly what we’ve often attributed late-season success to - the offensive line. There is nothing bullying about them this season. Ten games into the season, the Hawkeyes have yet to produce a 100-yard rusher.

Saturday, they didn’t come close. Iowa totaled only 64 yards rushing. Mekhi Sargent was the leading rusher with 27 yards on 10 carries. It was atrocious.

There are questions about play calling, and they aren’t unwarranted, but the offensive line play is limiting at this point. Frankly, the running backs haven’t helped the cause. Despite limited opportunities to find open running lanes, it seems too often any of Sargent, Ivory Kelly-Martin or Toren Young ignores an open cutback lane to run blindly into the back of a lineman or directly into a tackler.

On the season, Iowa has only 5 rushes of 20 or more yards. A season ago, Akrum Wadley had 10 of those to himself. We knew he was a dynamic playmaker we would miss, but I don’t think we fully appreciated how much he was covering up issues up front. Those are now readily apparent and they’re only adding to the mounting truth that the Hawkeyes no longer get better as the season goes on and the offensive line simply isn’t going to gel.

It would seem then, that the hopes and dreams of Iowa fans now lay with Nate Stanley and the passing game. We all know that’s a lost cause. After all, Stanley is in his second season as the head signal caller and quarterbacks always regress under Kirk Ferentz.

Except statistically, they don’t.

Iowa QB Progression Under KF

Name Year School Conf Class Pos G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
Name Year School Conf Class Pos G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
Nate Stanley *2016 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 5 5 9 55.6 62 6.9 6.9 0 0 113.4
*2017 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 13 196 351 55.8 2432 6.9 7.6 26 6 135.1
2018 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 10 185 318 58.2 2308 7.3 7.3 18 8 132.8
CJ Beathard *2013 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 5 9 27 33.3 179 6.6 4 1 2 86.4
*2014 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 8 52 92 56.5 645 7 7.1 5 2 129
*2015 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 14 223 362 61.6 2809 7.8 8.1 17 5 139.5
*2016 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 13 170 301 56.5 1929 6.4 6 17 10 122.3
Jake Rudock *2013 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 13 204 346 59 2383 6.9 6.2 18 13 126.5
*2014 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 12 213 345 61.7 2436 7.1 7.3 16 5 133.5
*2015 Michigan Big Ten SR QB 13 249 389 64 3017 7.8 7.7 20 9 141.5
James Vandenberg *2009 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 4 42 87 48.3 470 5.4 3.3 2 5 89.7
*2010 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 3 5 8 62.5 45 5.6 8.1 1 0 151
*2011 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 13 237 404 58.7 3022 7.5 7.9 25 7 138.5
2012 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 12 223 389 57.3 2249 5.8 5.2 7 8 107.7
Ricky Stanzi 2007 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 2 0 4 0 0 0 -11.3 0 1 -50
*2008 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 13 150 254 59.1 1956 7.7 7.2 14 9 134.8
*2009 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 11 171 304 56.3 2417 8 6.8 17 15 131.6
*2010 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 13 221 345 64.1 3004 8.7 9.4 25 6 157.6
Jake Christensen *2006 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 6 23 35 65.7 285 8.1 6.7 2 2 141.5
2007 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 12 198 370 53.5 2269 6.1 6.3 17 6 116.9
*2008 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 8 36 63 57.1 396 6.3 6.2 2 1 117.2
Drew Tate *2003 Iowa Big Ten FR QB 6 6 11 54.5 55 5 6.8 1 0 126.5
*2004 Iowa Big Ten SO QB 12 233 375 62.1 2786 7.4 6.8 20 14 134.7
*2005 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 12 219 352 62.2 2828 8 8.4 22 7 146.4
*2006 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 11 207 352 58.8 2623 7.5 6.8 18 13 130.9
Nathan Chandler *2002 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 5 12 20 60 161 8.1 9.1 1 0 144.1
*2003 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 13 165 307 53.7 2040 6.6 6.4 18 10 122.4
Brad Banks *2001 Iowa Big Ten JR QB 10 41 68 60.3 582 8.6 8.4 4 2 145.7
*2002 Iowa Big Ten SR QB 13 170 294 57.8 2573 8.8 9.8 26 5 157.1

There are a few exceptions, but by and large, quarterbacks actually progress quite well at Iowa, at least from a statistical point of view. CJ Beathard has a slight down tick as a senior, but that could be as much attributed to injury as anything else. James Vandenberg likewise had a dip, but that came with a transition at offensive coordinator in 2012. Jake Christensen had the big dip in ‘08, but he was yanked. Drew Tate is the only one you can really make much of a case for, but frankly, if that’s what you’re making your argument on it’s pretty weak.

So maybe Stanley can still save this offense?

Or maybe he can’t. Despite looking fine statistically both on the season and in this particular game (he finished 27-41 for 269 yards and a TD without a turnover), anyone watching can see things are not fine for this passing game.

Stanley has the physical tools. He’s drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger for a reason. He has a big arm and is difficult to bring down. But right now, he’s not in a place mentally to take this team where it needs to go.

He certainly is dinged up. We all saw the thumb injury suffered against Penn State that resulted in the wrap at Purdue. He also took a shot against Northwestern, to the point he probably should have been removed for a bit as he could barely stand in the huddle.

Those injuries may be hurting his mind more than his body as his pocket presence seems to have seriously deteriorated. He’s got happy feet, bouncing around the pocket. His internal clock seems sped up.

At the same time, he’s second-guessing himself. A number of times Saturday, he double-clutched. Not in a “Peyton Manning, I’m trying to move a safety” type of way, but in an “I don’t know if I want to make that throw” kind of way.

What’s worse, he’s not going through his progressions. While he seems to still be making calls at the line (and we’ll likely never know if they are the right calls), he’s locking in to his primary target and rarely moving beyond his secondary. He’s missing wide open receivers and ignoring entire sides of the field at times.

It’s becoming a major problem, much like the offense as a whole. But Stanley’s not exactly getting a ton of help.

One of the other things we know as Iowa fans is that the Hawkeyes lack playmakers and those they do have aren’t utilized properly. The best ones often come with egos, and that doesn’t go over well with the head man. Egos equal dog house. Dog house equals decreased touches.

Or do they?

There’s no player in the Kirk Ferentz era who more embodies the stereotype of a playmaker whose ego landed him in the Captain’s dog house than DJK. Was he under-utilized? Maybe. But he didn’t see his opportunities go down as he spent more and more time in that dog house.

DJK Career Stats
Screen capture via Sports-reference.com

DJK finished his senior season with one more catch for 5 fewer yards and 8 more touchdowns than he had his junior year.

Akrum Wadley followed a similar path. Despite the constant criticism from KF about his weight, he saw a 37% increase in his touches during his senior year. His yards per carry decreased by 2 yards per rush with the added workload, but Wadley was still dynamic and was still a focal point in the offense. He’s now missed greatly.

Akrum Wadley Career Stats
Screen capture via Sports-reference.com

So if Kirk hasn’t cut the workload of playmakers in the past when they’ve wound up in the dog house, why does it feel like that’s happening with Noah Fant ever since the drama with his family on Twitter?

Perhaps it’s different this time. Perhaps there’s more to the story behind the scenes than we know. Or perhaps that’s not what’s happening.

Fant played only 32 snaps on Saturday. That’s just over 50% of the 63 plays Iowa ran. But the real story was that he only played 9 in the second half. That’s incredibly low. Worse yet, he had only 3 targets on the day and ended with 1 catch for 0 yards.

This isn’t just another guy - this is the pre-season All-American who’s projected to go in the first round of next year’s NFL Draft. He’s a physical freak and one of the best weapons this offense has.

But for some reason, he’s on the field only half the time and getting only 7% of Stanley’s passes. That’s unacceptable.

Watching the game live from Kinnick, I had a couple takeaways. Re-watching on the DVR, those were mostly re-affirmed.

When Fant is on the field, he is commanding a TON of attention from the defense. He’s often got a pair of defenders lined up over him pre-snap and if anything he’s picking up another post-snap. So it might seem logical that Nate Stanley rarely even looks his direction.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Indiana
Noah Fant was once a touchdown machine. Now he seems to have fallen flat as his snap count drops and his quarterback looks elsewhere.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Except he seems to have grown so accustomed to Fant being double- or triple-covered that he ignores him only almost every route. There were close to half a dozen times on Saturday where Fant was open (and I mean WIDE) open coming across the middle of the field or getting vertical and Stanley either never made it to him in his progression or skipped right to the dump off. Those aren’t on the play calling, they’re on Nate.

But if Stanley is struggling to get through his progressions, as it appears he is, why is Brian Ferentz not doing more to ensure Fant is the primary target? There is no reason Fant and TJ Hockenson can’t split some of the tight end reps in 11 personnel (when there’s only one tight end on the field). And there’s certainly no reason for Fant to be on the sideline when they go into 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends).

Admittedly, there were a number of occasions when Fant appeared to be going less than full speed when he was on the back side of a play, both in route running and run blocking. So it’s entirely possible that sort of thing is driving the staff to sit him more than he should or adding to Stanley’s lack of looks. But it’s so over-pronounced that it’s becoming absurd.

There is no line of reasoning that gets a logical person to believe the best opportunity for success on 3rd down or inside the red zone involves #87 sitting on the sideline.

So, now that we know Noah Fant is, in fact, being underutilized, it’s time for the staff to do as they’ve done with so many of the other things ingrained in Iowa fans - change it. Now that we know Nate Stanley is going to regress, it’s time for him to step up. Now that we know this run game is sputtering, it’s time for the line to start opening holes and the backs to find them. Now that we know this is bound to be yet another season where the Hawkeyes sputter down the stretch, it’s time for this team to show some life and get back on track.

If they can’t, the chatter about firing Brian, firing Kirk and getting someone fresh will only grow. After all, we know this team would be better with someone like Jeff Brohm, who’s high-powered Purdue offense put up 10 points against Minnesota this weekend. Because we all know it’s time for a change.

Maybe for once, it is. You never know.

Happy Monday Hawk fans. Hoops is back to save us from our misery. The fightin’ Frans are undefeated. I know they’re going to have a bounce back year. Here’s hoping you have a bounce back week.

Go Hawks.