I’ll admit, I went through a similar crisis around this time last year. It was shortly after the Iowa Hawkeyes’ loss to Wisconsin, where they only managed to put up 17 points against what looks to be the weakest Badger team of the last decade or so.
The takeaway through 10 games of Brian Ferentz as offensive coordinator was that the feast-or-famine aspect of Iowa’s offensive output had to change. After another 10 games, it’s been more of the same. After that writing, Iowa’s offense scored 48 and 42 points followed by offensive point totals of: 16, 6, 36, 10, 49, and 31. Though they went 5-3 through those games, even more was left on the table.
In fact, Iowa’s offense has failed to score 20 points in 11 of 20 conference games under Brian with an astounding six games where Iowa had 10 or less points.
Iowa's offense has scored 10 or less points against: Northwestern (x2), MSU, Wisconsin, PSU, Michigan.— Harrison Starrkansas (@HD_starr) October 8, 2019
Perhaps the most concerning piece of his playcalling is the emotional nature he brings to it. It was most obvious in a high profile blow-up in his season in the press box during his first season calling plays, but the emotion is also seen in calling on a cold Oliver Martin to execute a fade route against his old team. That type of stuff works against the Miami (OH)s of the world but is more easily defended against Michigan-types.
Don Brown continually enticed the Iowa offense into empty sets and a high percentage of pass plays* but Urban Meyer dissected it succinctly as Iowa was enticed into one-on-one matchups with only Nate Stanley in the backfield: “Iowa has no chance.”
.@UMichFootball's defense clamped down and held Iowa to 3 points Saturday.— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) October 8, 2019
We had @CoachUrbanMeyer break down the tape with @gerrydinardo and explain how the Wolverines had defensive success: pic.twitter.com/HG1cx0Aq0n
* Iowa called pass plays a higher percentage of time against Michigan (69%) than they did against Mississippi State (67%).
Anymore, there is little reason outside of a total outlier performance against Ohio State two years ago to believe Brian is going to bring a consistent level of very good-ness to the Hawkeye offense in games which count the most. Iowa’s scored 3.1 offensive TDs with Brian in charge (vs. 2.7 under Greg Davis). To Brian’s credit, the only 50+ point games since 2012 were under his guidance, but without them, Iowa has scored just 2.4 offensive touchdowns a game.
Going deeper into the archives, Iowa has benefitted from non-offensive touchdowns significantly the last couple of years. Iowa had just 11 defensive or special teams touchdowns between 2012 and 2016 (42 games) but have had 10 in 20 games.
It goes further, Iowa’s offense has never been subsidized by non-offensive scoring at this rate since 2002 (five TDs in eight conference games). But no multi-year period has matched the rate of one touchdown every two games we’ve seen since 2017.
While Iowa was able to put up 27 points against the #2 scoring defense in Mississippi State, the next best defenses they played (PSU, Wisconsin, ISU, & Northwestern - all 41st or better) resulted in 46 total points. Michigan is the 16th best scoring defense so far this year. Penn State is second and future opponent Wisconsin is first. So this week might actually be a tougher test than last.
After 20 games, there is a very clear track record of Brian Ferentz performing very well against teams with limited capabilities in stopping him but shriveling up against stronger defensive opponents. Saturday offers him and the Hawkeye offense an opportunity to flip the script and set Iowa up for conference contention. If Iowa continues to perform as they normally have against strong defenses, it’ll likely cap their wins at a Ferentzian eight.