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Matchup to Watch: Jim Leonhard vs. Brian Ferentz

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The Hawkeyes control their destiny in the Big Ten West but will need the offense to do its job in complementary football to keep it that way

Syndication: Unknown Mark Hoffman via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Week 1: Ty Fryfogle vs. Iowa’s corners
Week 2: Charlie Kolar/Chase Allen vs. Iowa’s linebackers
Week 3: Kent State’s corners vs. Iowa’s wide receivers
Week 4: Thomas Pannunzio vs. Tory Taylor
Week 5: Maryland’s offensive line vs. Iowa’s defensive line
Week 6: Jahan Dotson vs. Iowa’s secondary
Week 7: George Karlaftis vs. Iowa’s tackles

George Karlaftis only had one sack (his only tackle), but he made his presence felt on Iowa’s last chance to make it a game. Just after a fumble at the pylon granted Iowa the ball at the 20, down just 17-7, the Hawkeyes called a play in line with what worked against Penn State the week prior. Karlaftis was the first guy to Spencer Petras as Branson Deen and Jack Sullivan combined for the sack. On the next play, he worked right tackle Nick DeJong to get his aforementioned sack.

The Boilermakers combined for 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss as Iowa averaged just 2.7 yards/carry.

That won’t get it done!


Almost every year since I’ve written this column, I reach some version of a breaking point with Iowa’s offense. Twice I wrote Nate Stanley vs. Everybody-type of deals. I said Iowa couldn’t run against air ahead of their 2018 matchup with Illinois. In the matchup with Wisconsin, Two times centered on Iowa’s offensive line vs. the Badger front. Yet when I’m feeling really testy, it all comes back to offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

So that’s why we’re here.

Ahead of the #9 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-1) game against the Wisconsin Badgers (4-3, 2-2), the Hawks need Brian to pull out his annual “hey, we can live with this guy long-term!” gameplan. The Badgers are a known old foe who has made the Hawkeye offense look silly for the better part of the 2010s, and while 2020 had many markers of the past games against Wisky, the Hawks were able to hit on a couple big plays and win by the widest margin the rivalry had seen (on Iowa’s side) since 2008.

Better times, as Iowa has averaged over 4 yards/carry just once (2018!) since Shonn Greene sonned Bucky and friends.

The Hawkeyes enter the game with the lowest yards/carry (3.1) since the wretched 2004 run game (2.0) which featured Sam Brownlee as the #1 back for much of the season. And like, I get that Iowa strives to be complementary with their offense but it’d be nice if that meant they could have 3 “average” runs and get a first down instead of another Tory Taylor punt on 4th & 1.

To be fair, though, Iowa’s top 4 ball-carriers all average above 4/rush: Tyler Goodson (4.3), Ivory Kelly-Martin (4.4), Monte Pottebaum (4.5), & Tyrone Tracy (4.7). Yet Iowa did little to make Purdue think the ball is going to anybody other than they guy it actually goes to. There were just 4 jet-sweep actions before garbage time struck - twice out of shotgun 2-back, 2-tight end sets - and saw limited success. When two or less receivers were on the field, Iowa ran 16 of 22 times. Additionally, Iowa ran 23 times out of the 27 they were under center and passed 17 out of 19 when they were in shotgun.

When opponents can figure out what you’re doing, it makes everyone’s job on the field that much more difficult.

The Hawkeyes’ biggest struggles have come inside the red zone, where they are converting a paltry 65% of their attempts into points. To match the second lowest number of the last 15 seasons, Iowa has to score on their next 11 trips inside the 20.

All of this is against an opponent Iowa has struggled against for the better part of the decade operating as close to the peak of their power as they have in that decade.

Right now, the Badgers are allowing just 1.9 yards per carry. They’ve got 18 sacks, led by junior linebacker Leo Chenal (5.0), and 46 tackles for loss. Trying to run against them is trying to prevent a meat grinder from turning even the best cut of meat into mince.

Even Michigan (5.5 YPC) & Army (4.9) were held well below their season averages at 2.5 & 3.6.


Under Brian Ferentz, Iowa’s offense has scored 0, 17, 22, and 28 points against the Badgers defense but those numbers are even more stark when looking at the first half of the games: 0, 7, 6, & 6. Just one touchdown drive in 8 quarters of play. Getting ahead on Wisconsin is imperative to the offense doing their part in the complementary football Kirk Ferentz and company preach. Such a lead would force the Badgers to lean on Graham Mertz in the passing game far more than they appear willing to do.

If the Hawks can get on the scoreboard early, they will put themselves in the driver’s seat for the game, and the division.