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Iowa Football: Joe Labas Key To Hawkeyes’ Run at the West

If Iowa wants back in the race for the Big Ten West, Joe Labas needs to be taking first team reps all week.

It’s Labas time. Or at least it should be.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Iowa Hawkeyes are on a bye this week, meaning Hawkeye fans great a bit of a reprieve. There is not forced watching of the nation’s worst offense. We can all tune in Saturday morning to games across the country without fear of wanting to poke our own eyeballs out.

But as we approach the end of the week, we also move closer to the start of next week, which brings with it the return of Hawkeye football. We know that week is going to come with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz still calling the shots for the Iowa O. That’s not going to change this season and barring his willing departure, it’s unlikely to change this offseason even with the well-publicized drive to 325.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t see change next week. And it doesn’t mean that we are destined to continue repeating ourselves each Saturday.

While we witnessed one of the worst offensive performances of the year from the nation’s worst offense a week ago, it’s easy to forget that the Hawkeyes actually showed some signs of life in the running game the two weeks prior. Against Purdue and Wisconsin, Iowa averaged more than 190 yards per game on the ground. Yes, those stats are buoyed by a pair of long touchdown runs. But those runs happen and the lack of explosive plays is precisely the type of thing that has hurt Iowa’s offense the last... well a long time.

Along with the running game comes opportunity in the passing game. Against Minnesota, we saw Brian Ferentz attempt to get that going with some quick rhythm throws for Deacon Hill early in the first half. For whatever reason, he seemed to completely forget they existed beyond the first few series, however. We also did not see Ferentz the younger opt to utilize play-action for much beyond some incredibly long-developing throws that just didn’t seem to materialize.

The result was disastrous and it’s now clear that Deacon Hill is who he is. That’s not going to change this year. He has a big arm, but lacks touch and tends to get locked onto a single receiver, make decisions late and try to make up for it by rifling throws into small, closing windows.

He’s completing less than 38% of his passes on the season - a number that is remarkably bad and flat out unacceptable at the power five level. He’s now thrown three interceptions in four games and his two fumbles against Minnesota (each more dumbfounding than the last) take Hill to more than a turnover per game. That’s frankly the only way Iowa loses with the defense they have and the running game we saw developing heading into the Minnesota showdown.

Which is to say, it’s Joe Labas time. There is no more reason not to make a move. Hill is not protecting the ball and with that miserable completion percentage, he’s not allowing anything to happen in the passing game, which in turn destroys the running game.

Hawkeye fans seem to agree as nearly 90% of respondents in this week’s Reacts poll believe Labas gives Iowa a better chance of wining than Hill.

Based on the limited sample size we have of Labas, that seems pretty straightforward. In his only career start a season ago in the Music City Bowl, Labas did what Iowa needed him to. He did what we had hoped Hill could do.

Against Kentucky, the Ohio native completed 58% of his passes. His yards per attempt were pedestrian at 5.8, but both those numbers are winning numbers when you don’t turn the ball over. Labas did not in 24 attempts and the Hawkeyes won going away.

Did they rely heavily on the defense, which came up with a pair of scores of their own? Yes. Has that changed at all this year? No. And with two weeks to prepare the team, there’s simply no excuse for not making a switch to a player we have seen do just enough to allow Iowa to win.

Beyond that, Labas showed glimpses of pocket presence that’s seemed to be lacking for Hill. That was never more apparent than on the two strip sacks Hill gave up a week ago. He also brings the opportunity to be much more multiple in the rushing attack. While Hill is a big body and reminds of former Hawkeye Nate Stanley, he is not mobile and has been flat out hesitant to run even when given loads of space.

Labas, on the other hand, has more than escapability - he brings a real threat to run the ball. We saw Brian dial up a read-option against Minnesota, which Hill quickly gave to the surprise of nobody. Labas actually presents a threat to keep that read and produce first downs with his legs.

It’s been years since Iowa has had such mobility at QB, but it’s something Brian has clearly been looking for on the recruiting trail. It’s also what the fanbase has been longing for the last several years. Every truly successful Iowa team of the Ferentz era has boasted a mobile QB. Banks. Tate. Stanzi. Beathard. All could run. All won.

And at the very least, it’s something to give the fanbase hope. A fanbase which seems to have truly lost hope in this team.

Despite the path laid out earlier this week, wherein Iowa is still largely in control of their own destiny, fewer than 30% of Hawkeye fans polled believe Iowa will actually win the Big Ten West.

As noted, Wisconsin and Minnesota both have dates upcoming vs Ohio State. For the Badgers, that’s this weekend. Thus, Iowa simply needs to win out against teams that are all flawed much in the same way the Hawkeyes are.

But when there is little hope of moving the ball at all with the offense, there seems to be little hope of winning. Unless your last name is Ferentz, apparently.

After a week off, the Hawkeyes are set to take on Northwestern next week. That matchup will be played in Wrigley Field and be available for streaming on Peacock. The Wildcats play host to Maryland this week in an 11am kick on Saturday.