While Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has enjoyed an impressive record of success over the past several years, his accomplishments have not shielded him from having to answer difficult questions about the dire state of his program’s offense. In his early February press conference, Kirk Ferentz stood before a packed room full of reporters to discuss his program’s historically poor offensive performance the prior season. While Ferentz readily acknowledged that the team’s offense was not where it needed to be, he was also steadfast in his defense of his offensive coaching staff and his belief that the fundamentals of the Hawkeye offense remain sound. For better or worse, Ferentz’s quotes reveal a coach who has a tremendous amount of faith in his staff and believes they have cracked to code to improving Iowa’s offense next year:
“I’m betting on us…I think we’ve got a good staff.”
“It’s my judgment to decide if we’ve got the best people in the building. That’s my obligation to the program. Most importantly, to our players. Again, I feel really good about our staff. A capable staff. A talented staff. And we’re going to find solutions to get better.”
“We don’t have to score 45 points a game, but we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to make the makeable plays. You have to do that, and that’s what I’m getting at on those fundamentals.”
Unfortunately, these quotes were not from Ferentz’s press conference last week but were instead taken from a similar press conference Iowa’s head coach held in February 2022. If they sound eerily similar to the soundbites uttered by Ferentz last week, it’s because his talking points were virtually the same, only with a heavier dose blame placed on injuries as the culprit for Iowa’s offensive woes.
Last offseason, Ferentz doubled down on his offensive coaching staff and philosophy in hopes that doing so would cure the moribund offense that plagued the team throughout its otherwise successful 2021 campaign. This strategy backfired, producing the second-worst yards-per-game offense in the country and forcing Ferentz to spend another press conference trying to defend the indefensible (or in this case, the easily defendable). If last offseason represented Kirk Ferentz betting the house on his offensive coordinator/eldest son Brian, his embattled offensive line coach George Barnett, and his program’s method of offensive game planning, this offseason has seen the head coach ask fans for a mulligan and promising that the same approach that failed miserably in 2022 will somehow yield different results in 2023.
While Iowa’s coaching staff and offensive scheme appear maddeningly entrenched, the program is getting an exciting injection of new talent thanks to the transfer portal. After being virtually inactive in the portal last offseason, the Hawkeyes have snagged eight offensive transfers heading into 2023, including several at key positions.
Former Michigan starting quarterback and third-team All-Big Ten selection Cade McNamara will bring upside and stability to the quarterback position, which has been a significant weak spot for the Hawkeyes over the past several years. McNamara won over 80% of his starts with the Maize and Blue, including defeating Iowa in the 2021 Big Ten Championship to earn his team a berth to the College Football Playoff. Also on hand for the Hawkeyes in 2023 will be former Wisconsin quarterback and four-star recruit Deacon Hill, a high-upside player who can provide depth at the position and could potentially compete for the starting job down the line. Iowa’s new quarterbacks will have an array of new transfer pass catchers to throw to as well, including former Michigan star tight end Erick All, talented young Charleston Southern wide receiver Seth Anderson, and potential depth pieces in Austin Kutscher (a wide receiver from Ohio State) and Hayden Large (a tight end from Dordt). Finally, Iowa addressed its significant need along the offensive line by snagging tackle Daijon Parker from Division II Saginaw State and interior lineman and former All-MAC selection Rusty Feth from Miami (OH).
Kirk Ferentz is banking that this influx of transfer talent will improve Iowa’s offensive performance, noting that their arrival in the program already constitutes an improvement over an offense that was beset with injuries last year, particularly at wide receiver and offensive line. However, it is fair to ask just how high these transfers will raise Iowa’s offensive ceiling if they are not accompanied by changes to the scheme or coaching staff.
On one hand, Iowa’s excellent defense and special teams typically mean the Hawkeyes only have to be average on offense in order to win game. Kirk cited that Iowa has a record of 55-3 in games in which they have scored 24+ points over the past several years, an average which it would have only taken Iowa going from the 123rd-best scoring offense to the 95th-best to achieve last season. On the other hand, Iowa has consistently struggled to score 24+ points against quality competition, and the Hawkeyes are a mere 13-27 in games when they fail to meet this benchmark. Given the systemic problems that have plagued Iowa’s offense for the past several seasons, there is little evidence to support Kirk’s belief that the same program that consistently ranks among the country’s worst scoring offenses despite getting a significant number of points from their defense and special teams is truly a few transfer players away from offensive competence. Afterall, this is still the same coaching staff that has struggled to develop and retain offensive skill talent, failed to find a consistent five-man lineup along the offensive line over the past two years, and has regularly and rightly been criticized for their maddeningly predictable play calls.
Furthermore, there is no guarantees that Iowa’s new transfer additions will be an immediate upgrade. Neither Daijon Parker nor Seth Anderson are proven commodities at the D-1 level, and there are still serious questions about Iowa’s depth and talent at the wide receiver and offensive line positions. Even if Anderson, Parker, and Rusty Feth all turn out to be instant impact players, the Hawkeyes will still need to see growth around them to find sustained success on offense. Iowa needs wide receivers like Brody Brecht, Diante Vines, and Jacob Bostick to be healthy and productive next year and for young offensive linemen like Logan Jones, Gennings Dunker, and Beau Stephens to become more consistent to help round out the offensive line. This will require real progress by the coaching staff to help develop these players and design a scheme that allows them to maximize their contributions to the offense. Cade McNamara is not the kind of quarterback who can dominate a game by himself amidst poor receiver and line play, and as great as Erick All is, the 2022 Hawkeyes proved that excellent tight end play alone is not enough to carry an offense. As encouraging as it is to see Iowa land several high-profile transfers this offseason, these additions will still need to be accompanied by better offensive player development and a more effective scheme to produce the results fans are clamoring for.
Iowa football may still see more changes to its offense before the 2023 season commences, whether they take the form of more help from the transfer portal, staff departures to the NFL, or more ambitious contract incentives for the offensive coordinator than 7 win and 25 points per game. If not, Kirk Ferentz’s belief that his offensive talent pool, not his coaching staff, was responsible for last year’s scoring woes will be put to the test as the team relies on its new transfers and homegrown developmental talent to propel the offense to new heights. An influx of transfer talent may help stave off the boo birds in the interim, but it is still up to the coaches to design an offense that fits that talent and teach the players how to execute it consistently. If Iowa’s coaching staff fails to accomplish these goals in 2023, many of its members may not be around to answer the difficult questions the team faces during the next offseason.