Following the Hawkeyes since Hayden Fry’s first year, the University of Iowa has been synonymous with a number of things. Excellent tight ends, stout defenses, and some of the best offensive linemen to play the game at the college level and beyond. To name just a few: John Alt, Bob Kratch, Mike Haight if you want old-school. The more recent names are Gallery, Yanda, Steinbach, Scherff, Wirfs, and Linderbaum. Those are some ballplayers. One of the constants is that Iowa’s head coach, Kirk Ferentz, was Hayden Fry’s offensive line coach from 1981-1989. Coach Ferentz has always had his hand in the offensive line cookie jar, and for the most part this has been a strength of the Iowa program. The last few years? Not so much.
Iowa’s offensive line has statistically gotten worse the last three years in rushing yards per game and sacks allowed per game.
2020 171.0 (4.6 average); 1.4 sacks allowed per game.
2021 123.8 (3.4 average); 2.2 sacks allowed per game.
2022 94.8 (2.9 average); 3.0 sacks allowed per game.
There is no way to sugarcoat such a horrific downward trend. George Barnett, Iowa’s offensive line coach, is entering his third, and extremely pivotal, season. One age-old adage is “It’s not the X’s and the O’s, it’s the Jimmys and the Joes.” We’ll get to that later.
Iowa’s top seven returning offensive linemen have shown some positional versatility. Finding the right combination will be where the success, or lack thereof, of Iowa’s offense originates. Mason Richman, Connor Colby, Logan Jones, Beau Stephens, Nick DeJong, Tyler Elsbury, and Gennings Dunker have all gotten plenty of snaps under their belts. As stated earlier, in trying to find the right mix, the Hawkeyes have tried multiple players at both guard and tackle. This has been indicative of not having a very good line, but it also has allowed some of the players to learn multiple positions. Iowa ultimately tries to put its best five offensive linemen on the field, and being versatile is paramount. All of the above players have had success; consistently playing at a higher level, knowing assignments, and making blocks is what Coach Barnett is striving for from his student-athletes.
To go back to the earlier quote, the Hawkeyes hit the portal looking for some Jimmys and Joes. Help arrived in Rusty Feth and Daijon Parker. Both players have a very good chance to earn a starting spot up front.
Rusty Feth (#60) 6’3” 310 - Miami of Ohio
Rusty Feth looks the part. He’s someone that the late John Madden would eloquently describe as a “football player.” Feth has played a great deal of center and some guard. Having that flexibility helps coaches and fans sleep at night.
Daijon Parker (#79) 6’5” 315 - Saginaw Valley State University
The Hawkeyes have tried a number of players at right tackle the last few years with very mixed results. Kirk Ferentz and company hopefully brought a graduate transfer in to man this position from day one. Parker was injured for much of the spring, but his size and experience indicate that he could help solidify the right side of Iowa’s line.
It’s a cliche, but the offensive line, especially in a zone blocking scheme, has to play together. Over the last few years it has felt like a common occurrence to see an Iowa back tackled for a three yard loss after a whiff by an offensive lineman. Iowa’s offense isn’t built for 2nd and 13. The same can be said for allowing opposing defenses free passes to Iowa’s quarterback. The Cade McNamara era (nice ring to that) has already started. It will be very, very important for the Hawkeyes to keep a clean pocket for him and to keep him upright.
Much has been made of Iowa’s offense under offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. Iowa fans will now be taking a page from Missouri’s playbook; “Show me”. When Iowa can run the football, the Hawkeyes have a serviceable offense. With our exceptional defense and special teams, a mid-level offense puts in Indianapolis. After that... all you’re asking for is a chance. As always, Go Hawks!