As usual, #AllTheFistJabs to MGoBlog, from whom we shamelessly poached this idea.
Departures, in Order of Importance
1. Brandon Scherff, LT. This is a no-brainer. Scherff is arguably the best lineman of the Ferentz Era at Iowa -- or at least the best since Robert Gallery in 2003. He was a two-time All-Big Ten First Team contributor, widely recognized as an All-American, and this year's Outland Trophy winner. He leaves enormous shoes to fill and a gargantuan void in Iowa's offensive line. For the last two seasons, Iowa had an absolute rock that it could rely on at left tackle -- those days are gone for now. We've written a lot about Scherff in recent weeks (and deservedly so) and this is going to be a monster of a post, so I'm inclined to keep this brief: Scherff was a spectacular player and the Iowa offense is absolutely going to be weaker for his absence. Replacing him is the single-biggest question mark for the Iowa offense (well, maybe the second-biggest question mark... we'll get to one that might be bigger in a while) entering the offseason.
2. Mark Weisman, RB. The Air Force transfer who became a fullback who became a running back who almost became Iowa's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (and I guess he still could if he has a monster performance against Tennessee in the bowl game). Weisman had a somewhat odd career at Iowa in terms of production: despite running behind increasingly better offensive lines (more or less), his efficiency dipped every season: he went from 5.13 ypc in 2012 to 4.31 ypc in 2013 to 3.89 ypc in 2014. That stat is a recognition of defenses figuring out how to limit Weisman (make him go outside, basically) as well as a sign of his own physical limitations (he was strong as an ox, but not possessed of a great deal of quickness) and the maddening tendencies of the playcalling (the success rate of outside zone runs with Weisman was, uh, not high). Still, Weisman had a tremendous nose for the end zone -- all 14 of his touchdowns this year came in the red zone and he was pretty effective at picking up first downs in short yardage situations (20 of his 31 carries of third or fourth downs resulted in first downs). Iowa will miss the Hebrew Hammer next year.
3. Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR. For the third straight year, Martin-Manley led Iowa in receptions with 49, and he's on the verge of becoming Iowa's all-time leader in catches (he needs just three receptions in the bowl game to surpass DJK). Martin-Manley is also on pace to finish with the second-highest yardage total of his Iowa career (he currently has 494 yards) and could even finish with the highest yardage total of his career with a standout showing against Tennessee. KMM's touchdown total dipped this year (two, down from five last season), but he's never been a prolific touchdown guy -- only 12 of his career 171 receptions have resulted in touchdowns. KMM in 2014 is exactly what he's always been: a solid possession receiver and a reliable outlet for Rudock (19 of his 49 receptions came on third down -- and 18 of those catches resulted in first downs). Through the ups and downs of the Iowa offense over the last few years, Martin-Manley has been probably Iowa's most consistent performer. That steadiness has been appreciated.
4. Andrew Donnal, RT. The "other" tackle. While Scherff got all of the attention and accolades, Donnal quietly manned the right tackle spot all season and... did pretty well, actually. We weren't too sure about him at this time last year:
He plays high, and he plays without leverage, and he's frequently outmaneuvered by speed rushers. There's a possibility that Iowa puts him at right tackle this year and moves Ward to the interior line, but that doesn't look particularly likely.
...but I'm happy to say that we were wrong. He wasn't perfect -- he got caught playing too high a few times, he fell prey to a few speed rushers -- but he was a solid presence bookending the right side of the Iowa offensive line. Donnal ended up having a quiet season, which actually wasn't a bad thing: it's hard to recall a lot of plays where he pancaked a defender, but it's also hard to recall a lot of plays where he completely whiffed on a block, too. Donnal wasn't the best lineman, he wasn't the flashiest lineman, but he was a solid presence along the line.
5. Damond Powell, WR. I think it's fair to say that Damond Powell's brief Iowa career did not quite live up to expectations -- or at least hopes. The numbers don't lie:
2013: 12 catches, 291 yards, 2 TD
2014: 18 catches, 321 yards, 3 TD
Those are decent stats, but they don't jump off the page. Bad luck played a part in Powell's struggles; he was a late arrival to campus in 2013 and an injury in 2014 kept him out of most of the fall training camp; for a guy who allegedly struggled to grasp Iowa's playbook, that missing practice time was no doubt very costly. Powell likely would have benefited from a redshirt year at some point, but Iowa's desperate need for someone, anyone who could generate a big play meant that he needed to be used. Of course, that same need for big plays is also why the use of Powell was so frustrating; even if he couldn't grasp the full route tree in the passing game, weren't there other ways to utilize a guy with his speed? When we talk about the Iowa coaching staff focusing too much on what a guy can't do well, rather than emphasizing the things he can do well, Powell is Exhibit A.
6. Tommy Gaul, C. Gaul was a fairly quintessential Iowa story: a former walk-on who redshirted and bided his time for several years, before finally breaking through with a starting role as a senior. He began the year on the bench, but Iowa's inconsistency along the interior of the offensive line led to some re-shuffling, with starting center Austin Blythe sliding to left guard and Gaul moving into Blythe's vacated role in the center of the line. Gaul may have never gotten a shot to start if the Jordan Walsh/Sean Welsh situation had been less muddled, but he did a solid job of making the most out of his opportunity -- the Iowa offensive really did seem to perform better after he took over at C and Blythe moved to LG.
7. Ray Hamilton, TE. Hamilton came to Iowa as a near-4* recruit and seemed destined to be the next impressive Iowa tight end, only... it didn't quite pan out that way. Hamilton entered his senior season with career totals of 11 catches for 130 yards and zero touchdowns; he struggled to double even those meager totals as a senior (15 catches, 124 yards, 2 TD). There was hope that Hamilton would flourish this year, out of C.J. Fiedorowicz's shadow, but it just didn't happen. Hamilton was a very able blocker, but he never seemed to find a role in the passing game. In fairness to Hamitlon, the Iowa offense under Greg Davis also hasn't been quite as kind to tight ends as the Iowa offenses of the past.
8. Damon Bullock, RB. By the end of September, Damon Bullock was firmly entrenched in his role as a third-down back. He had 12 carries in the Iowa State game; they amassed 22 yards. Over Iowa's nine remaining games, he had 9 carries total and failed to play in two games. He did have 32 receptions for 265 yards, highlighted by an 8-catch, 100-yard outing against Maryland. Bullock was also one of Iowa's most trusted back in blitz pick-up and, honestly, that's where he might be missed the most, given the struggles of Canzeri and Daniels in that department. Still, Bullock's role in the offense feels like the easiest one to fill out of Iowa's holes.
What's Left, Also Roughly in Order of Importance
1. Jake Rudock, QB. Rudock has become the most divisive and debated about Iowa football player since, uh, the last guy to quarterback the Hawkeyes. It turns out that people have strong opinions about quarterbacks; who knew?! A large portion of the fanbase is simply ready to move on from Rudock, an inconsistent player with fairly average athletic ability (among quarterbacks, at least) who's come up short on several occasions. As that portion of the fanbase does not seem to include Kirk Ferentz, though, they seem unlikely to get their wish. Barring a debilitating injury (which we absolutely do not wish to happen on Rudock at all) or some other shocking development, Rudock seems likely to begin 2015 as Iowa's starting quarterback.
I can understand where the "move on" crowd is coming from -- watching Rudock turtle up against Iowa State or Nebraska in the second halves of those games was excruciating. And yet there have been times -- more than a few, in fact -- where he's flashed some really strong leadership and looked like the sort of efficient, effective passer that can lead Iowa to success. The fourth quarter against Ball State. The first half against Pitt. The first quarter against Indiana. The second half against Wisconsin. Obviously, the problem is that we don't get that Jake nearly often enough -- instead, we get ho-hum Jake or, worse, bad Jake and the offense dies like an old Chevy on the side of the road.
The question for the key figures involved in the Iowa offense in 2015 -- for Jake, for Greg Davis, for Kirk Ferentz -- is whether or not they have the answer to getting good Jake on the field more often. Iowa can win with good Jake. Iowa is doomed with any other Jake. Personally, I'm skeptical, although that probably has as much to do with several supporting factors -- a young, likely inconsistent offensive line; an uncertain running back situation; and a receiving corps bereft of Jake's two favorite safety blankets (KMM and Bullock) -- as it does with Jake himself. But I hope I'm wrong.
2. Tevaun Smith, WR. If Tevaun Smith hits his season average in terms of receiving yards (just 46.6 ypg) in the bowl game, he'll become Iowa's first 600-yard receiver since Marvin McNutt (1315 yards) and Keenan Davis (713 yards) in 2011. For an Iowa offense that's been largely bereft of playmakers at wide receiver since McNutt departed, that's kind of a big deal. Smith flashed at times a season ago, but his inconsistency seemed to prevent him from becoming a bigger part of the Iowa passing game. Flash forward to now and the frustration is with the inconsistent playcalling that doesn't get Smith involved in the offense more, not Smith himself. Smith had four catches in five of Iowa's last seven games and racked up 69 or more yards in four of those games, to go along with two touchdowns. Smith was even a positive factor when he didn't catch the ball -- he was able to successfully draw pass interference penalties on more than a few occasions when Iowa targeted him deep. Smith may not be elite at any one thing -- speed, catching ability, route running -- but he's become very good at a lot of them and he needs to be one of the focal points of the Iowa offense in 2015. Greg Davis has harped about the need to get more big plays on offense -- Tevaun Smith can be that guy. Good things happen for the Iowa offense when he's involved. Get him the damn ball.
3. Austin Blythe, OL. Depending on how things shake out elsewhere along the line, it's possible that Iowa returns just one starter among their offensive linemen next year (Blythe)... and we're not even sure where he's going to start next year. Blythe began the year at center, but moved to guard to help solve the inconsistent playing coming from the Welsh/Walsh guard pairing. He's been effective in both positions, so which position he starts at likely depends on how the rest of the line shakes out. If Iowa can get more consistent play out of the guard position, expect Blythe to return to center. But if Iowa isn't able to find two guys that can play guard at a high level, we can probably expect to see Blythe filling one of those holes. Either way, Blythe is a smart, physical, and plays with a mean streak. He's going to be the leader of the Iowa offensive line next season and we're going to rely on him quite a bit in 2015.
4. Jordan Canzeri, RB. With Mark Weisman's looming departure, Canzeri figures to enter the offseason as Iowa's starter at running back. Whether he's still in that spot when Iowa opens the season against Illinois State on September 5 is open for debate. Canzeri ended 2013 looking like Iowa's best running back: after sparing use throughout the first half of the season, he ran for 366 yards on 50 carries, a very healthy 7.3 ypc average. Granted, much of that production came against a dreadful Purdue defense and a worn-down Nebraska defense, but still: Canzeri looked like the spark that the running game needed and there was a hope that he might emerge as a very solid rotation piece with Mark Weisman. That... didn't happen. Canzeri ran for 374 yards on 90 carries, a fairly pedestrian 4.16 ypc average. He was slowed by injuries for much of the year, but that's been one of the dirty not-so-secrets of his Iowa tenure, too -- he's not the most durable dude, so injuries are going to be an issue with him, barring a fortuitous run of injury luck. Canzeri's never going to be the sort of bell cow running back that Ferentz can pound away with for 20+ carries a game, but he can be a useful cog in the running game if he can stay healthy. How well he manages to do that will likely determine how big of a role he has in Iowa's running game next year.
5. Jake Duzey, TE. Duzey first turned heads in 2013 when he hauled in a long pass on his way to an 85-yard touchdown catch-and-run against Ohio State; he followed that up by nearly equaling the far more highly touted C.J. Fiedorowicz's output in the passing game (19 receptions for 270 yards versus 30 receptions for 299 yards). Duzey fully emerged as Iowa's top pass-catching tight end in 2014, hauling in 36 catches for 392 yards and a team-high 3 TD and relegating Ray Hamilton to blocking duties for the most part. With Martin-Manley departing this year, it's not hard to see Duzey emerging as a top possession option in the Iowa offense next year as well, although he has the speed and overall athletic ability to do much more than that. Iowa hasn't had a tight end top 500 receiving yards since Scott Chandler in 2006 (591 yards), so that might be setting the bar too high. But Duzey seems poised to join the 400-yard club*: since '06, that club has included Brandon Myers (441 yards, 2008), Allen Reisner (460 yards, 2010), and C.J. Fiedorowicz (433 yards, 2012). Duzey has the skills and should get the opportunities to become part of that group next year. Duzey figures to be one of the cornerstones of the Iowa offense next year -- which could be a very good thing.
*Although, yes, he might also get there this year once the bowl game stats are figured in.
6. CJ Beathard/Tyler Wiegers, QB. Well, Sunshine's still an Iowa player for now. Undoubtedly, Beathard's status figures to be watched very closely from the bowl game 'til spring practice kicks off -- if he's going to transfer, then that's likely when he'd do it. If he's still here when spring practice rolls around, it likely means he's staying -- either to again fight for the starting job in 2015 or to wait for his turn in 2016. Barring an injury to Rudock in practice or a freakish Christmas ham-related accident, Beathard is unlikely to start in the bowl game in a few weeks; the die seems cast there. The $4,000,000 question is whether the die is already cast for next year, too.
The weight of history says "yes" -- under Ferentz, Iowa has never benched a two-year starter entering his senior season (although the only past precedents appear to be Tate and Stanzi, unless I'm forgetting someone) and Ferentz doesn't seem to blame Rudock much for the team's disappointing 7-5 record this fall. (Not that he would ever say so publicly even if he did, so...) It seems very likely that the hope for a true quarterback competition* exists as a possibility far more in the minds of fans than in the minds of the coaches, but... we can't completely rule it out. Ferentz has made rumblings about assessing everything in the offseason and no jobs being safe... but it's certainly possible -- even probable -- that that's a lot of hot air. How well Ferentz is able to convince Beathard that his talk isn't just hot air will probably go a long way in determining whether or not he transfers. If Beathard does transfer, that leaves Iowa's primary backup as Wiegers, who redshirted this season and has never taken a snap. Given Rudock's propensity to get dinged up, that wouldn't be the most reassuring quarterback situation in the world.
*It's probably more accurate to say that many Iowa fans would prefer a straight coup at the quarterback position than a competition at this point.
7. Ike Boettger/Cole Croston, LT/RT. Boettger and Croston have been listed behind Scherff and Donnal at the tackle spots on Iowa's depth chart for most of the season, so it seems reasonable to presume that they're going to be first in line for the starting spots at tackle next season. Whether that's a good thing or not is yet to be determined. What is clear, though, is that Iowa's going to have some very inexperienced tackles in 2015... which is more than a little terrifying. Boettger is a redshirt freshman and Croston is a sophomore, but neither has played significant minutes. Boettger still needs to spend time with Chris Doyle in the offseason, too -- he's listed at 270, which is a bit light for a tackle, even at Iowa. Still, there's a very good possibility that one or both of these guys is thrown into the deep end next year -- let's hope they can swim. Unless there's a mystery option waiting in the wings, we're going to need them to be quick learners -- or it could be a very long, painful year for Iowa's offense.
8. LeShun Daniels/Jonathan Parker/Akrum Wadley, RB. Canzeri may enter the offseason as Iowa's starting running back, but a 20 carries/game back he is not. Nor is he the most durable running back on the Iowa roster. Which is to say: there are going to be opportunities for other running backs to play -- possibly a lot of other opportunities. Who ends up taking most of those opportunities is still very much up in the air. Wadley flashed some very intriguing skills in his limited touches this season -- his 6.17 ypc average was by far the best of any Iowa running back with a decent number of carries and he showed good wiggle and movement in the open field. Unfortunately, he also had a tendency to put the ball on the ground a little too often -- I think he had at least one fumble in every game where he saw significant action this year. If he can't get that issue curbed, he's not going to see much action.
Parker was, of course, Mr. Jet Sweep; the questions facing him next year are twofold: a) can he do more out of the jet sweep, and b) can he do things outside of the jet sweep? He brings a lot more speed to the running back position than Iowa has been accustomed to, so it would be exciting to see Iowa find more ways to make use of his skill set; sadly, that implies a greater degree of creativity than we've typically seen from the Iowa offense. Speaking of things we've typically seen from the Iowa offense... Hello, Mr. Daniels. LeShun is the most prototypical Iowa-style running back on the roster -- at least among the types of running backs Iowa has favored over the last 7-8 years (see: Shonn Greene, Marcus Coker, Mark Weisman). He's big and bruising like Weisman, but he also appears to have a bit more speed, as well as a touch more ability to make guys miss. That said, his on-field results through two years haven't really suggested a future star in the making: 142 yards on 36 carries in 2013 (3.94 ypc) and 42 yards on 14 carries in 2014 (3.00 ypc). 50 carries isn't much of a sample size, but the production we've seen so far should probably pump the breaks on the hype train with Daniels. There's nothing that we've really seen that would suggest he's the second coming of Shonn Greene -- or even Marcus Coker, frankly.
9. Matt VandeBerg, WR. Iowa loses two of its top three receivers from 2014 (Martin-Manley and Powell), which is almost 60 receptions, 820 yards, and six touchdowns that needs to be replaced. That's quite a bit of production that needs replacing. VandeBerg seems well-positioned to take over KMM's role as the reliable possession receiver in Iowa's offense. He had 12 catches for 222 yards, but 9 of those 12 receptions went for first downs. VandeBerg isn't the most physically imposing receiver on Iowa's roster (6-1, 175) and he doesn't have blazing speed, but he's earned the trust of the Iowa coaches by being a precise route runner and catching nearly everything thrown his way. Here's guessing that VandeBerg's in line for a much bigger workload in 2015 -- and that he'll do a very credible job of keeping the chains moving.
10. Sean Welsh/Jordan Walsh, OL. Welsh and Walsh (and, man, that is never going to stop being confusing, is it?) began the year as Iowa's starting guards, but the offensive line could never get into a consistent rhythm with those two at those spots, which led to Iowa moving Blythe over to one of the guard spots to shore things up. Welsh and Walsh struggled to get a consistent push in the running game and also had some issues dealing with blitzers up the middle -- teams certainly got more pressure attacking Iowa up the gut than on the edges. Welsh ended the season as the starter on the depth chart so he seems to be at least marginally ahead of Walsh, but not so much that it probably makes a difference. Walsh has more experience, but inconsistency was an issue for him in 2013 as well; we thought some strong performances near the end of the season indicated that a corner had been turned, but that hope seemed to be dashed this season. Unless someone on the bench has a breakthrough spring or fall training camp, it's fair to assume that at least one of these guys will be starting at guard for Iowa next fall -- hopefully they manage to find the consistency that's so far eluded them.
11. Eric Simmons, OL. Simmons was a somewhat rare JUCO transfer -- usually Iowa only adds JUCO transfers if they think they can be a prominent contributor, but Simmons has appeared sparingly for Iowa through two years on campus. He seemed to be in line to get some run at center this season if Blythe was injured or forced to cover another position.... but when Blythe was shifted over to guard, Tommy Gaul got the nod over Simmons. That isn't the most ringing endorsement of Simmons, but with all of the uncertainty swirling around the Iowa offensive line this year, there's certainly a chance that he's one of Iowa's five best linemen. He's an interior lineman through and through, so he's likely to slot in at whichever one of guard or center Blythe isn't covering.
12. Henry Krieger-Coble, TE. Krieger-Coble didn't have a lot of receptions in 2014, but he made the most of the ones he did have -- two of his three catches this season went for touchdowns. HKC has seen limited time at tight end through three seasons at Iowa; he had to bide his time behind C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ray Hamilton, and Jake Duzey. But all of those guys except Duzey are gone now and while Duzey figures to slide into the TE1 role in the Iowa offense in 2015, the TE2 job seems earmarked for Krieger-Coble. That was a more valuable position in the pre-Greg Davis offense, but HKC still seems in line to see his production go way up in 2015.
13. Ryan Ward/Mitch Keppy, OL. Ward's development has definitely not gone as planned. A year ago we had Ward pegged as the Next Great Iowa Offensive Lineman, assuming he would win a starting guard spot in 2014 and use that as a springboard to a starting tackle gig in 2015, like so many previous NGIOL before him. A funny thing happened on the way to NGIOL status, though... Ward didn't win one of the starting guard spots. He didn't even become a key back-up, in line to step in at guard through injury (which didn't happen) or poor performance (which did happen). Ward primarily saw action as a pseudo-tight end when Iowa used jumbo sets near the goal line. That's... not exactly the proscribed path to a starting gig. Given the uncertainty along the offensive line this offseason, Ward should have another chance to prove himself and win a spot, but it's hard to have much confidence in him taking that spot given his struggles this year. Keppy is another guy who's appeared sporadically on depth charts for Iowa, so he could factor into the fight for a starting role next season. The fact that he and Ward seem to be essentially behind at least four guys (Croston, Boettger, Walsh, and Welsh) suggests it's going to be a pretty tall hill for them to climb.
14. Adam Cox/Macon Plewa, FB. Cox ended up being maybe Iowa's only significant injury of the season; a knee injury knocked him out for the season at the end of training camp, which opened the door for Plewa to step in as Iowa's lead blocker (at least until he suffered some minor injuries that kept him out of action). Plewa was solid, but Cox was just a little bit better than him at everything -- run-blocking, blitz pick-up, pass-catching -- so we'd assume that Cox will regain the FB1 role when he's fully recovered. Since Iowa is one of the few teams that actually still uses fullbacks on a consistent basis, it's very important to have a good one back there to help open holes for the running backs. Given the uncertainty looming at OL next year, having a very good FB could be even more crucial.
15. Jacob Hillyer, WR. Yes, he's really due back next year. You could be forgiven for forgetting about him, though, since Hillyer recorded zero catches after Iowa's 11/1 hamblasting of Northwestern. In fact, finishing seasons strong has been a bit of a problem for Hillyer at Iowa. In 2013, Hillyer opened the season with at least one catch in Iowa's first five games; he had just five catches in Iowa's remaining seven games, including four games with zero catches. In 2014, Hillyer had at least one catch in Iowa's first eight games before vanishing in November. Granted, we're not talking about a ton of catches pre-disappearance -- over the last two years, Hillyer has racked up a total of 21 receptions for 232 yards and 3 TD -- so his absences did not have a significant impact on the Iowa offense. Hillyer has been listed behind KMM on the depth chart for a while, so one presumes that he'll get an opportunity to try and fill that void this offseason. Based on his track record over the last two years, though, it seems safer to assume that he'll once again assume a bit part role in the offense.
16. Derrick Mitchell/Andre Harris/Jay Scheel, WR. As noted above, Iowa loses quite a bit of wide receiver production between KMM and Damond Powell (about 60 receptions, 820 yards, and five touchdowns) and if VandeBerg is positioned to replace KMM, then Mitchell, Harris, and Scheel look like the most plausible replacements for Powell (unless Derrick Willies does indeed return). The good news is they all seem to be speedy, explosive talents with the potential to add some much-needed juice to Iowa's offense. The bad news is they've got a grand total of zero catches between them and Scheel is still recovering from a knee injury. We certainly hope one of these guys breaks out and becomes a key performer in 2015... but right now that's all speculation.
17. George Kittle, TE. Kittle went from five receptions in 2013 to just one reception in 2014 and he seems to be well behind both Duzey and Krieger-Coble. Kittle is just a sophomore, though, so his day might come in 2016, after Duzey and HKC have departed. In the meantime, unless Iowa decides to make the 3TE sets a bigger part of the offense, Kittle's likely on the outside looking in when it comes to TE playing time.
Three Signs of Hope
A Real Running Back Emerges. Let me be clear: I like Mark Weisman. I like him a lot. He seems like a great guy, a great teammate, and he's obviously a good story: the guy who couldn't get a scholarship out of high school and then became a fan favorite after transferring to Iowa. I liked watching Mark Weisman bowl over any defensive back naive enough to try and arm tackle him. I liked watching Mark Weisman score touchdowns. But Mark Weisman was not a running back. He was a fullback masquerading as a running back. He often did it very well, but the fact that he was really, truly, unabashedly a fullback should not be forgotten or ignored. And no offense intended to Mark Weisman -- because, again, I really like him and often enjoyed watching him play -- but a fullback should not have been Iowa's main running back for the last three seasons. The Iowa offense operates with enough restrictor plates as it is -- basing the offense around a fullback is only compounding the problem. 2014 only underlined the issue since it was the Year of the Running Back in the Big Ten -- Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, David Cobb, Ameer Abdullah, Jeremy Langford... and on and on and on. I don't think Iowa had anyone as good as that on their roster that was being blocked by Weisman; nor do I think Iowa will have anyone on their roster as good as Weisman next year. But I am curious and, frankly, excited to see what the offense looks like with a genuine running back again, whether that ends up being Canzeri, Daniels, Wadley, or someone else entirely.
Tevaunted. Tevaun Smith is the best receiver Iowa has had since Marvin McNutt and while I don't expect him to hit McNutt's stellar numbers from his last two seasons at Iowa (861 yards, 8 TD in 2010 and 1315 yards, 12 TD in 2011), I think he's very capable of at least putting up 600-700 receiving yards and a half-dozen touchdowns. We covered this above, but it deserves repeating: good things happen to the Iowa offense when Tevaun Smith gets the ball (and often even when the offense just tries to get him the ball). It needs to happen more often in 2015. Get him the damn ball. Unleash the Canadian Missile on the rest of the Big Ten.
Flashes in the Pan. There are a lot of guys on the Iowa roster who have flashed something -- they had a big run or a big catch and run or a big sack or a key pass break-up -- but haven't been able to do make an impact on a consistent basis, either because of a lack of opportunities, injuries, or inconsistent play. It's not out of the question to think that some of those guys -- Parker, Wadley, Hillyer, Krieger-Coble, Welsh -- could finally put it together in 2015. Getting more consistent production out of guys like that would certainly help Iowa improve its offensive performance next season.
Three Reasons for Panic
Greg Davis III: The Search for
Spock a Spark. This is what we said in this space a year ago:
Greg Davis, Gainfully Employed Offensive Coordinator. The counterpoint was evident against Michigan State, Wisconsin, LSU, Northwestern and the first half of Michigan: Iowa's offense remains far too conservative against good defenses, where the Hawkeyes' standard collection of slow-developing runs and screen passes were largely ineffective. Athletic, experienced defenses had no problem shutting this offense down, and Iowa's response was to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The Hawkeyes found something new against Ohio State that apparently worked, but we never saw that same dynamic offense again. There is room for an effective and efficient offense that doesn't sacrifice Ferentz's pro-style principles; Alabama, Stanford, UCLA, and a handful of other teams show that it is possible. For whatever reason, Iowa doesn't seem that interested in doing such things, which puts undue pressure on the defense to perform. Davis has parameters set by the head coach, but those parameters should still allow for more than constant lethargy. Try again, Greg.
You can change around the names a bit, but I'm not sure much has fundamentally changed on this point. There were some bright moments for the Iowa offense under Greg Davis this season, but it remains true that offense tends to look best when it's at its KOK-iest, which is not necessarily a good thing, unless Greg Davis is willing to fully embrace his inner KOK in the offensive playcalling in 2015. We've had a lot to say about Greg Davis over the past few years and we'll surely have a lot more to say about over the next few weeks and months; suffice to say, there's a reason (or a lot of reasons) why he's listed in the Panic category and not the Hope category.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Remember that blurb about the possibility for terror and excitement among the new faces that will be asked to step up for Iowa next year? Well, the excitement portion of that primarily applies to running backs and wide receivers. The terror portion is definitely reserved for the offensive line because at this point the offensive line depth chart looks like Austin Blythe and four shrug emojis. As we've said ad nauseum over the years (because true is true and cliches become cliches for a reason), the best Iowa teams are almost always built from the inside out and based around strong lines. A strong offensive line almost always comes from experience and continuity. What are two things the Iowa offensive line isn't going to have in 2015? Experience and continuity. It's very likely that Iowa is starting two very green tackles next year and the guys that should have become the lynchpins at guard (if not following the guard-to-tackle career path blazed by so many standout Iowa linemen before them) have been mired in inconsistency for two years. Hello, night terrors. Brian and Kirk Ferentz are going to have their work cut out for them when it comes to assembling an effective offensive line next year.
Play it Again, Jake. We're heading for Year 3 of The Jake Rudock Experience and, as noted above, it's a ride that a lot of people would like to get off and there are a lot of reasons to think that Year 3 isn't going to be any better -- and might even be worse -- than what we've seen so far. There is good Jake, there is bad Jake, and there is ho-hum Jake. The only Jake that Iowa can with is good Jake and that Jake has so far shown up only infrequently. If we again see good Jake only infrequently, go ahead and pencil in Iowa for another underwhelming season.
Three Things That Could Change Everything
A New Voice. Ferentz tends to treat assistant coaching gigs like Supreme Court appointments most of the time, so this might be more wishful thinking than anything, but... Kirk Ferentz could decide to part ways with Greg Davis this offseason and hire another offensive coordinator. The Iowa offense doesn't have to stay GERG'd. (Really, it doesn't. I swear.) Three years ought to be a sufficient sample size to determine if Davis can work here -- he's brought in the receivers he wanted, he brought in his own preferred wide receiver coach, he's had three years to drill everyone in the ins and outs of his offensive schemes, and the only people left with any meaningful institutional knowledge of the KOK Era have the last name "Ferentz." And the results -- such as they are -- speak for themselves. And while I doubt Ferentz cares about this sort of thing at all, replacing Davis would likely help calm at least some of the discontent in the fanbase and buy him a little more goodwill. Will it happen? The safest bet is almost certainly "no." But still: it could happen.
Gone Baby Gone. No one has transferred away from the Iowa program yet in the aftermath of a dreary, disappointing season. Someone will. Probably a few someones. This is neither bad nor surprising; people transfer away from Iowa -- and every other program -- every offseason. Some attrition is to be expected. How meaningful that attrition ends up being will likely depend on the quality and quantity of the individuals who leave. Is Iowa losing a fourth-string linebacker or fifth-string receiver? Or are they losing a back-up quarterback or potential rotation piece on the defensive line? The impact from transfers could be minimal... or it could be a very, very significant blow to a program that already seems somewhat thin on talent.
...Outta Nowhere. The buzzword for Iowa entering 2014 was experience -- Iowa returned starters virtually across the board, especially on offense. Alas, that experience didn't lead to the improved results that we were hoping to see. (It didn't even lead to maintenance of the previous results, sadly.) In college, having experience one year usually means having much less a year later and that looks to be true for Iowa in 2015: they're going to have a lot of new faces along the offensive line and some key new faces in the running game and among the receiving corps, as well. That can be scary (see below!), but it can also be exciting. There very well might be a guy or two out there that's been languishing on the bench or under a redshirt that's primed to bust out with increased opportunities in 2015. It will be fun to see who that might be.
More of the same -- or worse. Greg Davis is back and the offense continues to struggle when it comes to meshing Ferentz's zone blocking run game with Davis' short passing game. Jake Rudock is back and continues to struggle with consistency, putting together a few good quarters or halves, but balancing those out with some poor performances. The calvacade of running backs fails to produce a standout performer and Iowa's running attack remains sub-par. No one emerges to help Tevaun Smith at receiver and defenses are able to double-team him out of games. The offensive line never gels into a cohesive unit, giving Rudock no time to make passes and the running game no holes to run through. There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about Iowa's offense in 2015, frankly.