The message Iowa sent from the B1G media days was clear: Iowa sent its monstrous left tackle, its huge defensive tackle, and its fullback-sized running back to represent the program. On the cover of the 2014 Media Guide, it looks like a classic Sesame Street "one of these things is not like the other" bits, with Kevonte Martin-Manley surrounded by a bunch of big dudes. And even though Purdue has a 6-8, 400 lb offensive guard on their roster, Iowa is planning on being the biggest and strongest team in the B1G.
I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. That is Kirk Ferentz football. That’s Brian Ferentz’s #BulliesOfTheB1G. That’s Brandon Scherff’s 443 pound hang clean.
So how does Greg Davis feel about all of this?
I still think back a little over two years ago when Greg Davis was hired. He and Ferentz both talked about blending their philosophies together to create a potent offense. Take GD’s flexible passing attack and mix it with KF’s well-oiled zone-blocking running schemes, then add in a little bit of tempo… That mixture turned out to be a nasty concoction and the Iowa offense was unspeakably terrible.
Last summer, we heard Ferentz talk about how Greg Davis had become a better "Iowa coach." I think we found out that better Iowa coach just means a more Ferentzian coach. While the offense started the year with more shotgun/zone-read/bubble screen type of stuff, it soon transitioned into a run first/play action/Ken O’Keefe style of offense. One of Iowa’s best go-to plays last year was the play action bootleg that has been a staple for the past 15 years. And the offense was better. It still wasn't necessarily good, but better. Still, Iowa only scored 23 points per game in B1G play, and really didn’t start clicking until the final three weeks, thanks in large part to a big confidence boost against a lowly Purdue team. In Iowa’s first five B1G games, they averaged just 16 points per game (in regulation…taking out the TD in overtime against Northwestern). That's not so good.
But some of Iowa’s best offensive games featured Mark Weisman running left behind Scherff over and over, daring defenses to stop him. And the pace was rather slow. There was a point in the second half against Iowa State, when the Cyclones had just cut the lead to 6, where Iowa dialed up runs on 20 of the next 22 plays, scored 2 TDs and ran 12 minutes off the clock to seal the game. Two weeks later against Minnesota, Iowa pretty much did the same thing, but for the entire second half, with 4 drives all over 4 minutes long and at least 7 plays. It was classic Kirk Ferentz offense: slow, clock draining, keep-away type of football.
From what I gathered from the Iowa media day coverage, nobody talked to Davis for more than two minutes and didn’t bother writing much about what he had to say. He mostly just talked about the different position groups and of course the "are you really going rotate Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard" question. But his theme was as usual about tempo, speed, quickness…playing fast. He talked about 80 snaps per game and the no-huddle.
So can an up-tempo, no-huddle offense also be big and powerful? How much of an "Iowa coach" is Greg Davis going to be this year? With the majority of starters at skill positions on offense returning, it looks like Iowa should take another step forward this year. The players should have a full understanding of the offense in year 3 and it looks like there is finally some young talent at receiver. If that, along with Rudock’s experience, translates into a decent passing attack that will keep opposing defenses from stacking the box, then the powerful part of the offense will have a chance to flourish.
There are some interesting personnel factors this year that could impact the identity of the offense as well. The running back position is as deep as it's been since AIRBHG first showed up, but has some very different types of backs. Weisman and Jordan Canzeri, who were kind of surprisingly listed with an "or" separating their names on the depth chart, are very much a thunder and lighting pairing. Canzeri’s a strong dude, but isn’t going to run over defenders the way Weisman that will. The same goes for the next two in line, Damon Bullock and LeShun Daniels.
Then there is that quarterback question…again with two guys with somewhat different styles of play. Rudock had about a million chances to keep it on the zone-read early last year and almost never did. He’s not completely immobile, but is definitely more of a prototypical pocket passer. In contrast, Beathard likes to take off (even against coaches orders) and showed his ability to run out of the zone-read.
There are also the tight ends to consider…again, two types of players. While there are four guys who will play, the first two are Ray Hamilton and Jake Duzey. Hamilton is the traditional Y position-type of tight end: block first, support the run game, etc… Duzey is the "move" back (or as listed on last year’s pre-season depth chart, the B back). He’s more like a really big WR. We’ve seen his speed on display before and the weapon he can be in the passing game (the Buckeye defense can attest to that). And like running back, the next two guys on the depth chart also fit those two different molds.
So Iowa has a lot of possibilities and flexibility with its personnel. I expect a lot of situational substitutions and special packages for certain players. Last year, I was very optimistic about this flexibility and the idea of pairing it with some tempo. But like 2012, it led to a bit of an identity crisis, until Davis settled in on the more KOK-like offense. But with another year to figure this out, receivers that are more his style, and a quarterback (or two) that really knows the system...I’m optimistic that Greg Davis can put together an Iowa offense that can be big and fast, strong and agile, and actually finish in the top half of the country for the first time since he came to town.