It's a bye week tradition: The coordinator press conference! Defensive coordinator Phil Parker and offensive coordinator Greg Davis met with the assembled media Tuesday. And while Kirk Ferentz didn't have his own press availability, he made some news nonetheless. We'll get to Parker tomorrow, but let's start with Greg Davis and the Iowa offense. Here's what we learned. As always, transcripts courtesy of Hawkeye Nation.
Greg Davis took the podium, and it almost immediately did not go well.
This is getting chippy.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 30, 2014
Davis jumped immediately into the quarterback situation, saying that Iowa has two good quarterbacks and that they would play them both next week against Indiana:
If we played today, Jake is about 80%, so we'd start C.J. if we played today. We don't play today. We play in ten days or 11 days, whatever it is. We feel like we have two good quarterbacks, and we'll look at it in these next 11 days and then we'll go from there. What you can expect is that we'll probably play two with no set series, numbers or whatever. But we do feel like we have two guys that have earned the right to play and have played pretty well. So that's the way we'll approach it as we get closer.
Frankly, that's the answer we expected, for the most part: Rudock still isn't wholly healed from the Pitt game, but if he is, he's going to play in one way or another because that's what Iowa does. Ferentz mentioned last week that Rudock had won the job last August, and apparently that carries over until the end of time.
Speaking of which, though Ferentz didn't have his own press conference this week, he made some news nonetheless:
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the Coast to Coast radio show on Tuesday night that junior quarterback Jake Rudock remains the Hawkeyes' starter, but, yes, sophomore C.J. Beathard will play.
"Jake, to me, has done nothing to lose his starting job. He’s done everything possible to keep it. He’s played very well. Unfortunately, he got hurt in Pittsburgh and couldn’t play in the second half. That’s why C.J. went into the game. C.J. did a great job. Jake could’ve played last week, but he would not have been full speed. It would not have been fair to put him out there, in my mind. If we had to bring him in to clean up, we could’ve done that. You don’t want to put a player out there if they don’t have a chance to perform the way they’re capable of.
"Our hopes are that he’ll be full speed. Fortunately, we have a bye week right now. He’ll be full speed. I expect him to be our starter a week from now. How we break it down from there is to be determined. He hasn’t done anything to dimish his value in our eyes. We all love the guy. We have total respect for him. The good news is we have total confidence in both players. I’m not sure I could’ve said that about C.J. eight months ago, but right now, I think everybody feels great about both guys."
"The bottom line is Jake did a great job last year, he won the job outright and was our starter all season long," Ferentz said. "He led us to eight wins and played really great down the home stretch where we won three straight. People always kind of love the second guy, so it's one of those deals.
OK, I have to stop here for a second, because while I'm not as rabid about Beathard/Rudock as some others, that statement by Ferentz is patently untrue. In the 'home stretch' where we won three straight, Rudock had three of his worst games as a starter. Rudock was 12/20 for 191 yards and two scores against Purdue, a solid stat line until you realize that Purdue was giving up 224 passing yards per game and was, in general, one of the conference's worst defenses. He followed that by throwing three interceptions against Michigan, a game in which he was, as ESPN put it, "bailed out by a spectacular effort from Iowa's defense." And Rudock completed just nine passes for 126 yards against Nebraska before leaving with an injury. Ferentz also conveniently omits Rudock's disastrous 9/22, 102-yard performance against LSU in the Outback Bowl.
The truth is that Rudock won the job last August, was generally effective when healthy, and became significantly less effective after being injured against Wisconsin and immobilized by that injury for the rest of the season. Which is fine, because he's back to full mobility now and shouldn't have any problem going forward, right Greg?
[Rudock] would have been available the other day in a limited role if C.J.'s helmet would have come off or he had lost his breath. Jake could have gone in and functioned. The biggest concern we have right now is he just can't run, and that's the way you can protect yourself.
Anyway, back to Ferentz on the radio:
"Jake has done a good job this year. He is still our starter, but, obviously, when C.J. has had the opportunity, he's gone in and played very well. He played very well at Pittsburgh and played did a good job last week for us on the road. It's the first time I've really been involved in a situation like this where we've got two guys who we think are really good players. They both deserve to play. We'll just have to figure that out as we go along."
He later compared it to 2001, when Kyle McCann played about 85% of the reps with Brad Banks taking the odd series, but this isn't that. Beathard and Rudock have their own strengths and weaknesses, but their playing styles are not diametrically opposed to one another. Davis even mentioned Tuesday that the package of plays for the two quarterbacks is "more similar than dissimilar." This isn't McCann-Banks. This is Christensen-Stanzi, where the thoroughbred quarterback who seems somewhat paralyzed by overanalysis and fear of the turnover is in competition with a gunslingin' underclassman and appears to have the job only because he won the job the prior season. In fact, Ferentz has said as much through two weeks of "Rudock won the job last August" comments. He now holds the job solely through inertia or stubbornness, and Iowa football is nothing if not inertia and stubbornness. That should probably be the new motto, actually.
This won't end well. This won't end well. This won't end well. This won't end well. This won't end well. This won't end well. This won't— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) September 30, 2014
We agree. This is going to end horribly. There is no other way this ends.
This is where things with Davis got a bit tense, though we're leaving out most of the clipped answers. Davis first admitted they aren't scoring enough points -- which is actually kind of stunning given what we're used to at Tuesday press conferences -- and that the offense hasn't been explosive enough. But then he was asked why it was that every play out of "22" personnel -- two running backs, two tight ends -- is a run (Iowa ran 22 personnel 14 times Saturday, and all 14 plays were runs; the non-jet sweeps gained just 17 yards):
Q. You ran 22 and all 14 were runs. Other than the three‑jet sweeps, though 11 other runs gained 17 total yards. What is wrong with the 22 grouping, and why are you not getting more yardage?
COACH DAVIS: Because it made 17 yards, that's what's wrong with it. We have to do a better job. One thing that grouping will be and has been is a lot of short yardage. So there is some short yardage situation that if you make two yards on 3rd and 1, then your yardage looks really poor, but your consistency is pretty good. So there is some of that situation, but I think we do have to have more production out of 22.
Q. Is there a tipping point? Because some of the safeties when they were in the 22 seemed to crouch closer to the line of scrimmage, and when you're running the whole time, do you feel like there is a tip or something?
COACH DAVIS: Again, I think situational football is part of that. I think the personnel grouping is part of that. If you're asking do we have some passes out of 22, the answer is yes, we do.
"If you're asking do we have some passes out of 22, the answer is yes, we do," is the greatest summation of Iowa's offense so far this season that I've seen. The offense is structured with obvious run and obvious pass groupings, which are used almost exclusively for those purposes. You can't run 14 straight times out of 22 with no inkling of a pass, then throw constantly from "11" (one running back, one tight end) with a shotgun snap, and expect to fool a defense at all. And how are we using 11, Coach Davis?
What we haven't done a whole lot of is played much 11 personnel on first down. It's basically been a third‑down situational personnel grouping for us. We have more runs in that personnel grouping than we've actually used.
So at least they sort of seem to understand the problem, a massive step forward from the last two seasons. And what have we been doing in response?
Each game takes on a life of its own once you get in there, but we did make a conscious effort after Ball State that we wanted to improve the run game. We wanted to get back and play more personnel groupings that lended if self to us being able to run the ball if we wanted to.
To summarize, Iowa has run plays in its three-wideout package but doesn't use them and apparently doesn't think they will work. It runs exclusively from its two-tight end, two-back set but it has some pass plays that it just doesn't use. And it can't figure out why it is that we don't score more points.
And then we turned to check-downs.
Q. Is it dangerous sometimes for quarterbacks to get too much of a routine of throwing check downs without sometimes scanning the field? Or if you do it over and over again where you can miss those passes down the field?
COACH DAVIS: If you're asking me does Jake checks it down too quickly? You said a quarterback. So, no. In every throw we have, there is usually a deep element to it that is typically covered, then there is an intermediate ball and a check down ball. One thing we tell quarterbacks is you can't go broke making money. So when you drop a ball down to Damond and he makes 16 on 2nd and 15, that is a pretty good play. If you drop it down to him on 2nd and 15, and he makes four, it's a bad play because you didn't get enough of it back. At the same time, you have to ask your quarterback to go through a process of progression, and come to the best decision that you feel like is there.
Q. Specifically with Jake, do you think he's checked down too many times?
COACH DAVIS: I do not. I do not.
First, when your offensive coordinator says that the deep element in every passing play he runs is "typically covered," then your coordinator sucks. Do you know what air raid teams do when you cover the deep guy in a pattern? They throw to one of the three other deep guys. That is true of practically every other team in the nation with a modestly successful offense. Alabama runs multiple deep guys on routes, and they are effective (watch the Florida game), and they aren't running one of those pansy-ass offenses that Ferentz loathes.
But the bigger issue is that statement of philosophy. On paper, it makes plenty of sense. Have situational awareness sufficient to realize that the short pass might not be the best play in certain circumstances, but follow the progression to a rational end.
The problem, of course, is application. The quarterback can't know that the drop-down to Powell on 2nd and 15 is going to net 16 yards without superhuman abilities to travel through time and space. He follows the progression and dumps it off to the short receiver because that's what the progression requires he do. It then becomes Powell's job to extend the play for 16 yards, only too rarely it's Powell getting that pass. It's usually VandeBerg. It's almost always VandeBerg. And VandeBerg isn't getting 16 out of that dump-off pass on 2nd and 15. He shouldn't even be in consideration on 3rd and 15, yet too often he (or another dump-off receiver) is.
In theory, Iowa's passing scheme basically runs a decoy deep, as Davis just said, and then expects the sidelines to simply open up while their motley crew of wideouts runs wild. In practice, that receiver might get a short pass, but he has neither the raw talent nor the structure around him to make that a successful play. I honestly never thought Rudock (or Beathard last week) was "checking down" into third-option receivers. His own coordinator just said the deep threat is probably going to be covered, so look short. This isn't a quarterback controversy at all, or to the extent that it is, it's immaterial to the offense's success. This is a schematic problem that will only be remedied when our offensive strategy drags itself out of the 1990s and into today.