Iowa football #MusterOneUp Mailbag: Already with the offensive coordinator

The nepotism thing with Brian Ferentz gets louder when the offense does what it did at Northwestern

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Tuesday with the Hawkeyes this week was sort of strange. It was like they weren’t football players and just talked.

I loved it.

For example, I had a fun conversation with Bo Bower. He’s from West Branch, actually between West Branch and Iowa City. His family runs a drywall contracting business. No, his dad, Chris, didn’t draft him into the family business, although that had to be tempting with his son being a 6-2, 235-pound Big Ten linebacker.

“If I have to sometimes, but he really lets me focus on football,” Bower said. “When I was younger, yes here and there. I mostly helped around the house. We have a plot of land outside of here, but whenever he needed me, I pretty much did whatever he said because he’s my dad, otherwise I would’ve gotten my butt kicked.”

If I hired you to drywall my basement, could you do it?

“I wouldn’t hire me to drywall your basement, I would not do that,” Bower said.

I lamented the fact that I’m running low on “guy” skills. I can fish and ... well, I think my 17-year-old son has changed the oil more times than I have.

Think I could drywall?

“I would not recommend it being drywall,” Bower said.

Bower is a GIS major. I didn’t know what that was, either (I’m sure a ton of you do). It’s geographical information science. He’ll graduate in December. Classes include LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), remote sensing. It’s through the geography department.

“The main form of it is you’ll take certain photographs or you could be in epidemiology for it and plot some kind of epidemic or survey land, take elevation models from certain laser points,” he said.

This sounds like a field job.

“I would love to be in the field, 100 percent,” he said. “It’s one of those deals, I was looking through all of the majors. I wanted to be in business, but it wasn’t fun for me. GIS was cool because you’re always on the computer. You’re taking raw data either you collect or find online and you literally can manipulate it in ways you ways you never thought you could on a computer, just by looking at an image.

“You can go raw into the data and show what you want with it. It’s really cool, I like it.”

What’s your ultimate goal?

“I don’t have one,” he said. “I’m honestly so focused on football right now. That’s the scariest thing. When you’re done with football, what are you going to do? I don’t know if I even want to do GIS anything. We’ll see.”

He’s going to give the NFL a shot. If you spent five years building your body to play Big Ten football, you’d be crazy to not at least try.

“It’d be crazy to get to that final stage of finally trying to make it into the league and then not doing it,” Bower said. “Obviously, I’ll try.”

And that right there is what this is all about.

“Muster One Up” mailbag No. 7. The emailing guy socially engineered an email this week to make himself look like a nun. And then criticized a player. (Part of that bit is true, not saying which player.)

I’m always looking for contributions on TwitterFacebook or email. Questions, comments, over/unders, please use the #MusterOneUp hashtag on Twitter.

 

I do find the backlash on first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz confounding. The social media was grumpy with him after Michigan State. By the third quarter last week, it got out of hand on Twitter. (And hey, that’s fine, it doesn’t cost anything. Go nuts if it makes you feel better.)

Worst passing output since 1982 last season. What did you expect?

Two senior three-year starters at both offensive tackle spots basically out for the year. What did you expect?

First-year QB. What did you expect?

Two basically brand-new tight ends. What did you expect?

Three true freshmen wide receivers in the rotation. What did you expect?

I really have a hard time betting past the injuries to Ike Boettger and Boone Myers. They gained more than 100 pounds collectively to play offensive tackle at Iowa. They had their senior seasons, when it all should be coming together beautifully, washed away.

There were too many questions to believe this offense was going to be “fixed” in year 1 of a new coordinator. Yes, playcalling against Northwestern was all over the place. That’s what happens when you rush for bupkus. You look for things that work and you try to maximize them. Ferentz tried. The offense tried. It didn’t work against an average Big Ten defense on the road.

Offensive coordinators do not get the benefit of patience. I think Brian Ferentz is going to be even more of a lightning rod because of the nepotism thing. And for that crowd, I’m not going to be able to talk you off that ledge. I can only give my opinion, which is Brian Ferentz is a good young football coach and he’d probably be doing this for Bill O’Brien and the Texans if he wasn't doing it for his dad. This job is play calling and that was step up. Seven games don’t make or break it.

That sounds reasonable, right?

 

I’m glad someone asked this. I don’t want this to sound like a cop out and I swear I’m not “covering” for anyone, but drops are a tough stat. In my opinion, there’s some subjectivity to it.

What’s a drop and what’s a pass breakup? Let’s go to last week. Wide receiver Nick Easley had two drops. There was another pass that I think had to go down as a bad ball from Nate Stanley. High and outside. Tight end Noah Fant had a drop.

What about running back Akrum Wadley? I think on the first or second drive, Wadley got a little separation on linebacker Nate Hall. Stanley targeted him and Hall made a play on the ball. The ball and Hall arrived at Wadley around the same time. What’s that? What was the long target to tight end T.J. Hockenson? The ball hit his hands. Receivers are always the first to tell you they should catch those.

To answer your question, I don’t know. I know these things: 1) Iowa’s passing game is miles ahead of 2016 and no one except maybe Stanley has gotten a shred of credit for that and 2) you can’t have the drops you had last week and expect to win.

 

Definite possibility.

I have to use Chris’ tweet here. I make him pay $200 a year for a third-level Twitter account where I drop inside the inside info on Iowa football. He’s a patron. (Part of this is true.)

 

You have to go against tendency and, Chad, you’re absolutely right. This is a tendency and it’s a painful one. Try a throw on first down, run on the second and third-and-bus ride.

I give Brian Ferentz credit for battling tendency. It’s a mile ahead of last season. Unfortunately, it does sometimes put players in positions they haven’t been in outside of practice. (Weird Toren Young target on a third down early last week caught me off guard.)

That doesn’t totally answer your question. I’m as tired of watching those as you are. This is where the offense pushes the defense off the bridge and into the river.

 

Excellent observation. Penn State and Michigan State have turned out much better defenses than I think anyone saw coming. MSU linebacker Joe Bachie might knock Josey Jewell out of first-team all-Big Ten. Not a knock on Jewell. Bachie has been tremendous.

When I'm done covering the Hawkeyes on Saturdays, I’ve sprinted to watch or listen to whatever is going on in the Big Ten East Division. Most competitive division in college football this year.

Why can’t Iowa do what it did at Iowa State every week? Millions of dollars question. I don’t have an answer and I haven’t watched a ton of Iowa State since, but it sure seems like linebacker/QB/Tebow impersonator Joel Lanning sees the game much better at the linebacker spot than he did against the Hawkeyes.

 

I can’t put an exact number on it, but the zone scheme gained steam in the mid-2000s. A lot of teams run versions of it. When you’re watching games, listen for “inside zone,” “outside zone” or “stretch.” Those are just different terms for what Iowa has done.

This is not all that Iowa does. The Hawkeyes ran a bit of gap in the second half last week. There was a second-and-10 in the fourth quarter. Two point-of-attack blocks failed. Gap plays die when those blocks are blown. Zone schemes are easier for O-lines to hit their aiming points and I think that’s why it’s been Kirk Ferentz’s chosen scheme.

 

My default answer is 28. A healthy offense should score 28 points. I know, Iowa’s offense isn’t healthy.

I think more than 24, just to be safe. One thing about the Gophers, they completed five passes last week. That offense is fairly one dimensional. I think that’s advantage Iowa, especially with Josey Jewell back in the lineup.

 

The monitoring of Wadley’s carries has nothing to do with where the run goes, in my opinion.

But I really like this question.

Last week, Northwestern sold out to seal the edge and keep Wadley between the tackles. The Wildcats spilled most plays exactly where they knew help was going to be.

You know how we’ve gone over whether or not Iowa needs a Ford F-150 or a Porsche (are Porsches still a thing, Josh?). This is the time for that question.

I asked Ferentz on Tuesday if the offense could shape itself around the strengths of the two freshman OTs and I finished the question with, “Or does the machine not stop for that?”

The answer: “I mean, there are things you can do, certainly, for any position to help out a little bit. But we’re going to try to play the way we play, and the challenge is for those guys to be able to do it. They’re both capable. They’ve shown that in practice against good players. So the whole thing now is just consistency. Getting a little confidence, and the only way you get that is to go out and play.”

I bring that answer up to show you the thinking.

 

This man wins the T-shirt this week for reference and hilarity.

The two common elements in the programs have been Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz. Alvarez’s power O scheme has stood the test of time. And watch, when it looks like Iowa is completely stalemated, some sort of brilliant year will drop out of the sky (hi, 2015).

Forget that it’s Wisconsin, even though I know that’s a bitter rival and the heavy of the B1G West. I think the angst here is more about short stays at the top.

The Big Ten titles (plural) run of 2002 through 2004 is 13 years old. The end of 2008 was phenomenal and I know you loved 2009. But then, Iowa finished 8-5 in 2010 and put a little shine on things with an excellent performance against Missouri in the Insight Bowl. The 2011 season was 7-6.

Then, 2015 was 12-2. That was followed by 8-5, acceptable record for Iowa football but you’re not buying the T-shirt. And now this year, which I’d file into “rebuild.” I mean, Iowa has had five offensive coordinators in the last 39 years.

You’re hungry for a longer stay at the top. And you know what? You should be.

 

I LOL’d.

Quick theory: I would kind of put Jordan Canzeri and Wadley in the same category. Wadley is quicker than Canzeri, but I think they’re both “space” players. I think it’s pretty clear by now that KF isn’t all that interested in his team using “space” plays. There are a ton of quick outs, but never to Wadley.

They obviously have lost the “Wadley in slot” part of the playbook, but then again, maybe that was edited out with James Butler’s injury.

I can see why you’d want to recruit “space” players, but you also need to have a plan to use them not only effectively but like at all.

 

Probably some, but there’s only so much time in a day. My guess is there’s little of this unless it’s obvious.

I feel like there’s been some high-level coaching in Stanley’s past, I’m just not sure where or what or who. If it was him and his dad drilling and skilling around Menomonie, Wis., I want to hire Stanley’s dad to drywall my basement and teach my son to play QB (lost cause, I blame rock-n-roll).

 

 

Greg Davis’ first year was 2012.

 

Some quickies:

Rush offense: Now it’s 12th in the Big Ten at 131.6 a game. In 2012, 12th in the league (which was last back then) at 123.0 a game.

Pass offense: Now, Iowa is 7th at 218.7 a game. In 2012, Iowa was seventh at 187.4 per game.

Total offense: Now, 10th at 350.3. Then, 11th at 310.4

Scoring offense: Now, sixth at 26.1 points. Then, 11th at 19.3.

First downs: Now, 10th at 18.4. Then, 11th at 17.4.

20-yard plays: Now, eighth in the league with 29. Then, 11th in the league with 38.

I’ve always cut Davis some slack. Personnel in 2012 wasn’t what it needed to be. Brian Ferentz is dealing with a few of the same variables, but the “now” offense is miles ahead of the “then.”

 

Very astute observation, Jonny.

Yes, kind of.

I think that’s why you started seeing more Nate Wieting and some Peter Pekar the last few weeks. Those two were key players on the outside zones Iowa got off against Michigan last year. Wieting missed a ton of spring and fall camp with an injury (don’t know what). They combined for 10 plays vs. Northwestern and nine against Illinois.

Wieting ran some routes last week, so his entry into games isn’t such an obvious tell, but it’s a tell. Same with Pekar. Linebackers are smart. They see 39 or 86, they probably think run and probably outside zone.

Hockenson’s blocking has surprised me this year. For a redshirt freshman who’s never done this, I think he’s fine. I think Noah Fant’s blocking has come a long way. Still, Fant’s snaps have cycled down the last two weeks (36 and 39). He had 48 vs. Iowa State. I know that was a very different game than the last couple of weeks, but I think after Michigan State, the staff decided it needed more blocking out of TE.

 

It should and it does, but this is year 19 of “we have three running plays,” “we do what we do,” “everyone knows what we do and they have to stop us.”

Given the answer to shaping plays to the strengths of freshmen offensive tackles, do you think it’s going to change?

Sustainability is built in. Iowa can get and make O-linemen. Iowa has had one Lamar Jackson-ish QB in my time doing this, and Brad Banks wasn’t in the same league as a runner.

That’s the thinking. Everyone loves this offense when it’s killer. Those times are few and far between.

Playing entertaining football is gaining steam. I don’t think KF has to chuck everything, but I think you guys want something more entertaining.

I know you all want wins.

 

1) As far as I know, Iowa Western defenisve tackle Daviyon Nixon hasn’t bailed on his Iowa commitment yet. Alabama offered on Wednesday, so ... it’s a definite possibility. Iowa stuck with Nixon when he didn’t qualify. Maybe that buys Iowa some loyalty, but that is Bama and everything that comes with it.

2) I don’t think this ensures anything with DE John Waggoner, a West Des Moines Dowling prep with offers from a lot of the big boys, including Ohio State. Notre Dame hasn’t offered, I think that’s the one to watch with Waggoner.

I’ve heard good things about Iowa and Waggoner, but recruiting is a long, long road. Looks like his recruitment might go the distance (Feb. 7).

 

I don’t think it’s that necessarily. Iowa has always been conscious of having a “developmental” period. Lots of teams do this. It’s basically non-starters and underclassmen scrimmaging against each other.

The light has gone on for a bunch of Hawkeyes during bowl prep. DT Louis Trinca-Pasat is a prime example. He almost quit, hung on and became an NFL player.

There was someone from this year who made that jump, but I’m blanking on who.

 

Iowa RB James Butler has been medically cleared. He was on the sideline last week for the first time since his right elbow went the wrong way against North Texas.

He’s wearing a giant brace. Ball security is the worry. KF said he was going to get hit in practice Wednesday. We’ll see.

Comes down to two things: 1) Does Butler see himself as a college football player next season? Does he bet on himself making the league basically without a senior year? 2) Does he get a medical hardship waiver?

It sounded this week as if KF wanted him to play and contribute. Butler would probably help the Hawkeyes if not be the featured back next season, but the medical is a crap shoot that you guys know all too well.

I can’t even do a “if I were him” with a straight face, because I don’t trust the NCAA and the whole hardship waiver process.

 

I don’t think so. Wadley will face the size question in the NFL. He’ll have to be in the right system, but I do think a team finds him, watches him run the three-cone and happily drafts him.

Year isn’t over. The 1,000 yards is in reach. That and his yards from scrimmage will gain interest. He just happens to be Iowa’s best RB and that role isn’t a perfect fit for a 195-pounder.

 

Maybe, but I think he needs an injury-free year. Cursory Google shows one site rating him No. 12 at center. That’s right on the edge of being drafted. I think he can solidify his spot and go higher with another year.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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