From Pro Football Focus, some articulation of Iowa offensive line '15

Some pass protection struggles and some of the explanation

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So many factors go into pass protection, at least in my opinion.

Of course, there’s the offensive line. There’s also the called protection and how it fits to a base defense and whatever blitz it could dial up at any moment. Did the running back land his block? Did the receivers pick up the “hot read” to counteract the blitz? How long did the quarterback hold on to the ball? Did he hold it too long? Does your QB have a sports hernia that will need an operation?

These were all thoughts I had in my head when I asked Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz about pass protection this spring. And I think I might’ve mentioned a lot of this.

Iowa allowed 30.0 sacks last season, 13th in the Big Ten (ahead of only Penn State, which allowed 39). In the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl, the Hawkeyes allowed 10 sacks, with seven coming against Stanford, which helped turn Iowa’s first Rose Bowl in 25 years into an avalanche.

Maybe I poured it on a little too thick.

“You really did a good job of equivocating that question,” Brian Ferentz said with a laugh.

Guilty.

His answer was what you’d expect it to be. He pointed the finger directly at himself and the O-line. This is not a program of buck passing, in the media and inside the meeting rooms. I think we all kind of get that going into year 18 of head coach Kirk Ferentz.

“I’d like to sit here and tell you that they were all the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers faults but we all know that’s not true,” Brian Ferentz said. “I would say, yeah, absolutely, that’s the No. 1 priority now outside of developing our roster and our depth is improving our pass protection. We went from two years ago — I know in 2013, we ended up giving up 15 maybe, 15 or 16, including the bowl game. So to double that number in two years, I think that’s alarming and certainly when you look at what we did down the stretch, that’s alarming.”

Ferentz dissected some of the problems in the last two games. Michigan State had defensive end Shilique Calhoun and he worked Iowa’s edges from the field (wide) side for 2.0 sacks.

“They are blocking NFL players (Calhoun went in the third round to the Raiders) and at some point if you play 70 snaps, you’re going to get beaten,” Brian Ferentz said. “Unfortunate thing is you may win 20 of your 22 head-to-head battles, but the only two that are going to matter to everybody, including us, are the two you lose. What we need to do is probably give them a little more help. Do a better job of formation, chipping, motioning, some of those things, to protect those guys. I wouldn’t put that on them. That was bad coaching in my opinion, starting with myself.”

Against Stanford, the Cardinal forced Iowa into 3-on-3 along the line of scrimmage and created free runners with movement, Ferentz said. Iowa was in desperation mode early and fell into predictable in passing downs.

“They did a really good job of studying our protection, getting a bead on what we were doing, and probably again, bad coaching, we were maybe a little too predictable what we were going to do on third down from a protection standpoint,” Ferentz said, “and then isolating three-over-three with a game or pick or stunt designed to put stress on that. That’s been a point of emphasis, and that’s been something we’ve talked about in our room and went back and studied and looked at. I’ll be willing to bet it’s going to happen again.”

I was contacted by Pro Football Focus people this week. We talked about the numbers PFF generates for college football. It’s still a fledgling endeavor. I could see it growing into a subscription service for people who want the full bite of football. We’re talking deep, deep stats on a major league geek level. (I say that with love, because it takes one to know one.)

They sent me their numbers for Iowa’s 2015 offense and I’ve tweeted some of these stats (man, I hope we can make something work for 2016). Most of the stats I’ve tweeted have shed light on tendency. (WR Matt VandeBerg took advantage of quick screens and was the “pass” WR. RB Derrick Mitchell was the “pass” RB. RB Akrum Wadley had only 12 snaps in Iowa’s first six games — fumbles kind of hurt that.)

Well, the PFF numbers included pass protection stats. The picture of the graphic is at the top. Some of the numbers kind of spell out the above narrative. Iowa needs improvement here. It is a point of emphasis.

Here are some points I’d like to make:

— QB C.J. Beathard did have some sort of sports hernia and this did limit his mobility. Equivocating? Call it what you want, it doesn’t make it any less true.

— I mentioned how VandeBerg basically tipped pass (61 percent of his plays were pass plays). It was 66 percent pass for WR Tevaun Smith. It was 16 percent pass for WR Riley McCarron (who performed run block on 190 of his 225 snaps). Forget the names, personnel tendencies develop during the season. Iowa’s personnel groups were fairly static.

— Sophomore James Daniels played 225 snaps with 71 of those coming as a tackle against Illinois, which had some premium pass rushers, mainly Dawuane Smoot, a DE who collected three sacks against Iowa. Daniels was the first true freshman to play tackle in Ferentz’s 18 seasons as head coach. Daniels’ numbers were better the next week at Northwestern, when he shifted inside to guard.

— Senior OT Cole Croston’s numbers were good, especially considering the fact that he also was a first-year player. He also didn’t start playing a lot until Boone Myers was injured against North Texas. If Croston sees action in the first three games, his numbers probably are better.

— Speaking of first-year players, Myers was in his first season and he was the left tackle. He drew a lot of premium assignments. Last August, we all saw Drew Ott have a day against him in the open scrimmage. Kirk Ferentz said all along they expected some growing pains. These numbers show that.

— Variance! Yes, I’m going to say there’s probably some wiggle in these numbers, but PFF is willing to put their name on them, so that does carry weight. I would suggest using them as a guide, not as a destination.

I didn’t want to give you just the sunnyside numbers. And I think everyone kind of knew these numbers, but here’s at least some articulation.

That said, what do you think?

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

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