Iowa banks on experience to keep from 'nothing working'

On his first year as offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz: 'Exactly what you saw was how it felt'

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz watches players warm up prior to the game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Friday, November 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz watches players warm up prior to the game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska on Friday, November 24, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — On Nov. 4, Iowa beat Ohio State by 31 points and ultimately knocked the Buckeyes out of the College Football Playoff. The next week at Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes gained 66 total yards.

It was fun calling plays for one of those games, because, you know, everything worked. In the other game, it was more of a chore because nothing worked.

“It’s kind of like recruiting,” Brian Ferentz, Iowa’s first-year offensive coordinator, said Monday. “Every night I go home or sit down in the hotel room and decompress, usually my thought at the end of the night is I actually know less about recruiting and the process tonight than I did this morning.

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz 2

“I hope play calling goes better than that. I hope I learn a little bit more, but it’s like anything else, the minute you start thinking you have things figured out or you get a little comfortable, all of the sudden, there’s a new challenge or you see something you haven’t seen before and you need to adjust to something you haven’t adjusted to before, then it’s the fun of coaching. Every day is a new adventure.”

There are bookends at each end of the spectrum for Iowa’s offense this season. Ohio State was good. Nebraska also was really good. Wisconsin was a historic disaster and Michigan State only was better because the offense did generate one TD of its own.

“When you’re calling plays at Michigan State and Wisconsin, it felt like nothing worked,” Ferentz said. “When you’re calling plays against Ohio State and Nebraska, it felt like everything worked. Exactly what you saw was how it felt.”

When the plays you’re calling aren’t working, how do you adapt?

Ferentz said the “adapting” begins Mondays with, essentially, “What do we do best? What can we do that’s just a little bit different that won’t cause us to have a lot of issues? What personnel is going to give us the best matchups that we need to have? And then how do we make all of that work in four or five days?”

And then there’s more adaptation on Saturdays.


“This is what we thought it was. This isn’t what we thought it was,” Ferentz said. “This matchup is good. This matchup is not good. And you make adjustments there.

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz 3

“But I think the most difficult thing is when the things you thought would be there are there, but you’re not connecting on those. You talk about pushing the buttons and what do you do, you just try to keep pushing buttons until you find something that works. I think that’s the hardest thing offensively that I’ve learned as a play caller is when nothing is working, trying to find something to grasp hold to, that’s the difficult part.”

There are a million different ways offenses “don’t work.” The Hawkeyes went through that catalog a couple of times this season. Two painful fumbles at Michigan State. 0-for-13 on third downs at Wisconsin. Just 82 rushing yards against Purdue.

“It could be something as specific as third down or it could be something as global as nothing works and nothing is going well, then it’s finding new buttons and push those buttons and see if we can grasp hold of something, get a drive started with a positive play and try to build off that,” Ferentz said.

And when everything is working? Hey, that happened, too. Ohio State (nearly 7.0 yards per play on 70 plays), Nebraska (313 rushing yards and six rushing TDs) and there was that second half at Iowa State (17 points in the fourth quarter with 8 of 14 for 133 yards and two TDs from first-year QB Nate Stanley).

“Then, it’s really easy,” Ferentz said. “You just keep doing what works. I wish it was more complicated than that and coaches sometimes try to make it more complicated. If it works, keep going back to the well. The trick is not to go to the well too many times.

“In my experience, good plays, good thoughts, good matchup, there’s not a shelf-life on those things. There’s only so much they can do to adjust on the sidelines, too. If you have something that you’re making some hay with, generally, you stay with it. Even if you go through halftime and they have an answer for it, then once you figure out the adjustment is, it might open the door to a whole bunch of other possibilities.

“When things are going well, it’s a lot easier because you’re just building off the things you’re doing well. When things are not going well, you’re trying to find something that will go well that maybe you can build off. I think that’s the challenge.”


Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

Here’s the fun part. Ferentz plainly states that, yes, the Hawkeyes will have times next year when they’re pinned. There will be games where nothing works. The hope there is experience and development log in.

That Stanley, as a second-year starter at QB, keeps doing what he’s doing. That the sophomore offensive tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs are a year stronger and quicker. Ferentz talked about building a young and talented tight end group and adding to the plates of Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. A running back needs to emerge and the wide receiver corps needs to continue to grow.

Everyone needs to be equipped from when it doesn’t work, because that’s going to happen.

“There’s no magic page in the play book that’s going to blow in (into the press box, where Ferentz called plays from this year),” he said. “It is what it is at that point. I think that’s the most difficult part and I think that’s the hard part for the team sometimes, too. Hopefully with maturity and experience, you can weather some of those things better.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256;



IOWA CITY - The University of Iowa isn't offering football scholarships to class presidents and Eagle Scouts hoping it'll work out. You need the right height and weight and you must possess a certain degree of athleticism to play ...

DES MOINES - The correlation between wrestling and football is well known.The sports are bridged by the skills that lead to success in both. College football coaches have even expressed their preference to recruit players with wre ...

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.

Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.