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TAMPA, Fla. — During a 10-minute session with reporters Thursday, Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis twice was asked about retirement. He didn’t quite catch the first one.
A reporter asked about true freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley and his development and what Davis plans to do with him this spring. The question was loaded on the back end and Davis blew right through it.
The second shot at a retirement question was just flat out a retirement question.
“I think everyone would like to win the national championship, be 85-years-old, get your cane and walk off the field,” said Davis, who’s ending his fifth season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator. “You know, it doesn’t work that way.”
His real answer?
“I haven’t thought about it too much,” said the 65-year-old veteran coach.
C’mon now, control yourself. After reading that don’t automatically, even just in your mind or under your breath, go to “Well, you should be thinking more about the [bleeping] offense.”
Any angst you’ve built up during a season in which the Hawkeyes stand No. 120 in the nation in total offense (333.3 yards per game) and No. 115 in pass offense (161.3) needs some filtering. The offense has been a smoldering crater at times this season, but it’s not all on Davis.
Think about it.
Iowa lost its top two receiving targets (wide receiver Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle) for around 12 games this season. Iowa’s offensive line shuffled through seven different lineups because of injury. Iowa’s offense couldn’t break through against brilliant defensive efforts from North Dakota State and Wisconsin. The defense allowed 38 and 41 points in losses to Northwestern and Penn State.
A few notions about Davis’ role need explaining. The first is what the Iowa staff does with the offensive game plan isn’t Davis going into his office and typing up the script. He’s not a lone actor in this. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has explained many times that it’s a collaborative effort. The plays and groups of plays for certain down-and-distance situations are vetted by the entire staff and filtered through the gauze of who’s healthy and who can do what’s needed, i.e. offensive line coach Brian Ferentz’s point about asking guard Levi Paulsen to pass block at Illinois.
Second, no one thinks more about Iowa’s offense than Davis.
And, so, when the Hawkeyes (8-4) stood 5-4 after being clubbed at Penn State, the focus remained on winning.
“The team understood,” Davis said. “I would say in September we were functioning really pretty well. We were doing things and everyone was excited.”
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September was when VandeBerg and quarterback C.J. Beathard had a few moments of brilliance, where Beathard noticed a particular matchup and VandeBerg read Beathard’s mind and went and got passes. VandeBerg had 19 receptions in September before he suffered a season-ending foot injury. Extrapolate his numbers and he’s around 60 for the second consecutive season.
“Losing Matt had a tremendous ripple effect,” Davis said. “It took Riley (McCarron, who ended up leading Iowa with 41 receptions) from the B, in our language (“B” receiver, an outside position), to the inside. The number of snaps he was playing a game went out of sight. By moving him inside, we had to play a couple of guys who had not had as many snaps. C.J. wasn’t quite as comfortable with exactly where they were going to be.
“Even though Riley moved inside and did a tremendous job, really played well, it was a ripple effect.”
Sophomore Jerminic Smith made strides (23 catches for 314 yards). Sophomore Adrian Falconer and true freshman Devonte Young didn’t catch any passes. Sophomore Jay Scheel ended up with five receptions, but went through another injury setback and never seemed to find a consistent role.
“I’m sure it was frustrating,” Davis said. “Jay was really pushing hard in August. When we talked in August, we weren’t sure who was going to start at the X receiver (it eventually went to Smith) in the first ballgame. Then, he got nicked (injured). And even now, he’s got some inflammation ... he’s not stayed healthy. And where it’s really hurt him is at the end of routes, when all of the stress goes down into planting and getting out. That’s where it’s hurt him.”
After Penn State, the focus remained on winning and the offense kind of recalibrated into a power running attack, including a lot of two-tight end formations, with some play-action passing. The play-calling also maximized running back Akrum Wadley, who you could make a pretty strong case for Hawkeyes’ offensive MVP.
“When we were getting ready for the Michigan game one advantage we thought we had was Akrum in the passing game,” Davis said, “especially off schedule, get him the ball one-on-one against a linebacker.”
Wadley generated 73 percent of Iowa’s total offense (167 of 230 yards) against then-No. 3 Michigan. Iowa found just enough offense in the couch cushions to push past the Wolverines in a 14-13 defensive battle.
Iowa’s remade offensive identity seemed to peak in November. It never found the same speed it hit in the first two weeks, when the Hawkeyes scored 12 TDs. And, yes, Iowa did log two ugly 14-7 victories where the offense moved like concrete.
And there lies Davis’ whole point and, really, the whole point of putting on a helmet and competing.
“As the season went on we couldn’t do those things (the Beathard-to-VandeBerg and really anything in the outside passing game),” Davis said. “We chose to do the things we felt that gave us the best chance to win. That was to get bigger as our tight ends got healthy and to run the ball and try to use play-action.
“The whole point of calling plays, whatever style of offense you’re in, all you’re trying to do is win, so that’s what we did.”
And they did.
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