Iowa Football

In year 2, Brian Ferentz's offense will stick to the Iowa script

When the offense goes thud, the hope is that knowledge becomes power


Iowa Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz answers questions from the media at the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz answers questions from the media at the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — At one point, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz referenced “Star Wars” and what it’s like when all of the plays you call work and when they don’t.

Oddly, Star Wars covers a lot of ground and works perfectly into football phraseology.

First, the Star Wars that Iowa played against Wisconsin last November was ... Let’s play this out, but you know Iowa lost 38-14 and generated just 66 yards of offense.

“It’s like you’re the pilot of that little sad rebel ship at the opening of Star Wars,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer is closing on that ship, right? That’s what the Wisconsin game feels like.”

Hey, good things happened, too, in 2017.

You’ll never forget 55-24 over Ohio State. You seemed to really enjoy the second half at Lincoln, Neb., when the Hawkeyes polished off Nebraska 56-14.

“If it’s the Ohio State game or the Nebraska game, then you’re Luke Skywalker making the trench run in the Death Star,” Ferentz said, perfectly nailing this, by the way. “Everything is going to go right. Don’t worry about it. ‘Use the Force, Luke. you’ll be all right. Call whatever you want.’”

Ferentz, who’s going into his second season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator, also backed away from the mic to show the exact distance between the players and the sideline and how that distance might as well be a gorge filled with sharks and alligators.

These are things Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, Brian’s father, doesn’t do during a news conference. The message is basically the same. Iowa isn’t going anywhere if Iowa doesn’t know Iowa the way it needs to, from players to play calls to capabilities to recruiting geographies and on down the line.

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It’s been nearly 20 years with this multiple, zone scheme, power offense and not a lot has changed. It’s not always been sustainable (Luke would’ve lost a hand at Wisconsin). It’s rarely ranked in the top half in the Big Ten (Iowa was fifth in the league in total offense in 2015 and 2008 and lower than that in every season between).

If the benchmark is sustainability, you can make that argument. The real truth is that’s what Kirk Ferentz wants Iowa to be and that hasn’t changed a whole lot going into year No. 20.

“When we’ve had success here, I would marry it to anybody else in the country that’s having success at any level,” Brian Ferentz said. “(They) Probably run the football pretty well, have the ability to control the tempo of the game through the running game, do a nice job of converting on 3rd down or in the red area, in those critical situations. “Again, I’m not sure it really matters how you do those things.”

If you grab on to anything else in this, there it is. For Brian Ferentz, it’s not how the plate started to spin, it’s that the plate spins.

But you can basically title this next part “Why Iowa doesn’t do the traditional RPO thing that everyone talks about on TV.”

Run-Pass option is something you heard quite a bit with the Philadelphia Eagles and their quarterback Carson Wentz. The quarterback has the option to run or throw after the snap. Iowa does RPOs, by the way, it’s just that they’re called in the huddle. Ferentz guessed that Iowa is in an RPO for 50 percent of its run plays.

“If we want to do post snap, now all of a sudden we’re in the gun and there’s an exchange involved,” Ferentz said. “If you post-snap read something and there’s an exchange involved, that’s not as simple as just putting somebody in the gun and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to read this guy post-snap.’ That’s a lot of work. That’s individual time, that’s team time.

“It’s like no-huddle. I think no-huddle is a fascinating thing, but unless you’re going to live in that world, unless you’re going to commit to that and be in that full time, it’s probably not a road you want to go down.”

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With junior QB Nate Stanley back, Iowa could set up to look a little different this season. Not RPO different, but could the Hawkeyes have the pieces to be stronger in the passing game than the running game? It’s April, so anything is possible.

But seriously, Stanley’s 26 TDs and just six interceptions show, at the very least, he’s not out there guessing. His 55.8 completion percentage was the lowest for an Iowa QB since Jake Christensen in 2007. That’s been a focus.

“What we’re trying to do is throw the ball efficiently, so we want to make sure our completion percentage hopefully is up there over 60 percent,” Ferentz said. “That’s where we’d like to be. We were 57 last year. That’s just not good enough. The yardage isn’t as important. The production isn’t as important. I know if we’re throwing the ball efficiently, we’ll be moving the ball. We’ll be where we want to be. Should we be closer to that? Yeah, I’d like to think we are, but there are just so many factors that go into that, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Brian Ferentz doesn’t know what’s going to happen. That’s also why Iowa’s offense has stood the test of time. Mostly stood the test of time. Hey, Iowa was 117th in the nation in total offense, it’s a work in progress.

No coach knows what is going to happen in a game. If they know their offense, their concepts and their players, they can feel comfortable about maneuvering pieces.

Is there something that could happen where Iowa’s offense is all RPOs? On unicycles? Maybe. Who knows what that would be.

For now, it’s coaches trying to teach players how to use the Iowa tools.

“I heard a high school coach speak, very intelligent guy, this offseason, and one of his first comments was, ‘Whatever your philosophy is, it had ought to marry your knowledge base,’” Ferentz said. “That seems like kind of a ridiculous statement, but I think you’d be surprised how many places you go or how many games you watch — high school, college, pro — where people are trying to do things that they don’t really understand because there’s a lot of football.

“There’s a lot of football. I’m fascinated by it, but I don’t really understand it, couldn’t teach it.

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“I think at the end of the day, the reason that we’ve had some success from a sustained perspective here is when things go wrong, which they inevitably will, you have to be able to get under the hood and fix it, and if you don’t understand what you’re dealing with, I think you’re going to have a hard time.”

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

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