116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - OK, it's time for some hard-core X and Os. Get your whiteboards and erasers and screen captures ready for the avalanche of football information that is about to flow your way.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz went into the offseason and changed everything. That has to be why the No. 13 Hawkeyes are so explosive (relatively, for Iowa) during this 7-0 start to the season. And defensively, you would need a stadium full of fingers to count the changes.
OK, sarcasm can be a pretty difficult animal to capture in words. Really, there haven't been any dramatic scheme changes. Iowa is Iowa, maybe the most Iowa it's been in awhile. And, you know, if nothing else, the 7-0 start has been about Iowa still working, even thriving, while maintaining its 'Iowaness.”
'We haven't done a bunch of different things quite honestly,” Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Wednesday. 'We've done a few more different formations this year. We've played with some 20 personnel (two backs, no tight ends), in and out of some 20 personnel. We've done some things, but for the most part we still believe in running the zone, the slant, and then a couple counter punches.”
The big fix to the leaky perimeter defense that bit Iowa in a couple of games last season has been do it better, pretty much.
'Well, everything goes back to leverage, and it's not like we weren't coaching it last year,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. 'We just weren't as efficient as we are right now. I think we put a little bit more emphasis on it, do a lot more individual drills with maybe wide receivers, defensive backs, linebackers, tight ends.
'But we emphasize a little bit more, and they've done a good job, and guys running to the ball with proper leverage helps out.”
For the offense, there has been, without question, a rise in the number of explosive plays. Through seven games, the Hawkeyes have 12 40-plus plays, which is 11th in the nation and leads the Big Ten. Iowa had 12 plays of 40-plus yards all last season. Iowa has five rushes of 40-plus yards, which is tied for No. 13 nationally. Last season, Iowa had one of these.
Davis singled out fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox and wide receivers/tight ends blocking downfield, specifically senior wide receiver Jacob Hillyer.
But also, quarterback C.J. Beathard has helped unlock Iowa's skill players with either his arm or his feet or what he sees at the line of scrimmage.
'From a tangible standpoint, his ability to get the ball to his second and third receivers,” Davis said when asked about what he's been impressed by with Beathard's development. 'I felt like at the line of scrimmage he would do a great job, but his leadership has been pretty remarkable starting in January.”
Iowa is hitting more home runs this season. You could argue the Hawkeyes have been able to explore their explosiveness because the offensive line/running game has given the offense such a tremendous foundation. The Hawkeyes are No. 2 in the Big Ten with 214.4 rushing yards a game. Only one other Ferentz-era team has averaged more than 200 yards a game and that was 2002, when the Hawkeyes went 8-0 in the Big Ten.
It has to be fun to be the offensive coordinator when the running game is in charge.
'Anytime that your line can take a ballgame over, it's a great feeling,” Davis said. '. . . Guys are coming off with such intensity and backs are running and trusting that there's going to be something when they get there, and then even if there's not, they're sliding one gap or whatever and being productive, it is a great feeling. There's no other way to describe it.”
Parker is running the same 4-3 under scheme that the late Norm Parker introduced when he signed on as Ferentz's first defensive coordinator in 1999. Parker has run a few variations of the 'raider” third-down package, but has settled into a 3-2-6, with extra cornerbacks. Parker also hasn't had to expose the Hawkeyes with extra pressure, blitzing within his comfort level of 17 to 22 percent.
So, no changes for Iowa's defense, it's just playing better. Parker fielded a question on who he thought was Iowa's defensive MVP through the first seven games. He was all over the place with this one.
'It would be hard for me to say one guy,” he said. 'I think there's a collective group that's really playing well. Obviously statistically, Desmond King with how many interceptions he has (six) and change of the game and getting the ball back is valuable, but there are a lot of guys out there playing well. I couldn't pick one guy right now.”
Then, Parker was asked about what improvements he thought his defense could make in the next five games. There was no hesitation in his answer.
'My biggest thing that I think we need to improve on is giving up big plays,” Parker said. 'I think right now we have a total of five big runs over 15 yards, which is not good enough for us, and then we have 22 passes over 20 yards.
'Anytime that we've been a really good football team around here, we're usually about 35 to 38 big plays a year, so we're at seven games, we're averaging right around 3.9 big plays a game. We want to be two big plays a game or less. So, we're a little bit high on that number right now.
'Any time you give up big plays, you sit there and watch, it usually turns into points, so if we can eliminate the big plays in the passing game and the run game, we should be OK. Back in 2009 or something, I think we gave up nine runs over 15 yards. That's our goal, to be at least under 10 with the run. We definitely need to improve that.”
A very 'Iowa” answer in what's been a very 'Iowa” good season so far.
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