IOWA CITY — Iowa football has been very Iowa football-like the first half of the 2017 season.
Defensively, the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) are 25th in the nation in keeping points off the scoreboard, allowing just 18.7 points a game. On special teams, Iowa is 13th in the country with just 16.4 yards allowed on kick returns and is 31st in punt coverage, allowing 4.0 yards per return. Defense and special teams haven’t been perfect, but both units have played, more or less, recognizable Iowa football.
Maybe the most “Iowa football” part of Iowa football has yet to gain traction and you already know where this is going.
The Hawkeyes haven’t run the football to Iowa standard, at least in the two games against ranked opponents (Penn State and Michigan State).
First-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz didn’t dodge this fact. It’s No. 1 on his list during the Hawkeyes’ bye week. The Hawkeyes will resume their schedule Oct. 21 at Northwestern (11 a.m. kick).
“The first thing we need to do is establish our run game with some consistency,” Ferentz said Wednesday. “We’re sitting at 3.7 a carry, and that’s not going to help us win any Big Ten games.
The discussion continued into run efficiency and first- and third-down efficiency. As far as the ground game goes, the Hawkeyes have been the least effective first-down team in the Big Ten, averaging 3.44 yards on 112 carries. That’s last in the Big Ten.
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“I do think the yards per carry is a fair number, like I said, when you look at the average and things tend to balance out over time,” Ferentz said. “We’d like to be sitting right around 5.0 yards a carry, and certainly we’re well off that right now.”
You already know about the offensive line and what has been a longer-than-season long struggle with injuries. Instead of two senior three-year starters at the tackle spots (Ike Boettger and Boone Myers), Iowa has redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson and true freshman Tristan Wirfs. Ferentz offered a little more insight to Myers’ struggles. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury since August camp.
“Nobody has had a harder job than Boone Myers this year because he hasn’t been 100 percent,” Ferentz said, “and he’s gone from being the alpha to not being able to do some of the things he’s used to being able to do, physically can’t do it.”
Going on how injuries have treated Iowa’s O-line so far this season, Ferentz is hoping the current group (Wirfs and Jackson at the tackles, Sean Welsh and Keegan Render at guards and center James Daniels) can stick together and deliver a running game that inches closer to Iowa’s standard.
And, yes, part of the pressure falls on Ferentz. He’s said since he was hired last January that it’s on him and the staff to find what works for the players they have.
“We need to find a better way to manage what we have and squeeze something out of it because if we don’t get to running the ball, if we don’t get to being a little bit more efficient on first and second down, I don’t think we can reasonably expect to be successful as an offensive unit,” Ferentz said. “If we’re not, then boy, we’re putting a lot pressure on the defense and special teams. So, we need to get back to controlling the football. We need to get back to running it. We’d like to keep this group (offensive line) intact, but most importantly, I think I need to do a better job of getting us going downhill a little bit.”
Ferentz was asked to assess first-year quarterback Nate Stanley. A couple of relevant numbers pop off the page. Stanley is tied for eighth in the nation with 15 TD passes (he’s tied with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield). His 7.7 yards per attempt is a little above average measured nationally, but for an Iowa QB, it’s right there with 2015 C.J. Beathard (7.8 yards per attempt) but trailing 2010 Ricky Stanzi’s 8.7.
Stanley also has been among the Big Ten’s best QBs in the fourth quarter. His 188.3 fourth-quarter pass efficiency is second to Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook in the league.
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“One thing I’d say about Nate, I feel good about how he’s grown as the season has gone on, and I think the benefit to a young guy like Nate, who’s 19 years old, he’s in his first year as a full-time starter, and he’s seen more defensively in six games than I think a lot of guys do maybe in two years,” Ferentz said, “and that just is because of the schedule we’ve played and how people have chosen to defend us. That’s a real positive. How he’s handled it along the way, also very positive.”
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