Iowa Football

Brian Ferentz wants to keep evolving and improving as Iowa football play caller

Offensive coordinator on Spencer Petras: 'I think it's difficult to become a great quarterback on Zoom'

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stands on the field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan State
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stands on the field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan State, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Playcalling ain’t easy.

You’re always on the spot, you’re always getting second guessed by fans and sometimes the media. Make that triple and quadruple guessed.

When things don’t go well, it’s your fault most of the time. When things do go well, you don’t get the deserved credit.

But Brian Ferentz thinks he’s getting better as he goes along. That’s his goal anyway.

“I hope the way I’ve managed or called a game has changed every year,” Ferentz said Thursday, during a Zoom gathering with the media. “I’ve tried to evolve within the role and tried to get better at my job. I know the results are probably always debatable, but I assure you that my emphasis is on growth. If we’re going to ask the players to get better and improve, then that’s something I want to do as a play caller.”

Ferentz is in his fourth season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator. What prompted his above response was a question about if the way he has called plays this season is different because he has a brand new and inexperienced quarterback in sophomore Spencer Petras and a lead running back in sophomore Tyler Goodson who, contrarily, has a year of playing experience under his belt.

Ferentz said he isn’t asking Petras to do anything differently than he did Nate Stanley the three previous seasons. But he admitted he’s certainly aware of the talents of Goodson and fellow backs Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin, and that they need to be utilized.

Which, as he pointed out, is a reason Iowa has used the wildcat formation for the first time. Goodson has taken a direct snap from center as a pseudo-QB.

Iowa also has used a formation in which Petras is in the shotgun, with Goodson and Sargent lined up on either side of him.

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“As far as managing the game or calling the game, I think it’s different because I’d like to hope that I’m getting better at it or getting a better feel for it,” Ferentz said. “One thing that we’ve talked about a lot in the offseason, and one thing that I’ve been very pleased with through the first four weeks, is just the tempo at which we’re playing. We’re not a tempo outfit. We’re not a hurry-up outfit. We like to huddle, we like to change personnel.

“But that doesn’t mean we have to play slow, and we’re not trying to slog through the game. We want to make sure we’re getting snaps and getting plays run and trying to push that tempo in and out of the huddle. Changing personnel, getting people on and off the field and still trying to put pressure on the defense in that regard.”

Ferentz, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and special teams coordinator LeVar Woods all spoke Thursday, on the eve of Saturday’s game at Penn State. Iowa is 2-2, coming off a pair of blowout wins over Michigan State and Minnesota and seems to be improving in all three phases.

Some of the more interesting tidbits here included Ferentz talking about a perceived lack of growth from Petras, who has been uneven in his play the first four games. The coach talked about the difficulties Petras has faced with no spring practice and an uneven offseason workout schedule because of the pandemic.

“I’ll tell you, I think it’s difficult to become a great quarterback on Zoom,” Ferentz said. “The reality is without being out on the field and throwing and catching that ball, you’re losing time in that skill development. Now the only thing you can do is try to make up for lost time once you get going again, which for us was briefly in August and then again really in late September and October.

“What I’ve tried to do, and what we’re all trying to do as a staff, is look at our progress and try to be realistic about our expectations and what we’re trying to get done as we progress through this period. I think Spencer has done a tremendous job of growing and maturing and becoming a better player regardless of those circumstances. But you can’t ignore the detriment that the lack of time is going to have on your development ...”

Parker said he is pleased with the progress his defense is making, saying it has become more cohesive. He singled out the play of cornerback Matt Hankins.

“Really up and beyond what I thought he would be at this time,” Parker said. “He has been such a great leader to all the guys not only in the secondary, but I think the team. And I think the development he’s had, just watching him practice and competing every day whether it’s in the special teams aspect of it, maybe he’s not even on the first team or second team special teams, but when we go down and work the other side, he’s working his best on working on releases.

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"So I just see the difference that he has there for the leadership that we need and continue to do that. So I’m very happy with what I’ve seen with Matt. Matt has been very, very good for us.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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