Iowa Football

Iowa football mailbag: Are the offense's struggles an anomaly or systemic?

Case-by-case, a mountain of variables, but bottom line, it was a dirty sweat sock sandwich for the offense last week

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during a game against Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during a game against Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Lots of #oniowapod questions this week about blame for the offense.

I used this after Iowa lost to Western Michigan at Kinnick in 2000. The movie “Full Metal Jacket” came out in 1987. I loved it. Yes, it’s Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), but there also was a journalism element. The main character, Matthew Modine as “Pvt. Joker,” was a writer and when he broke Marine basic training was assigned to “Stars & Stripes,” the news division.

There’s a scene where Joker’s office has to consider retreat. Joker’s lieutenant has a line, “It’s a huge [bleep] sandwich and everybody’s gotta take a bite.”

I subbed out the bleep for “dirty sweat sock.” Lots of blame to go around. It was a huge dirty sweat sock sandwich and everyone took a bite.

Let’s try to make some sense.

 

Great question to start. You saw the eight sacks. At this point, I don’t think we have to dig through the rest of the sweat socks. It was bad. If you drove to Michigan for that one, there’s probably a voice inside you that wants its money back. That’s a long way to go for three points.

Let’s focus on Welsh’s point: Anomaly or systemic?

I went through some of the rushing numbers since 2017, the year Brian Ferentz took over as offensive coordinator, against ranked opponents. You don’t expect these to be wonderful. I did say “ranked teams.” The 2.45 yards per carry is, in my opinion, the river that runs through this.

Iowa has a 1-7 record in these games.

That’s not an anomaly, but it’s not necessarily the system.

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If you’re truly serious about learning the game — I am and I know it doesn’t look like it sometimes — the number of variables will punch you in the face. We are talking about ranked teams here. I think you have to throw personnel in there. I don’t think I’m out of line saying Michigan might have a higher caliber athlete than the Hawkeyes.

Most of the time, there’s something to the recruiting stars.

UM linebacker Cam McGrone picked Michigan over 20 other schools, including Iowa, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Northwestern. He’s a 4-star and he had 1.5 sacks against Iowa. Michigan schemed movement for him against Iowa’s inside linemen.

We’re talking variables, right? UM linebacker Jordan Glasgow had two sacks against Iowa. Wyoming was the only school to throw an offer his way. He went to Michigan as a walk-on.

When the Hawkeyes beat Michigan in 2016, they rushed for 164 yards. Last weekend, it was 1, and even if you add the minus-65 the eight sacks pulled out, it’s still not a fish you’re going to hang on the wall.

You can make arguments either way, anomaly or the system. I’m going this way: Everything football is case-by-case. 2016 Michigan was one thing. 2019 was another.

Who knows in 2022, the next time these teams will meet. I do know this: If there aren’t a few more wins over ranked teams, the “systemic” crowd will have a case.

One more thing: By my count, Michigan has five analysts on offense and one each for defense and special teams. It also has assistants to the assistants for running backs and wide receivers. Iowa has three analysts and a couple of student assistants.

Wonder if a staff with a deeper pool of analysts, with trained football eyes, might have an advantage in scouting? Not trying to make excuses for Iowa, just an obersvation that might not be worth anything.

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I’m going to give credit to the blogging world and SB Nation. Those were the first places I noticed analytics and different manipulations of the box score and raw numbers.

I kind of cringe now when I use total defense or offense. Yes, it’s the average, but those numbers don’t tell you anything about situation or goal or efficiency.

I’ve fallen in love with the efficiency stat. It tells you how your team did with down and distance. Did you make it 50 percent of the yardage to gain on first down? That’s a successful play.

This year, I look at first-down yardage. Also, was first down a run or a pass? It’s not always a telling stat. The Hawkeyes had 324 first-down yards against Middle Tennessee. That’s what 48-3 looks like. You probably think it was awful against Michigan. It wasn’t. Iowa actually outgained Michigan, 150 to 127, and averaged 5.2 yards on first down. That’s a winning number. Second down is what got the Hawkeyes in trouble last week.

I also like red-zone efficiency. You’re never going to talk me out of touchdowns being better than field goals, unless, you know, it takes a field goal to win.

 

See, we had a theme this week.

Iowa Sports Guy — A little of both. When it was still the first half, I’d say that was more Michigan taking away what Iowa wanted to be in this. In the second — still down by a TD — I think Iowa lost some patience.

By the way, I did ask Kirk Ferentz that question on Tuesday.

“The bottom line is what we did wasn’t good enough,” he said. Yes, a general statement. No, it’s not wrong.

Jason — I’d argue Iowa has had better O-lines, running backs and tight ends. The foursome of wide receivers Iowa has would rank high in KF era. QB Nate Stanley is top five of KF era QBs. I’m going to wait on his finish to write that one in pen.

The “seems like it happens multiple times per year,” it does. The “there it is, there it isn’t” running game has to be maddening for fans. There’s simply too much variability in performance.

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Erik — I think everything you mention is on the table. The Rose Bowl? Iowa’s OL got caught in some numbers games that looked like a surprise. Last week, that was Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown and brilliant execution from fast athletes. From Kirk Ferentz on down, the Hawkeyes said the Wolverines didn’t surprise them with anything.

Michigan was the fastest defense Iowa had seen this season. Penn State is a very fast defense, too.

Tom — I first remember the “arrogance of protection” in the 2015 Wisconsin broadcast. Brock Huard talked about it. You could tell that came from a UW coach. The Badgers had four sacks.

From my point of view, Iowa doesn’t do a ton of max protection. It’ll leave a TE or RB in, but my general sense is that percentage is low. The imperative is the Iowa staff relies on its O-linemen to win one-on-one battles. They’ll win more than they’ll lose. They lost a few in the first half. In the second, Michigan made itself a moving target and Iowa’s inside trio had a tough time identifying what was coming and, IMO, pure athleticism took over.

Alaric Jackson’s injury had something to do with this. What the junior tried last week was going from training wheels to a rocket car over the Snake River Canyon.

One more thing: Inside pressure is a killer. That’s a toughie for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Kyler Murray? Baker Mayfield? Maybe not so much.

 

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I’m not great at the career-defining thing, but let’s ID Stanley’s top three wins: 1) Ohio State 2017, 2) Ohio State 2017, 3) Ohio State 2017.

Kidding, Dan, kidding. Ohio State 2017 is No. 1. Then, I’d go Iowa State 2017 (44-41) and then ... let’s go with the 27-22 win over Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl last year.

This wouldn’t top Ohio State, but it would be No. 2. I don’t know about career definer, but I’m guessing Stanley wouldn’t throw this fish back.

 

Not worried about the Blues at all. I am worried about the Blackhawks. Not great, Bob.

Tough question to answer without knowing where Tyrone Tracy was in the progression. He’s a sturdy 5-11, 200, at least as tall and strong as most defensive backs. I think he can be Iowa’s Rondale Moore (not as fast and probably not quite as quick) or J.D. Spielman (all he does is produce for the Huskers).

But it’s early. He’s a redshirt freshman in his first real go-around. I thought he grew up a lot last week. He did lose body position on that pick.

Again, the hardest part of football is finding out what you don’t know on the field in a game. Brandon Smith had a similar play last year. Say this about WR coach Kelton Copeland’s kids, they learn from their mistakes.

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Can’t believe no one brought up the end zone target for Oliver Martin. He played five snaps last week. The EZ target seemed like reaching for some sort of revenge Pringle and getting your hand stuck in the can. That, however, was pass interference. I think think the official lost sight of the ball and defaulted to no call.

 

I’m sure Brian Ferentz knew that was coming. He’s aware an empty set is going to allow D-linemen to get out of the blocks and sprint to the QB. I’m guessing he thought protection would hold up against the down four. Then, the OL started chasing some ghosts with the games UM threw at it.

That’s the part that should bug you. Everyone Iowa said there were no surprises. You still have to see it and block it. UM unleashed some speed Iowa hadn’t seen and it was as dirty sweat sock sandwich.

I don’t know about everyone else, but, man, I enjoy the Urban Meyer segments on Fox and BTN. His knowledge base is endless and it actually looks like he’s having a good time. BTN used to have an X-and-O show. It might’ve been a ratings bust, but it only lasted a season or maybe two. These shows don’t often stick. I think ESPN has been through a few iterations.

I loved it, and I totally would watch one with Meyer telestrating.

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

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