Iowa Football

Iowa football #PaintedTower mailbag: My quixotic theory on spread offenses taking over and homophones

You guys tell me when Iowa's next appearance in the Big Ten title game will be

More questions about Iowa's usage of tight end Noah Fant this week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
More questions about Iowa's usage of tight end Noah Fant this week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Headphones on. Right into the Jason Molina.

He died in 2013. His music is a country metal pedal steel emo, maybe?

Been listening to “31 Seasons In The Minor Leagues” a lot lately.

“I can tell by that look some of you don’t understand. And I can’t see how any of you can.”

Let’s #PaintedTower mailbag.

 

Is in play.

 

We’ve reached the “homophones” round.

Guys, homophones are two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings.

 

Maybe, but I do think you have to give the Iowa staff credit. They know where that line is. They see players process pre-snap info however many reps a day.

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They know a play has to trigger at some point and they don’t want their guys running around like they’re trying to remember a phone number.

Although, that was the offense in 2012, bunch of dudes trying to remember a phone number.

I also question the “turn ‘em loose” just based on raw speed. When it works, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has designed consistent “get offs” for receivers. The motioning of tight ends helped. Of course, defenses are smart. They watch tape. They figure it out.

Constant self scout on that front. Iowa doesn’t have “turn ‘em loose speed,” but hey, sophomore WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette played fast last week. Good sign. It’d be cool for everyone if he did it again this week.

 

Ah yes, the New England visit. Was it about TEs? I would think Brian Ferentz would already have that.

Anyway, guess what? Visiting the Patriots isn’t football Viagra.

That’s an NFL team with paid athletes who spend a huge percentage of their pay staying paid athletes.

Iowa has guys studying whatever kids study anymore. Entrepreneurship. Computer programming. Maybe even some of that nutty C+ stuff.

Whatever the staff tries to learn in New England has to make it back to Iowa City and be apparent on the field. I think Iowa has done more things with pace of play this year, but I’m not sure if that’s what New England was about. And, frankly, whatever it was, I don’t know that it moved the needle. Everything looks similar.

 

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I’m not sure if it’s “out-scheming” as much as it’s Iowa facing a coaching staff for the first time. Purdue and Jeff Brohm jump off the page there.

I see that Louisville, kind of home for Brohm, is sniffing around. I know some of you would love to see Brohm outski, but c’mon, a good, entertaining Purdue does a ton for the Big Ten West.

But therein lies the spirit of college football. Programs, TV people, agents, schools. It’s all about self-interest.

That’s why I think an elite division of 35 or 40 teams will be what we have for college football in 2023 or 2024.

Will Iowa and Iowa State make that? Would you want to be No. 38? It’d have to be a lot of money, or I’d say hell no to being No. 38.

Iowa was 6-1 just more than a month ago. And here I am wondering about relevancy. I will probably be writing about dismounts soon. Up to Kirk Ferentz how long he wants to hang, but everyone has a finish line. That’s a fact of life. Hayden Fry’s dismount was more of a realization. It was a 3-8 season and Minnesota finished Iowa off with a 49-7 stomping.

Urban Meyer almost was dismounted this summer. That got my attention. What college football coach gets a comfortable exit? Woody Hayes punched a player. In contrast, Bo Schembechler retired after the 1990 Rose Bowl. He was only 60 and was worried about heart problems. Barry Alvarez lost to Iowa in his home finale, but he jumps in and out of the head coaching job and he finished his retirement season 10-3 with a win in the Capital One Bowl.

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Seriously, Barry losing his final home game I’m not even sure spoiled Barry’s party for a second. He won three Rose Bowls.

How are we defining relevancy? Big Ten title game appearance? I’ll leave it up to you guys to tell me when that happens next. I don’t see one from here. Sell me.

 

At least top five.

My head was stuck in Midwest punk in the ‘80s (Replacements, Husker Du), but Queen hooked into me as a kid.

Are they not the best stadium rock band? They need to be in that debate.

HA-HA! Thanks for this. I’m cuing that up on the YouTube later.

 

I was 8 in 1975, so Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues” escaped me at the time. It once was a pretty huge song in my life. The flashing back and forth between consciousness and blur, that imagery gets me every time.

People think it’s a dopey song about drinking. I think it’s about loneliness and trying to stay tethered.

 

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Yes.

First, Iowa won’t be in a championship bowl. When Christian McCaffery bolted Stanford before the Sun Bowl, his teammates, for the most part, were like, “Dude, you’ve got to go get paid.”

If Fant sits out the Holiday Bowl, you can’t jump up and down and scream about it. You’ve got to be anchored enough in reality to know this is a possibility.

It’s all about getting paid. I’m sorry, it is. School, school, rah, rah. He’s a $3 million contract. What school?

Fant has to get to the NFL combine, show a 42-inch vertical, good 40, good pro agility and he’ll be a millionaire.

If there’s static, everyone should shake hands and walk away now. Dismounts, remember? Kirk Ferentz's last two pressers have been him trying to explain this without explaining it. That’s no way to back flip off the beam.

 

1) Fix the running game.

Last year, the O-line had its struggles. You’re going to have that with two freshman OTs. Iowa’s interior linemen recruiting needs to tick up. This year, I think the running backs have left big runs on the table. Three sophomore backs, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see a transfer. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see recruit Tyler Goodson immediately jump in. And I wouldn’t be shocked if Iowa recruits another running back.

Do you see the switch flipping in a year? I think that’s awfully tough ask.

2) Defensive identity

This is more of a budding challenge, IMO.

I applaud defensive coordinator Phil Parker for making changes to personnel to give Iowa a better chance against spread teams. You need to meet speed with speed.

But can Iowa have a defensive unit it uses just once or twice a year? Basically, this new nickel thing with safety Amani Hooker replacing the outside linebacker is going to leave linebackers without a lot of snaps.

If anyone on this team has the right to whine about snaps, it’s Nick Niemann.

Maybe “problem” is too strong of a word, but what is Iowa’s defensive identity right now? Ferentz tabled that for next year this week, although he did leave room to switch everything around pending bowl opponent and added they don’t want Hooker covering or shedding blocks from tight ends.

“That’s going to be a whole separate discussion and figure out how we adjust it,” Ferentz said. “That’s a separate time, separate discussion unless we hook up somebody like that in a bowl game, and then it’ll be Neimann for sure at that point. But anyway, we’ve had a lot of guys play, and now I think hopefully over the next couple weeks we’ll figure out who we are and what we are.”

Problem is too strong. I think this is more like an experiment. And I’m going to applaud Parker and the defensive staff for switching gears and giving themselves their best chance to compete.

And, yes, I know it may or may not work, but it’s an obvious attempt at trying to fix a problem. That’s better than being stubborn.

3) Speed and defensive tackles

More and more and more and more.

 

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Easy to say now and, please, I’m not scolding, but this was about Northwestern bringing pressure and Iowa wilting under it.

QB Nate Stanley said Northwestern blitzed every time it looked like Iowa was going to run. So, that clicked Iowa’s version of RPO (run and pass called in the huddle and signaled pre-snap) on to the short passing game.

That was Northwestern protecting a secondary that started the game missing two defensive backs and ended up missing three (I think it ended up at three).

Northwestern didn’t give Stanley time to survey the field and find the weak link. Northwestern didn’t get there every time. It managed just one sack, three hits and four hurries. It just set the pot to boil and forced Iowa’s hand to the quick passes.

Didn’t lose the game for Iowa, but Northwestern did a tremendous job at protecting a potential weakness.

 

Yes and yes.

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This is going to be a crazy theory that probably gets me laughed off into the deep woods of Wisconsin, but the spread offenses have won.

I kind of hit on that a few times here. The KF stuff with cut blocks on the second level and RPOs. There are more spread offenses than there are pro-style. Rules committees have been overrun by spread coaches, so it’s much more of a spread game now. The rules have helped grow that. Think of it as politics. One side is in power.

Ferentz is defiantly not that, in rule for sure and, for the most part, tactic.

Dig a level deeper.

Do you think there are more spread offenses in high schools or pro-styles? I’m going to guess spreads. They’re easier to field. You can pluck a fast kid out of gym class. You might be able to do the same with big O-line kids, but so much more goes into their training, their size/weight. It’s also “away from the ball.” I’m not sure O-line play gets the level of detail it once did. Spread offenses ask O-linemen to do different things to achieve the same goal.

So, following this flimsy theory, the pool for pro-style, hard-nosed, wild-horse rider O-linemen who know how to drive block and strike and stick has shrunk.

C.J. Fiedorowicz came here as a wide receiver/safety. The former Hawkeyes tight end had to learn to block and be a physical football player. He played in a spread offense. He spent his freshman year doing that and not catching passes.

Everything always comes back in football. The pro-style won’t die. You need power elements to win in the Big Ten. So, Jim Harbaugh’s power spread seems like a really smart direction.

The easy answer is recruiting. Iowa is super picky with OLs. Wisconsin finds the biggest. Iowa looks for a blend. You’ve got to be big, of course, but you also need good feet, because those reach blocks can be difficult.

I don’t know where I’ll be sitting for football in 10 years, but I think O-line play could look very, very different.

 

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Fant averaged 40 snaps last year and is at 39.4 this season.

Back away from that, though, and look at the last two or three weeks. He’s not been on the field in big, game-turning situations. That is the point. Iowa is not an offense that can leave playmakers sitting around the kitchen.

Your point about defenses makes sense. But his production isn’t that far off from last season. In fact, last year it was 30 catches for 494 yards, 11 TDs and a 16.47 average. This year, 35 for 453 yards, six TDs and a 12.9 average.

This all started with an emotional outburst on Twitter from Fant’s family. It’s ongoing. You can go take a look, but that would mean getting on Twitter. Do not recommend.

I don’t know what triggered Chris Fant’s initial tweet. It can’t have been the numbers. And if you can’t trust the Iowa staff on who’s the better blocker, you’re ignoring a lot of blocking expertise and working off a Twitter rant.

I don’t see the logic.

 

The evidence on the table right now in 2018 says no. Mitigate to your heart’s content, but after 8-0 in 2015, Iowa has gone a respectable 6-3 (the good thing about 2016, that and Michigan) and a frustrating 4-5 in the league. This season is 3-4 with a chance at 5-4.

That’s not trending up, is it?

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Northwestern is the more relevant team in the West. Yes, it took NU’s win at Kinnick last Saturday for me to finally figure this out. The Northwestern vs. the Big Ten numbers got my attention. Northwestern was 7-2 last year and is 6-1 this season.

The Wildcats are taking care of Big Ten business.

I'm still not sure if eight-win seasons put any pressure on Ferentz. Eight wins is good at Iowa. Just good. Don’t get carried away. I didn’t say great. Look a little higher. Do you see the UI leadership making a move on a 20-year head football coach because of eight-win seasons? You don’t. Stop looking.

Everyone wants more than eight. They are trying for more than eight. At some point, I think we all know eight won’t be enough for Ferentz, either.

 

Hugo is a dangerous element in society. Hugo plays it loose and evil for a restaurant inspector. Ron is the quiet voice of reason.

Love those guys. When the Blackhawks were going through Stanley Cup runs, I’d freak out when they lost. I would immediately start binging “Bob’s Burgers” and all was well. It’s happy and disarming, perfect for post-sports freakouts. (Hint, hint. Screw it. Hey, Hawkeye fans, do this).

I am more Pam and Cheryl from Archer. They’re nuts and Pam eats her lunch out of a crockpot.

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

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.