Iowa Football

Iowa football mailbag: Iowa has had 6 offensive coordinators in 41 seasons ...

... so maybe keep that in mind before 'Fire the coordinator' seems like a viable discussion

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Been listening to a lot of Built to Spill lately.

Truth be told, the band’s song “Car” inspired that Tristan Wirfs/Mount Vernon project in July/August.

“I wanna see it when you find out what comets, stars and moons are all about.”

Trying to be more uplifty this week. That whole dirty sweat sock sandwich thing, I’ll try to edit that one out.

 

Let’s get to this right off the bat. I did say “uplifty,” but we’re going to play it where it lies.

In some corners of the internet and the Hawkeye community, “Fire Brian Ferentz” is considered hard commentary and genius. Yes, in 2019, “fire the offensive coordinator” still is “eureka.” Somehow.

I don’t know if a father has ever fired a son. Just off the top of my head, maybe when Dan Hawkins (the “it’s not intramurals, brother” guy) was at Colorado, he replaced his son at quarterback. I think there was an injury or something. It doesn’t matter.

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Anymore, I leave a lot of space in my writing for you to fill in the blank, given our knowledge of a coach who has been in the chair for 21 years.

Kirk Ferentz isn’t a quick-change artist. The University of Iowa doesn’t work that way. I assume you see this and understand that Iowa either values consistency and believes that works for it or is just super scared of change.

Iowa has had two head coaches in a 41-year span. During that time, the program has had six offensive coordinators (Bill Snyder, Carl Jackson, Don Patterson, Ken O’Keefe, Greg Davis and Brian Ferentz) and four defensive coordinators (Bill Brashier, Bob Elliott, Norm Parker and Phil Parker).

Let’s throw in the fact that this is a father-son deal.

I leave a lot of space in my writing for you to fill in the blank. I don’t think I need to do that here. You guys know there’s like 0.0 percent chance of a firing happening, given Iowa’s history and the father-son deal.

Beyond that, it’s been three years. In Iowa years, that’s like six months.

The jury still is out on Brian Ferentz’s offense. The game plan at Michigan did not help. Passing into the best secondary Iowa has faced this season and with a blitz-happy coordinator who was pushing buttons, that wasn’t setting Iowa up for success.

Last week? That was personnel and performance. Really, it’s been 10 sacks the last two weeks. You know the term “gradeable snaps,” right? What plays can coaches even grade? There has been so much of that the last two weeks, it’s difficult to even know what the offense is trying to build.

The next question you should have is does this continuity work well enough to keep everything in place?

Fair question. Don’t underestimate the 19-year nonwinning streak before Hayden Fry. Iowa just has to look across the border and shake its head at what Illinois football has become. That’s a big fear.

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Should fear of failure be the determining factor on a coaching staff? I want to say “no,” but when you’re a program like Iowa, the abyss is one bad hire away.

Be realistic with this. The honeymoon is over. Fans are hungry for a trip to Indianapolis, something that is within reach playing in the Big Ten West. There’s plenty of pressure and that’s not going away.

I don’t think Ferentz and company are averse to a dual-threat QB. They don’t have a lot of game video to show how that would work in this prostyle offense. You see Iowa show read-option every week. More and more, high school running backs are coming out of systems with a running QB element.

Bottom line, the NFL is moving more and more toward dual-threat. How much longer will “prostyle” offenses be able to call themselves that?

 

It wasn’t a sellout, but it was close. Based on that, I know you care. Based on my Twitter during games, I know you care and care a lot. And maybe get a little grumpy sometimes, but I’m not pointing fingers on that. I get grumpy with my teams.

I’m running with this question because I do believe it was quiet in Kinnick too many times last week.

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This isn’t the fans’ fault. The offense needed a fast start at home. All the ingredients were there, too. The second drive went from Iowa’s 17 to the 44, where freshman running back Tyler Goodson dropped a third-down pass that would’ve moved the chains. No guarantees on a TD, but it was moving. A TD on this drive, it’s a different game.

The Hawkeyes have to fuel your fandom. The offense scored 12 points and only showed some flair on wide receiver Brandon Smith’s wonderful TD catch late in the fourth.

I’m starting to wonder if the offense, the style and production, isn’t a deal breaker for you, as in staying away because it’s not an offense that has you jumping out of your seat a whole lot.

 

Apparently not. I’ve tried.

 

In the last two weeks, the Hawkeyes have allowed the most rushing yards they have all season. It was just 120 against Michigan, but I’m not even sure Jim Harbaugh can name one of Michigan’s running backs. They’re fine, but it’s a generally anonymous group.

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The number jumped to 177 last week and that is a losing number for Iowa football. That’s time off the clock Iowa’s offense needs to figure things out.

You know what Wisconsin does. It does one thing. I can’t believe no Big Ten AD has copied the Badgers. The recipe is right there. This offense has stood for, what, 25 seasons?

It’s time for a tweak on the defensive tackle rotation. It was good for that group to get Brady Reiff back last week. Iowa is also going to have to get steadier play out of linebacker. There’s no room for error in run fits against Jonathan Taylor.

Don’t freak on snap counts. It was 77 last week, but the Hawkeyes have kept snap counts in check this season.

 

Yes, excellent observation.

You heard Michigan talk about “isolation plays” in the postgame. That was pulling the OL’s attention with numbers one way and then running a linebacker through the middle, where the guards’ eyes are already muddled. Also, linebackers are faster than guards. Guards are stronger, but if the guard can’t touch the linebackers, game over. That was Michigan. Of course, it’s on the staff to see that pattern and find that fix. Through the years, Iowa hasn’t been a great in-game adjustment staff on offense.

Against Penn State, it was less the blitz and more one-on-one matchups. PSU’s D-line was more athletic than Iowa’s and it showed.

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Maybe some overthinking on Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s part, but I’m thinking there’s been a drop off in performance for the entire unit. That happens. Also, teams study what Iowa did right with this last year and are probably adjusting.

This is an excellent observation. Just as it did in late 2018, Iowa is again leaking field position in special teams. It’s 6 fewer yards on kick returns and, yes, wide receiver Nico Ragaini can’t leave punts on the carpet. That put a dent in the offense last week. It’s not the dam breaking, but it is the kind of erosion that shows up when you lose by one score.

 

MAC_THE_HAWK

How do I kindly explain to my uncles/cousins that Stanley is not the only problem, and football has a lot more going on than just qb play? Preferably without a royal rumble aafterward (beer may be involved)#oniowapod

 

Make them re-watch the Penn State game. I suggest a nice, cold Hamm’s. (Seriously, do that. They’ll see it.)

 

One word, Jon: Short shifts.

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Here’s what I’m seeing: They are running gap. You see it in the iso play with the fullback. The iso play has given Iowa some of its biggest runs this season. I think it works because linebackers get lulled to sleep with zone play after zone play, and then all of a sudden, here’s this iso play and the O-lineman who stepped to his right or left to draw movement and gain position for a reach block is now hitting the LB in the face.

Play to this line’s strengths. Let it get vertical and physical. Don’t let it dance in space with a linebacker who’s already fired into the line of scrimmage on the read of the QB’s hips.

The empty zone plays to set up the iso, there’s not a lot of time for that with the green light defenses the last two weeks have operated under. And at some point, the fullback is going to be a giant tell.

It’s a great question. If you read KF’s transcript from last week, you’ll see questions and you’ll see answers that Akrum Wadley around the topic. With one voice in the program and that voice managing direct questions about what’s going on, there’s just not a lot of sophisticated football discussion coming out of Tuesdays.

I’m sure part of that is my fault, too. The setting for a KF news conference is a large room and about 25 or 30 reporters asking questions. It’s not conducive to productive discussion. This used to bug me, but if that’s how they want to sound, that’s their decision and there’s not a lot I can do about it.

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

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