The B1G 10: Iowa's offense stinks, but clearly it isn't the OC's fault. Clearly
Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …
1. The B1G Story
This thing is long past doing what’s right, or even what’s prudent.
It has veered directly into the dangerous ditch of enabling.
“I anticipate no changes in our (coaching) staff moving forward,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last week.
Translation: I’m not firing my son, Brian. Now go scratch.
It is here where we introduce the nasty underbelly of nepotism, and how it soils everything it touches.
Because if the assistant coach in charge of — are you ready for this? — coaching the quarterbacks, coordinating the offense and calling plays was named Brian Smith, not Brian Ferentz, this embarrassing display of football wouldn’t be allowed to continue.
- Iowa averaged 17 points a game in 2022, ranking 123rd out of 131 FBS schools.
- Iowa scored 19 touchdowns on 772 plays, or a touchdown every 41 plays. Iowa averaged 59 plays a game, and beat an FCS school by 7 points — with a field goal and 2 safeties.
- Iowa quarterbacks threw 7 touchdowns passes against 7 interceptions, averaging a measly 5.8 yards per attempt and completing 55 percent of their passes. Only 3 teams in the nation threw fewer TD passes.
- Iowa averaged 2.92 yards per rush, good for 127th in the nation.
In every meaningful offensive statistic, Iowa was among the worst in college football. Yet there was Kirk Ferentz, proudly declaring, yet again, that they know what they’re doing and they’ve been doing it for 24 years now, thank you.
Instead of laying the blame for an utterly putrid offense at the feet of his son, Brian, Kirk spoke about finding the culprit for the struggles: the offensive line.
He also spoke about the new quarterback Iowa plucked from the transfer portal (former Michigan starter Cade McNamara), and how a tweaked offense will lead to more production and points in 2023.
I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but it’s not difficult to read between the lines: It’s the players’ fault, not Brian’s.
We’ve now hit a new low at Iowa: blaming players.
The players on the roster are the players Kirk and Brian Ferentz (and the rest of the Iowa staff) recruited and developed. If they’re not playing well enough to score points, guess whose fault that is?
Other than Brian’s, of course.
2. The insulting nature of it all
Phil Parker is among the best defensive coordinators in college football.
His smart, athletic and punishing units have consistently kept Iowa afloat since 2012, while the vanilla, crawl-ball offense scores what it can.
Iowa finished 1st in the Big Ten in total defense (and No. 2 nationally) in 2022, its 5th straight season of finishing at least 16th in the nation. In those 5 seasons protecting the Brian Ferentz offense, the Iowa defense finished No. 7, 12, 8, 16 and 2nd in the nation in total defense.
What does Parker get for that heavy lifting? Ferentz actually had the temerity to say his son, Brian, as a coordinator, is at the same level of Parker.
When he was asked what Brian Ferentz does well, Kirk Ferentz said Brian and the other coordinators, “operate at a real high level.”
“I’ll lump him and Phil (Parker) together,” Ferentz said of his son.
Phil Parker must have puked somewhere amid the cold Iowa winter.
Look, Kirk Ferentz isn’t alone. What does the rest of the Iowa staff think when Iowa AD Gary Barta — who is technically Brian Ferentz’s direct report because, you know, nepotism — said Brian is an “integral part” of the staff and is “uniquely qualified.”
What makes him uniquely qualified? Get a load of this:
“He grew up here around this program,” Barta said. “He played offense in this offense.”
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3. The coaching gamble, The Epilogue
Brian Ferentz had never been offensive coordinator before his father promoted him in 2017.
He had never been a quarterbacks coach and never called plays.
He played on the offensive line at Iowa, and was an OL assistant coach in the NFL with the Patriots, and the OL coach at Iowa before Kirk promoted him to jobs that were well outside his experience.
Yet here we are, staring at the 2023 season with Kirk Ferentz talking about a new quarterback and a plan to tweak the offensive scheme with McNamara’s ability to make plays in the run game.
“It’s not going to look radically different,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t predict anything wild or absurd there.”
Brian Ferentz received a $50,000 pay cut to this year’s salary, but — get this — can earn a bonus of $112,500 if the offense reaches meager goals: averages more than 25 points per game, and Iowa has a 7-5 record.
The Hawkeyes won 8 games in 2022 with what could easily be described as the worst offense in the modern era of Iowa football.
So this is what Iowa football nepotism has come to: 34 of the 65 Power 5 teams (52 percent) had at least 8 wins in 2022, and 44 of the 65 teams (68 percent) averaged more than 25 points per game.
Average is now the bar at Iowa in the era of enabling.
4. A change in direction
On the surface, the late signing period underscored the strides new Nebraska coach Matt Rhule and his staff have made in less than 3 months on the job.
There were the transfer portal signings of the Georgia trio of TE Erik Gilbert, Edge MJ Sherman and OT Jacob Hood (all projected starters), and the late high school signings that included coveted 3-star WR Demitrius Bell — whose chose Nebraska over Alabama, Kentucky and Michigan State.
But overlooked amid the hype of a recruiting class ranked No. 24 overall by the 247Sports composite, was this gem Rhule revealed during the signing day press conference: For the first time in years, the players and Nebraska staff will all eat meals together.
While that might sound like a throwaway anecdote at a rah-rah press conference, it actually underscores how disconnected the Nebraska program was under former coach Scott Frost. They’d all get their meals, and hide in their offices and work — while the players ate.
Think about your current work environment. If everyone reverts to his or her space and no one connects beyond staff meetings, what does that say about chemistry and how a group deals with adversity?
“The more we’re around the guys, the more we get to know each other,” Rhule said. “We sit down, we eat. We’re going to build something where we all know each other.”
5. The Weekly 5
Michigan’s national championship odds for 2023, brought to you by our friends at FanDuel — and 5 things the Wolverines need to reach the Playoff.
1. QB JJ McCarthy becomes an elite player, in the pass and run games.
2. RB Blake Corum returns completely healthy from knee surgery.
3. Transfer portal offensive linemen — G LaDarius Henderson, G Drake Nugent, OT Myles Hinton — fit seamlessly into the current line structure.
4. Find a force off the edge (Coastal Carolina transfer Josaiah Stewart?) to continue the disruption caused from the defensive line over the past 2 seasons.
5. Get the ball to RB Donovan Edwards. A fast, dynamic game-wrecker, he needs at least 15 touches a game as a runner and receiver. He averaged 11.2 touches per game in 2022.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Illinois S Sidney Brown.
“He’s a box safety, and a guy that’s terrific in run support. But in Mobile (at the Senior Bowl), he showed he can cover in the slot. He ran well with tight ends, and even a few receivers. He was disruptive, he attacked. He was the guy initiating and delivering disruptive plays. A big question coming in was could he run and cover? He showed some explosion and anticipation moving from hash to number. He’s a Day 3 guy, but he’s going to help someone.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: Missing piece filled by May transfer portal.
1. Michigan: defensive line, inside and edge.
2: Ohio State: cornerback, safety.
3. Penn State: cornerback, safety.
4. Purdue: wide receiver.
5. Illinois: running back, defensive back.
6. Minnesota: wide receiver, defensive end.
7. Maryland: edge, linebacker.
8. Iowa: wide receiver, running back.
9. Wisconsin: wide receiver, offensive line.
10. Michigan State: wide receiver, edge.
11. Nebraska: defensive line, wide receiver.
12. Rutgers: offensive line, defensive line.
13. Indiana: edge, wide receiver.
14. Northwestern: offensive line, defensive line.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Loved your assessment of the Big Ten quarterbacks. Who is the sleeper of the conference? — Jeff Langley, Indianapolis.
I really like Hudson Card. In fact, outside of Sam Hartman of Wake Forest, Card might have been the safest quarterback in the portal.
He don’t really get a fair shot at Texas because of injury in Year 1 and Quinn Ewers in Year 2. Every time he played, he was accurate and smart, and he stood in the pocket and took hits to make a throw (to his detriment) — and could escape and gain off schedule rush yards.
The Texas line was iffy in his first season, and he got beat up again while subbing for 3 1/2 games while Ewers was injured. He completed 66 percent of his passes with 11 TDs and 2 INTs in 2 seasons.
If Purdue can protect him, there’s enough of a threat at wide receiver for Card to have a big season. He’ll be running the Air Raid with new OC Graham Harrell, so he’ll get plenty of opportunity.
153.9. The Ferentz connection at Iowa overshadowed a horrific year offensively at Rutgers. Coach Greg Schiano fired OC Sean Gleeson at midseason. Rutgers never got consistent play from the quarterback spot and averaged 153.9 yards passing per game — worst in the Big Ten.
Only Northwestern (17) threw more interceptions than Rutgers (14), and no one had a worse completion percentage (50.6). You want worse? Rutgers averaged 11 completions per game in Big Ten play.
10. Quote to note
Ohio State coach Ryan Day on the looming quarterback battle in spring practice: “When you look at the supporting cast around them, you couldn’t be more excited to be a quarterback in college football right now.”