Iowa football hoping to solve offensive issues by getting the uninvolved involved
“Quite frankly, we’re still looking for some answers.”
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stressed that in the first minute of his 38-minute media session last week, despite being 7 games into a successful 2021 campaign.
“Very pleased to be sitting here at this point with 6 wins,” Ferentz said. “Certainly would prefer to have 7, but feel like we’ve made a lot of growth and a lot of strides in some areas. And there’s other areas and other places where we still need to continue to grow.”
The latter have the big red circle around them in the bye week. A big red O for offense.
“If we’re gonna have a good football team, if we’re gonna win football games the way we’re built, we need to play off of each other,” Ferentz said.
And the offensive engine at Iowa runs through the running game.
“If we’re gonna play winning football, if we’re gonna play that complementary football, we need to be running the ball extremely effectively, because it takes the pressure off of everything else. That’s not just offensively, it’s team-wide.”
Despite some highlight-reel runs, the ground game’s overall performance has taken a step back this year for the Hawkeyes.
So far, Tyler Goodson is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 83.7 yards per game through 7 games, down from 5.3 and 95.3 in last year’s 8-game season.
“The hardest part as a playcaller is: The first place you need to look is in the mirror,” Ferentz said. “You’re just trying to figure out, ‘Can we do what we do the absolute best, in a better way? Or can we make it look a little bit different so we can keep doing it without them knowing what we’re doing?’ ”
The backfield isn’t the only area experiencing a backslide.
Tyrone Tracy, expected to be a top playmaker on offense this season, has been limited to just 83 yards receiving, just over half of the number he put up in one more game in 2020.
On the other hand, Keagan Johnson is having a breakout season despite limited touches, averaging a 31.2 yards a reception on just 6 catches. His 187 yards is still the third-best receiving total on the team.
If the Hawks are going to find success in the second half of the season, they’re going to need to get one of them — or preferably both — the ball more often.
“It’s all related,” Ferentz said. “If you look at the targets and you look at where we’ve tried to direct the football, we’ve tried to give Tyrone opportunities. We’ve handed him the football and we’ve found other creative ways of trying to get him involved, and we’re gonna continue to do that. He’s a good football player. Some of the best things he does are with the ball in his hands. Can you get him in space? Can you get him in a place where he can create some plays? And we’re gonna continue to try to do that, because I think he’s a valuable part of the team and he is a valuable part of the offense. … I’ve been really pleased with what Keagan has done. I can’t say I remember the last guy whose first touch in college football was a 54-yard touchdown. We need to get him more involved. We need to find ways to get him the football more.”
The guy getting them the ball has received plenty of the scrutiny, but Ferentz doesn’t put it all on quarterback Spencer Petras.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Ferentz said. “Shoot, I think we’ve gotta protect him better. I think we’ve gotta get more open for him. Here’s the reality: When there are makeable throws and we don’t make them, that is his responsibility. So we need to fix that part of it. But where I’d evaluate him after seven games? We’ve won six of ’em. He’s a big part of the reason we have. And when you’re the quarterback, if you lose one, you’re gonna be a big part of the reason, too. Just like I am.”
For Iowa, perhaps the easiest answer is the obvious one — and maybe the only thing Brian Ferentz and the Hawkeyes can really do down the stretch: Be Iowa.
“We know these teams. These teams know us. These are gonna be certain type of games. … You have to fall back on fundamentals. You just have to get back to the basics.”