Iowa football: Offense really starting to click in Brian Ferentz's second season
It was too easy — and too obvious — to question Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz before last season when he decided to put his son, Brian Ferentz, in charge of the Iowa offense. The nepotism rants were non-stop, as were the questions of what the younger Ferentz had done to earn the job.
Those critics are nowhere to be found now. In the middle of Brian’s second season as offensive coordinator, the Hawkeyes offense is humming. After some early-season hiccups, they are hitting on all cylinders now and are a big reason why the Hawkeyes are 5-1 and ranked nationally again, checking in at No. 22 this week.
They Hawkeyes have scored 90 points in the past two weeks — on the road, no less, at Minnesota and Indiana — and they’re showing no signs of slowing down. They are, at long last, a smooth running machine. Veteran quarterback Nate Stanley is playing at a high level, and he’s keeping all of his skill-position weapons involved.
“That’s what everyone on this team loves about Stanley. He’s going to play to your strengths,” Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said of his quarterback. “He’s going to put it on the money for whoever it is out there. Nate is going to play to our strengths, and I think that shows how much he’s progressed. He’s going to choose the throw that he believes is best for him to make a completion.”
The growth in the offense is obvious. When Brian Ferentz took over a year ago, the Hawkeyes were playing a lot of freshmen and walk-ons on the outside and it was a learning process for everyone. But now, a year and a half in, everyone not only knows what they are doing, but they also know what everyone else is doing. It’s a smooth-running operation.
“We just had a lot of young players last year on offense, and I think it showed at times,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We were very inconsistent. Sometimes we looked really good. At least right now we’re a little bit more consistent. We certainly can improve in that area. I think we just have a little bit better balance now, better experience.”
There’s been growth along the offensive line, too, which has helped a lot. The Hawkeyes have allowed just six sacks all season, best in the Big Ten and No. 13 in the country. That’s given Stanley time to find the best option downfield. He’s been able to get through his progressions most of the time, and he’s been great at making the proper decisions.
“We try to practice as many situations as possible,” Stanley said. “A lot of those times, those plays are made in practice before they’re made in games. But also, it’s just the type of athlete all of those guys are.
“I know that Ihmir can run by anybody. I know that (tight ends) Noah (Fant) and T.J. (Hockenson) and (wide receiver) Brandon (Smith) can go up and high-point the ball against anybody. Having that confidence in their physical abilities as well as knowing they’re going to be doing what they need to do mentally has really helped us grow. I feel very confident with them right now.”
Stanley knows his weapons well, too. He’s been great at taking advantage of mismatches, which has been especially true of his tight ends, Fant and Hockenson. Fant has a 42-inch vertical leap, and Hockenson can leap, too. Most linebackers — and even most safeties — literally have no chance against them. That was obvious last week against Indiana, when both guys went over 100 yards receiving and both had long touchdown catches. Indiana had no answer on how to cover them and Stanley, with all the time in the world to throw, just waited for them to get open.
Pick and choose. It’s a wonderful thing for a quarterback.
“It can definitely alter your decision-making on the field,” Stanley said. “Throw the ball farther for Ihmir. With Noah, T.J. and Brandon, you maybe throw it up a little higher so they can go up and get it.”
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?