The Aftermath: Michigan

By BenSewardLewis on October 3, 2022 at 10:37 am
go hawks sigh
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Is there an opposite expression for “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Probably the old chestnut “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” but I think we can collectively come up with something better. My suggestion is this, “If your car don’t have a motor, you ain’t going nowhere,” because Brian and Kirk Ferentz are sitting in a rusted-up P.O.S. with the engine block missing going “vroom vroom” like a couple of toddlers while Gary Barta “Yes ands” their delusions that this offense is actually moving.

I don’t mean to suggest there aren’t some positives to take away from Saturday's game against Michigan. Spencer Petras had his best game in two years. The running backs averaged over three yards a carry against a competent defense, and hey, there was some involvement from the wide receivers in the passing game. And those one-and-a-half drives were nice, but we aren’t even grading the offense on a curve here. We are giving them points for spelling their names correctly and putting marks on a piece of paper.

Even with that, if the offense had managed to generate this bare minimum of productivity earlier in the game, maybe this one shakes out differently. Instead, the offense spent the better part of the first three quarters wandering around aimlessly like me at Home Depot looking for lint filters. Before their first touchdown drive, Iowa’s offense ran 26 plays for 86 yards, which at 3.3 yards a play isn’t so much bad as it is transcendently awful. So when the offense does anything remotely good, we are like those goofballs that wait in the desert sitting next to satellites listening for signs of alien life, convincing ourselves that some static is actually a message from outer space.

While the offense putzed around, the defense did everything they could to keep the ship afloat amidst all the cannon fire from the Michigan offense. Sure, our great Hawkeye defense got mauled by the Wolverines, especially early on. Their best play on the first two drives was J.J. McCarthy tripping and falling backwards for a five-yard loss. But getting worked for a half by an elite offensive line while keeping their passing game inefficient and holding an excellent offense to 20 points before the game was functionally lost isn’t really all that bad. Let’s not be the parents that look at our defense getting a B+ on a test and chides them for not getting an A+ while praising their slacker twin brother for successfully reciting his ABCs.

Just think of how different this game feels if Iowa manages just one measly touchdown drive in the first half. Instead, we’ve got a sixth-year quarterback (definitely the best option in the quarterback room) apparently learning new footwork, which is causing him to sail passes. When plays work, it does not feel like a concerted effort, but rather a chaotic fluke. Whatever you think of Brian’s play calls (thumbs down from me), the offense looks so sloppy and imprecise. And it is just so tedious to watch.

The rushing numbers between Michigan, 4.1 yards/carry (including their negative plays), and Iowa, 1.5 yards/carry (including those sacks after Michigan defenders repeatedly grated Connor Colby into a pile of shredded cheddar), pretty much tell the tale of the tape on this one. However, as much as I find myself envious of almost every other offense in college football, a quarterback that can occasionally make plays would make such a huge difference. J.J. McCarthy was mostly a game manager against Iowa, handing the ball off and hitting receivers for quick, high-percentage passes to keep Iowa’s offense honest, but he did make one massive play. On a 3rd-and-7 from Iowa's 12, McCarthy didn't like the coverage and rolled out to his right. He was enough of a running threat that Cooper DeJean drifted forward to get ready to make a tackle. That created just enough space behind DeJean to find Donovan Edwards chilling in the back of the end zone for a three-score lead. Nebulous as the term is, when was the last time Spencer Petras “made a play” for the Iowa offense at all? (Hitting a receiver in stride doesn’t count.)

And so here we are stuck riding the lamest ride at the county fair. This is our offense, which has exceeded 300 yards once in five tries, and has only managed 14 points (including garbage time) in non-Nevada games. I am wholly unconvinced it gets better in 2022, whatever improvements Kirk wants to pretend are happening. Despite this rotten milk offense though, the Big Ten West is a vat of hog manure this year, with all the stench and hydrogen sulfide that comes with it. Depending on how tiebreakers shake out, Iowa could conceivably go 8-4 and earn the right to get clobbered by Ohio State or Michigan a second time, which I guess is what I’m hoping for, though I probably won’t enjoy a second of it. Wheeeeeeee. 

Hawkeye Droppings

* Brian's bag of tricks seems to have run out. The throw to Monte Pottebaum on a wheel route was nice, but the throwback to LaPorta, the screens on third-and-long and the pick plays to the flat -- Michigan sniffed them out like a pig hunting for truffles. (Even if you liked the play calls, this offense just looks the exact opposite of crisp. They look soggy, I guess.) 

* Luke Lachey looks legitimately awesome. I'm not sure how often Iowa is running two-tight end sets (Lachey was on the field for 38 snaps on Saturday; LaPorta was on the field for 53 of Iowa's 60 offensive snaps), but however much they're using that look already, they should probably use it even more, given how effective Lachey was in the game. 

* The offensive line had occasional bouts of competence against Michigan, which is saying very little, but it is technically saying something. 

* With all due respect to the guy, having Spencer Petras as your quarterback is a bummer, even when he is playing his version of well. It's just not fun. 

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