By Mike Jones on May 14, 2019 at 3:03 pm
Slap hands good job.
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

An uneventful spring leads to an uneventful offseason and with not much changing in Iowa City as we enter Ferentz XXI, let’s talk about the performance of Iowa’s future emperor for life and offensive coordinator, Brian the Younger.

Year One of the Brian Ferentz Experience was mercurial, to say the least. Early on, there was the high scoring 44-41 win over Iowa State in Ames. Then, there were brutal losses against Michigan State and Northwestern, where Iowa scored a combined 20 points. There was 55-24 over Ohio State…followed up with a hapless performance against Wisconsin where the offense scored nothing. Literally nothing. Iowa’s performance a week later against Purdue wasn’t much better, as they only managed to score 15 points against a team that has never put much emphasis on defense. And yeah, Iowa put up 56 points on a pathetic Nebraska team but c’mon man, Minnesota put up 54 on that same Blackshirts defense.

To sort of put the season in a nutshell, in 10 of Iowa’s 12 regular season games, they either scored less than 20 points or more than 40. There were four highly entertaining games, where the Hawkeyes scored 44, 45, 55 and 56 points. There were six “tough to watch” games, where Iowa scored 19, 10, 10, 17, 14 and 15 points. The two exceptions to the aforementioned stat were the 24 points against Wyoming and the 31 against North Texas. The story of 2017 was that Iowa either appeared to play in a nail-biter or a blowout.

Year two was, for better or for worse, somewhat more consistent. The Hawkeyes sub-20 point games went from six to three, while their 40+ point games went from four to three. That leaves six other games where the Hawkeyes scored 20-39 points, which will consider in the “median” for purposes of points per game. With those general numbers out of the way, let’s talk about the nitty-gritty statistics on how the Brian Ferentz offense fared from year one to year two with national rankings in parentheses (if available).

Passing Offense

  Yards Per Game Yards Per Completion Completion % Interceptions Sacks Per Game Touchdowns
2017 190.2 (93rd) 12.43 (69th) 56 (93rd) 6 (8th) 1.92 (54th) 27
2018 226.6 (71st) 12.17 (75th) 59 (67th) 11 (70th) 1.23 (14th) 27

The stats that really stick out here are team completion percentage and sacks allowed per game. Nate Stanley was markedly better in year two, with his completion percentage improving from 55.8% to 59.3%. He threw more interceptions, yes, but he was also kept on his feet a lot longer, as shown by the decrease in sack numbers. The touchdowns number is interesting as Stanley threw 26 touchdowns in both 2017 and 2018. The additional touchdown comes from Wiegers in 2017 and Rastetter in 2018.

Rushing Offense

  Yards Per Game Yards Per Carry Touchdowns
2017 139.2 (96th) 3.8 (104th) 17
2018 148.4 (94th) 4.0 (94th) 19

For a team that has a reputation for running the ball, Iowa has not been very good at it the past two seasons. Per game, they’re one of the worst teams in the nation as far as overall yards gained. Their 4.0 yards per carry was an improvement from year one, but still bad. For comparison, in 2018, Wisconsin averaged 6.2 YPC, Nebraska averaged 5.3 YPC, and Minnesota averaged 4.3 YPC.

Overall Offense

  Total Offense Scoring Offense Red Zone Offense % First Downs 3rd Down Conversion % 4th Down Conversion %
2017 329.5 (116th) 28.2 (66th) 79.6 (97th) 226 (106th) 34.4 (104th) 63.6 (23rd)
2018 375 (91st) 31.2 (43rd) 85 (50th) 261 (74th) 43 (30th) 68 (12th)

You’re probably asking yourself “How can one of the worst teams in the nation in total offense have one of the better scoring offenses?” That, my friends, is why Kirk Ferentz plays the field position game. Last season, Iowa’s average starting field position was their 33-yard line, good for 8th in the nation. They also ranked 8th in the nation in turnovers gained with 27. Those turnovers often set the Hawkeyes up with dandy field position to rip off some easy points. The improvements in the situational statistics are stellar as well, as Iowa was almost guaranteed to score when they got into the red zone.

Everything considered, Iowa’s offense improved in 2018 but from a total offense standpoint, it was still pretty bad. Relying on an opportunistic defense to set the offense up with excellent field position is a great strategy for scoring points unless your opponent isn’t turnover prone. Or, if the opponent has a stellar defense themselves. Opportunism and capitalization are great, though they shouldn’t be permanent substitutes from an effective offense, which Iowa doesn’t have. You can see this not only in their poor total offense but also their bottom half ranking in first downs.

What’s the fix? I’m no coach and Iowa doesn’t need to go out and hire Hal Mumme as a consultant or anything, but I think a start would be all but abandoning the zone blocking offense in favor of a power running scheme. Stretch left and stretch right isn’t cutting it in this era of college athletes and unless you have a certain type of player at running back, the rushing scheme isn’t going to be effective. By certain type of player, I mean that Iowa hasn’t had a top 30 rushing offense since 2008 when Shonn Greene was in the backfield.

Iowa has these power running plays at their disposal and it’s an NFL level style offense, so neither Ferentz should treat this like it is neuroscience. Further, you can look at Stanford as a sign of the power running schemes’ success. Actually, you can pretty much look at anywhere Jim Harbaugh has been as a sign of the schemes’ success. Remember when he almost won Toby Gerhart a Heisman? I ‘member.

I already knew you’d ask about how year two of Brian Ferentz compared to Ken O'Keefe and Greg Davis so I'll give you that data as well. For fairness sake, I actually used year three of Ken O'Keefe because I don't think it would be just to use year two of the Kirk Ferentz Great Rebuild for comparison.

  Total Offense Scoring Offense RZ Offense Passing YPG Rushing YPG
B. Ferentz ('18) 375 (91st) 31.2 (43rd) 85 (50th) 226.6 (71st) 148.4 (94th)
K. O'Keefe ('01) 399 (45th) 33.8 (22nd) N/A 223.4 (55th) 175.1 (40th)
G. Davis ('13) 377 (84th) 26.3 (80th) 76 (105th) 197.1 (93rd) 179.9 (50th)

In what comes as a surprise to no one: Ken O’Keefe wasn’t actually that bad and holy mother of god why did anyone ever think Greg Davis was a good idea? That’s painful to read. Reading those Greg Davis numbers makes me long for Sylvia Plath’s poetry. I’d rather watch a Uwe Boll movie than watch a Greg Davis offense. Even a movie that Uwe Boll produced but didn’t even direct like Alone in the Dark II.

What can we expect out of Iowa’s offense in 2019? Well, you obviously cannot examine these things in a vacuum. First off, check the schedule.  The road calendar is especially brutal with trips to Ames, Ann Arbor, Evanston, Madison, and Lincoln. On the flip side, Iowa should be favored in all seven of their home games, if not a slight underdog to Penn State on October 12th. Half of Iowa’s schedule finished in the top 50 of total defense last season and Michigan will probably have another top 5-10 defense. Alternatively, we shouldn’t expect much out of Rutgers, Purdue, or Illinois (defensively).

Second, personnel. The losses of T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are devastating, obviously, though the Hawkeyes seem to be sitting pretty with Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young in the backfield. The majority of the wide receivers return along with quarterback Nate Stanley and his two tackles, Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson. We could also see some young players like Tyrone Tracy, Logan Lee, and Josiah Miamen early on in the season.

In conclusion, thanks to a balanced schedule and questions at receiver/tight end, you’re probably looking at another below average offensive season. For Kirk Ferentz, that’s fine. The players are interchangeable in his system and long as they can manage to play the field position game, the Hawkeyes will always be competitive. Would it be easier if they adopted a running scheme that was more in line with this era of football? Yeah, probably. But when has an Iowa offense ever been easy?

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