IOWA CITY — The great “eureka” moment for the Iowa coaching staff and the decision to dip the Hawkeyes’ toes in the no-huddle offense was more of an “oh (expletive deleted)” moment.
Iowa fell behind 24-3 late in the third quarter against Pittsburgh and, eureka or the other saying, the no-huddle sprang to life. The Hawkeyes scored four TDs in the last 18-plus minutes and pulled out the victory, 31-27.
“That gives birth to a lot of things,” Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said Thursday. “We didn’t have much of a choice at that particular point in time. It all came together and we figured some stuff out.”
A week later against Louisiana Monroe, in the first quarter, first possession with the score 0-0, Iowa came out in the no-huddle.
“We kind of liked the tempo,” O’Keefe said. “Felt comfortable with the tempo and thought we would come out and take it from there.”
The no-huddle works. It produced the greatest comeback in Iowa history. It clicked along for 45 points against ULM, tying Iowa’s highest total since a 55-0 victory over Minnesota in ’08. It seems to play to quarterback James Vandenberg’s strengths. Iowa has the wide receivers to make it work.
“We took some time as a staff and just talked a lot of things out,” Coach Kirk Ferentz said Thursday. “I think we’re kind of in the position right now where we’ll probably go about 50 percent blitz the rest of the season, 100 percent no-huddle. That’s about what we have come up with. That’s what we have come up with over the last couple of days here.
“Other than that, we have been playing cards and some of the guys have been out golfing and stuff like that.”
Jokes aside, it works. The no-huddle will be a part of what Iowa’s going to do as it goes into Big Ten play next week at Penn State until it doesn’t work.
It works because Vandenberg has a comfort level with it. No, it’s not because its more similar to the offense he ran four years ago at Keokuk High School.
“I take a shotgun snap, that’s where the similarities end,” he said. “I’m calling out the formation. Depending on the down and distance, maybe I’m making a decision on a route combination I’m comfortable with or that I’m seeing. It’s a three-way communication between me, coach O’Keefe and coach Ferentz.
“I look over every time. If there’s something they want, we’re going to get to that. Otherwise, it’s just keep the ball moving down the field however way you can.”
That’s a lot of trust going toward a junior quarterback who’ll be making his seventh start when the Hawkeyes (3-1) land at Penn State (3-1) next Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC.
“We trust him. You know, we feel he knows what he’s doing, and he’s a very good leader,” O’Keefe said.
The no-huddle works because Iowa might have its best group of receivers in the Ferentz era at Iowa. Senior Marvin McNutt, junior Keenan Davis and freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley are blazing a trail. They’ve combined for 58 receptions for 880 yards and 10 TDs in just four games.Another reason the no-huddle works is the rules. In the NFL, defenses are allowed to substitute even when an offense kicks into a no-huddle, hurry-up. In college, there is no such rule and defenses are often left with the same personnel on the field trying to keep pace.