IOWA CITY — There were a couple of rewind moments during James Vandenberg’s media session last week.
1) The Iowa quarterback said formations, protections and passing combinations are completely different. This probably falls into the “change that you might not be able to pick up on the first time you see it.”
“The formations are completely different now,” Vandenberg said. “Protections are completely different. Combinations are completely different. It’s not like anything we haven’t seen, but it’s just called something a little different now.”
The passing combinations is particularly interesting. That’s how the receivers and routes fit together in the passing game. This affects breaks the wide receivers make and the depth of their routes. Or, maybe the routes are simply called something different? It’s likely, however, that new offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ vision of a passing game differs from Ken O’Keefe’s and, yes, the passing game could go through a thorough, if imperceptible, shift.
“It’s something new, especially for us older guys,” Vandenberg said. “We kind of had four years or an old system, so it’s completely new for us. We feel like freshmen a little bit. There’s a lot of competition out there and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
No. 2 is simply Greg Davis isn’t Ken O’Keefe. There is no getting around this one. Still, the funnel for what Iowa’s offense has been and looked like, beyond incremental molding to the skill, is head coach Kirk Ferentz.
Let’s just consider “low risk” as the constant.
“We obviously have a new playcaller now and so there’s going to be a different style,” Vandenberg said. “We’re not going to be Texas Tech, I know that. Everything is called a little different, but I wouldn’t see major, major five-wide [receiver] changes or zone read [the QB running play that Texas rode Vince Young into a national title in '06] coming anytime soon.”
Ferentz was asked when spring practice started if Iowa would use the spread more this season. It worked down three TDs late in the third quarter against Pittsburgh, but it also exposed the defense at Penn State when Iowa went no-huddle, three-and-out.
“[We're] going to do whatever it takes to score points and win,” Ferentz said. “Bottom line, we’re going to throw it. We’re not going to turn it over. We’ve got to be smart about what we’re doing. It’s not just all the quarterback. It’s protection. It’s guys doing the right things with routes, not tipping the ball up in the air and making catches. We have to get better at making catches.”
More of a rant than an answer, but “whatever works” has been the theme this spring more than anything.
When Davis was introduced as offensive coordinator, Ferentz said he believed it was time for changes. He said he wouldn’t have fired any coaches, but the offensive philosophy would be overhauled.
“Maybe,” Vandenberg said, astutely, when asked if it was time for Iowa’s offense to change. “You could argue for and against that. It worked a lot before. Just because maybe it hasn’t worked the past couple of years, I don’t think we need to go away from it. It was a great system. Obviously, it makes it more difficult now that we’re not in it anymore, but everyone is looking forward to the new one.”
The newness and change might simply lie in the fact that Davis isn’t O’Keefe.
“Maybe he likes throwing the ball more on second down than coach O’Keefe did,” Vandenberg said. “All this is yet to be determined, but just having a different guy back there with the reins is going to be a little different.”
Vandenberg was one of the first Hawkeyes to meet Davis, who groomed Young, Colt McCoy and Chris Simms into NFL QBs during his 13 seasons at Texas. So, he’s been around the 61-year-old Texas native since late February and has some insight into his personality.
“He’s extremely intense,” Vandenberg said. “Very into practice, monitoring everyone’s positioning. Stickler for details, but that doesn’t just go for the quarterbacks. He’s watching all the receivers’ routes, all tight ends releases. He gets as excited about a big play as anyone on the field.
“The biggest thing you learn is his mentality is always attack. You always want to be pressuring the defense. You don’t want to be playing into their hands.”
The first time Iowa has the ball on its 20 with 1:17 left on the clock and two timeouts (you remember, end of regulation against Iowa State tied 24-24), it’ll be interesting to see if attack tops the head coach.