IOWA CITY — Two weeks in, Iowa hasn’t shown a sustained comfort level in the passing game. But here’s the headline, it’s probably going to be that way all season.
Week 1 against Northern Illinois, pass protection was the issue, with the Hawkeyes allowing six sacks. In last week’s 9-6 loss against Iowa State, the Hawkeyes (1-1) had eight drops (arguably) and had its last chance snuffed out when quarterback James Vandenberg tried to fit a ball between linebackers and safeties.
Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was open, but linebacker Jake Knott was in position. He leaped, tipped and picked. That was that.
What will it be this week against Northern Iowa (1-1)?
“We didn’t throw it well enough to win,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Protection was better, I think I can say that, but outside of that, I’m not sure, have to keep watching.”
Vandenberg finished 20 of 42 for 236 yards and a pair of interceptions. Iowa receivers had eight dropped passes. Vandenberg wasn’t sacked, but he was knocked down several times and had a few throws rushed or affected by the rush.
Iowa had just one pass play of 20 yards in week 1. It had three against Iowa State, a product of better protection.
Still, it’s squirrelly.
“I think we’re all going to see the film tomorrow and know that there are a lot of things all 11 guys can clean up,” Vandenberg said. “It’s going to take a unit effort to get this thing going.”
Ferentz was asked seven questions about the passing game in the postgame. He didn’t delve into specifics.
“Not really,” Ferentz said when asked if the pass was more in sync. “At times, when we were driving the ball, we hit some plays and made some plays, and that’s part of the passing game. But we’re not there yet, I think that’s fairly obvious right now.”
And on the topic of Vandenberg’s confidence, which seemed to be there for the duration of Vandenberg’s postgame interview.
“I worry about everybody’s confidence, but it is what it is,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got to keep working and playing. He’s doing a good job. All you can do is go back to practice and learn from the film, improve what we did do and see if there are some other things we can do.”
It’s hard to say if any patterns have emerged in the first two games of Greg Davis’ tenure as offensive coordinator, but against ISU, there were a few notables.
– Iowa didn’t do much business in the middle of the field, connecting on just 3 of 12 passes with the game-sealing interception coming in this area. Fiedorowicz was effective here, but Iowa tried the seam just once for a 20-yard completion to the 6-7, 265-pound tight end.
– On Fiedorowicz, he was targeted once in the first half, a 17-yard completion. In the second, he was targeted nine times and finished with four catches for 61 yards.
– Eight drops, that’s a problem. There were more than a few Saturday where the defender arrived when the ball did. ISU linebacker A.J. Klein didn’t tip but did affect the ball that slipped through fullback Mark Weisman’s arms for what would’ve been a TD at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“It’s part of the game, it’s going to happen,” Vandenberg said. “It’s something you have to roll with. They’re guarded tightly, the windows are small. It’s hard for them. The corrections are going to start with me and trickle down, but it takes all 11 guys doing a little better job to get things done.”
– Running back Damon Bullock is a key in this offense. He had 27 touches for 116 yards, including five receptions for 56 yards. Davis was fond of the wheel route to the running back at Texas. That was unveiled yesterday, specifically on the final drive with two straight going for 22 yards.
“We knew we had some rhythm going,” said Bullock, who showed patience in setting up screens. “We started out with a good play and we just carried it on. We just made a bad decision at the end.”
– It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Vandenberg is coached to do in the pocket. He doesn’t hold the ball long — usually throwing on a three-second count — suggesting predetermined reads. Again, is it Vandenberg or is it what Davis is coaching him to do?
Question for another day. Maybe even next week.
“I think we knew coming into the season that this was going to be a big, big month for us,” Ferentz said. “We can’t waste a day in terms of what we need to be doing to get better moving forward.”
Right — 7 of 13 for 73 yards
Left — 10 of 15 for 97 yards (INT)
Middle — 3 of 12 for 66 yards (INT)
WR Keenan Davis — 8 (4 catches for 75 yards; 1 drop)
WR Kevonte Martin– 6 (1 catch for 10 yards; 1 drop)
TE Zach Derby — 1
RB Damon Bullock — 9 (5 for 56 yards; 2 drops)
FB Mark Weisman — 2 (1 for 3 yards; 1 drop)
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz — 10 (4 for 61 yards; 1 drop)
WR Jacob Hillyer — 1 (1 drop)
WR Don Shumpert — 5 (4 for 29 yards; 1 drop)
RB Greg Garmon — 1 (1 for 2 yards)