IOWA CITY — The Iowa offense right now is a fill-in-the-blank word-play riddle thingie.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz found himself with a Scrabble hand of “Is” and “Os” at different times during the Hawkeyes’ 9-6 loss to Iowa State last week. And so now Iowa is one of two teams in FBS who have yet to complete a successful point after touchdown, which is more commonly known as a “PAT,” in case those letters have slipped your mind.
The offensive stats are where you’d think they’d be, in the 100s nationally and the double digits in the Big Ten. It’s not coming together. That doesn’t mean it can’t, but right now it’s spelling something out of IOIQIOQ.
How is first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis taking this?
“He’s very patient with us right now,” wide receiver Keenan Davis said Tuesday. “He tells us everyday, ‘This is where we’re at, and we can get better.’ And then he’ll say, ‘The thing is, we’re never going to be there. You’re always going to have something to work on.’ ”
Tuesday’s media session was filled with theories. All the bases were covered. No eureka moments were had.
– Is quarterback James Vandenberg pressing? Has that spilled into his decision making?
“Big part of playing any position is you’ve got to try to play within the framework of what it is you’re asked to do,” Ferentz said, “[and] trust that everybody else is going to do the same thing.”
Ferentz wasn’t specifically speaking about the Vandenberg pass attempt to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz that ISU linebacker Jake Knott intercepted and made into the first of whatever highlights NFL scouts check out for a possible professional career, but he might as well have been.
Vandenberg didn’t like that decision any better Tuesday.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with pressing,” said Vandenberg, who has no TD passes and two interceptions after 25 and seven last season. “If anything, that might’ve been feeling it too much. We completed some balls, boom, boom boom, and all of the sudden we were really close. It was another down-the-field call and a bad decision.
“There was a ball that would’ve gone in there. It took a good play to intercept it, but regardless, you have to cool your jets, bring the ball down, throw it away and play for a different call.”
– Drops haven’t affected the receivers depth chart, not yet. Ferentz said he doesn’t want any player looking over their shoulder over one mistake, but, yeah, drops. There were eight. They killed momentum, continuity and, arguably, a shot to win the game.
“We’re expected to make the plays,” said fullback Mark Weisman, who had a drop at Iowa State’s goal line that probably haunted him Saturday night. “We expect to make those plays. We expect each other to make those plays.”
– Drops are the most visible mistakes, but Iowa’s wide receiver play hasn’t translated from practice to games.
Are the wideouts running the right routes, being in the right place at the right time?
“That’s the thing that went wrong this past weekend,” wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “The little detail things, like getting depth on routes, staying on the move when we have to stay on the move, little things like that, they show up in the big picture.”
Other details that need throwing in are getting a route far enough on a third-and-3, getting turned toward Vandenberg with good body position and using their bodies to shield defenders when there’s little or no space to work with. These are some of the details Keenan Davis covered.
“You know what you have to do, you just have to do it,” Davis said. “The only problem is it’s not imprinted in the back of our heads like the old offense was.”
You also should probably think about the mute button for the call for true freshmen wide receivers (Reese Fleming, Tevaun Smith, Cameron Wilson and Greg Mabin). Ferentz said two of the four (probably Fleming and Smith) are possibilities, but he added “we’re trying to play our best players at all times, whether they’re first-year or not.”
– The offense couldn’t score with a first-and-goal from ISU’s 3-yard line in the fourth quarter. Instead, trailing 9-3, Iowa settled for a 21-yard field goal.
The offensive line didn’t allow a sack after yielding six in week 1, but it didn’t power in from the 3 on two carries, either.
That’s where Iowa is right now on offense. The gears are grinding, it’s just that sometimes they’re doing it in different directions. Young players push, veteran players pull and then it’s a shopping cart with a busted wheel.
“We aren’t the most experienced group right now, so I think the experienced guys feel like they have to do a little bit more, and there’s a fine line,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got to be playing their best, because it’s only fair to assume they’re going to play their best.
“. . . I haven’t golfed in, you know, like 12 years, but if you squeeze a golf club, that’s not a good thing. I did figure that out. I just never learned how to figure it out.”
That sounds like another word riddle game.